Arrest of journalist in Indian Kashmir sparks global outrage
New Delhi, Mar 22 (EFE).- The arrest of a Kashmiri journalist by an anti-terror agency in India sparked global criticism, with rights and media bodies calling it an attack on press freedoms and civil society in the disputed region.
Irfan Mehraj was arrested from Srinagar, the main city in Kashmir, on Monday for “funding terror activities in” the valley, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) said.
The anti-terror agency alleged that Mehraj worked with the nonprofit Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Societies (JKCSS) that propagated a “secessionist agenda in the valley under the garb of protection of human rights.”
It said the arrest followed investigations into the so-called “NGO terror funding case” that revealed that some nonprofits allegedly collected funds “domestically and abroad under the cover of doing charity and various welfare activities.”
Mehraj is the founding editor of the literary “Wande Magazine,” and works as a senior editor at TwoCircles.net, a portal that reports on the situation of minorities in India.
He has contributed to leading news publications like The Indian Express, Al Jazeera, Himal Southasian, DW, and TRT World.
The journalist, who worked as a researcher with the nonprofit JKCCS until March 2022, was remanded to NIA custody for 10 days under a controversial anti-terror law that allows police to detain people for up to six months without producing any evidence.
The accused can subsequently be imprisoned for up to seven years.
Critics of the law say Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government uses it to mute dissent.
Mehraj’s arrest has sparked outrage both within and outside India.
“The arrest of Kashmiri journalist Irfan Mehraj under terror charges is a travesty,” an Amnesty International statement said.
“The arrest is yet another instance of the long-drawn repression of human rights and the crackdown on media freedoms and civil society in the region of Jammu and Kashmir.”
The rights group said the “stifling of the rights to freedom of expression and association continue unabated in Kashmir.”
UN Special Rapporteur Mary Lawlor tweeted that she was “deeply concerned” about Mehraj’s arrest. “I call for his immediate release.”
Indian journalist bodies like the Press Club of India, the Editors Guild of India (EGI), and the Journalist Federation of Kashmir condemned the arrest and called for his release.
“EGI is deeply concerned about the excessive use of (anti-terror laws) against journalists, most recently, in the case of the arrest of Irfan Mehraj,” the Editors Guild of India said in a statement.
The guild noted that the arrest was part of a policy of arresting journalists because of their critical reporting of the government.
The Press Club of India demanded the “immediate release” of the journalist, saying the imposition of the “draconian” anti-terror law on a journalist was a “violation of freedom of speech and expression.”
Human rights organizations have repeatedly accused India of violating human rights and suppressing press freedom in the Muslim-majority region of Kashmir.
In August last year, Human Rights Watch estimated 35 media professionals from the region who were victims of police interrogations, raids, threats, and physical assaults or have been charged with false crimes since August 2019.