We, the 32 undersigned groups and organisations, are appalled by the arrest and detention of Indian human rights defender Khurram Parvez, who was arrested on 22 November under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 1967 (UAPA).
This unjust law – which generally denies bail, undermines the presumption of innocence until proven guilty, and the right to a speedy, fair trial – has been used by India against human rights defenders, women human rights defenders, labour and trade union activists, and many others.
Human rights defender Khurram Parvez
Forty-four-year-old Khurram Parvez, a journalist by education and a human rights defender, is a founder and programme coordinator of the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), an organisation that has been documenting socio-political issues and human rights concerns in the region for the past two decades. Amongst other human rights involvement, he is also currently the chairperson of the Asian Federation against Involuntary Disappearances.
On the day of the arrest, raids were also conducted on Khurram Parvez’s house and the JKCCS office in the city of Srinagar, in Jammu and Kashmir Union Territory. Parvez’s mobile phone, laptop, and several books were seized.
UUPA – not about crime and justice, but suppression of rights defenders and dissent?
The UAPA was first introduced in 2008 by the then Congress party. In 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government amended the law, allowing authorities to categorise even individuals as terrorists. Previously, the designation was reserved only for organisations.
Between 2015 and 2019, 7,840 arrests were made under the UAPA. Only 155 were convicted. In 2019 alone, there were 1,948 arrests with a mere 34 convictions. A reply by the government in the Lok Sabha shows that only 2.2% of cases registered under the UAPA between 2016 and 2019 ended in convictions by court (The Hindu, 10 March 2021).
Only 22% of arrested accorded trial, only 2.2% found guilty
In August 2021, the government informed parliament that just 22% of people arrested under the law from 2017 to 2019 were sent to trial. It said no charges had been filed so far in the remaining cases. (Aljazeera/AP 16 August 2021).
Not only are most victims of the UAPA not accorded a fair trial, but even when they do get their cases tried, they are unjustly delayed.
We note the case of Mohammed Irfan, who – when he was 24, newly married and expecting his first child – was arrested in August 2012 for allegedly plotting to kill Indian politicians. Irfan was finally released in June 2021 after an Indian court acknowledged he was wrongly jailed. By then, he had already spent nine years in prison.
It must be noted that the sentences on conviction under the UAPA range from a maximum of two years, three years, five years and seven years. Life imprisonment or death is only if and when any victim is killed. As such, delayed trials, without bail, may result in many being incarcerated for a much longer period than the maximum sentence if found guilty after a fair trial.
Tribal rights activist dies in custody
Tribal rights activist and 84-year-old Jesuit priest Stan Swamy, a victim of the UAPA, died in custody on 5 July 2021. He had previously contracted Covid in detention and recovered. Swamy was arrested in October 2020 for his alleged role in Bhima Koregaon violence in 2018 and his links with Maoists. When he died, he was in the midst of a court battle to be released on bail.
Women’s rights defender still waiting for trial after four years in detention
Sudha Bharadwaj, a trade union activist, lawyer and teacher, celebrated her birthday in custody for the fourth time on 1 November 2021. Since her arrest and detention in August 2018, she continues to be incarcerated without a trial.
There are so many victims of this draconian law. As per a National Crime Records Bureau report, the number of people arrested under the UAPA has gone up to 1,948 in 2019.
Therefore, we call for:
- the immediate and unconditional release of Khurram Parvez, Sudha Bharadwaj and all human rights defenders. Put an end to all acts of harassment – including at the judicial level – against human rights defenders in India and ensure that they are able to carry out their legitimate activities as human rights defenders without any hindrance and fear of reprisals in all circumstances
- the repeal of the UUPA and an immediate moratorium on the usage of this act pending repeal
- the immediate release on bail pending the end of trial of all those currently detained on allegations of committing offences under the UUPA
- immediate just compensation to be paid to Mohammed Irfan and others who have been found not guilty after trial or have never even been tried; and
- India to respect justice and human rights and protect the rights of human rights defenders
On behalf of the following groups:
- Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture (Madpet)
- North South Initiative (NSI)
- Anti-Death Penalty Asia-Pacific Network (Adpan)
- Amnesty International Australia
- Association of Human Rights Defenders and Promoters – HRDP, Myanmar
- Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (Masum)
- Black Women For Wages For Housework
- Building and Wood Worker’s International (BWI) Asia Pacific
- Capital Punishment Justice Project (CPJP), Australia
- Center for Orang Asli Concerns (COAC)
- Citizens Against Enforced Disappearances (Caged), Malaysia
- Democratic Commission for Human Development, Pakistan
- Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance (Find), Philippines
- Foundation The Day Of The Endangered Lawyer
- International Women’s Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific (IWRAW Asia Pacific)
- Karapatan Alliance Philippines
- National Union of Flight Attendants Malaysia (Nufam)
- Network of Action for Migrants in Malaysia (Namm)
- Odhikar, Bangladesh
- Parti Rakyat Malaysia
- Payday Men’s Network (UK-US)
- Persatuan Komuniti Prihatin Selangor & Kuala Lumpur
- Persatuan Sahabat Wanita Selangor
- Setem Catalunya, Spain
- Singapore Anti-Death Penalty Campaign (SADP)
- Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty (TAEDP)
- Teoh Beng Hock Trust for Democracy
- The Dutch League For Human Rights
- Workers Hub For Change (WH4C)
- Women Of Color/Global Women’s Strike
- Workers Assistance Center, Inc. , Philippines