Kashmiri journalist arrested under UAPA

March 21, 2023 10:17 pm | Updated March 22, 2023 10:20 am IST - SRINAGAR

While conmen are given a free run in Kashmir, journalists like Irfan Mehraj are arrested for speaking the truth, said PDP president Mehbooba Mufti; the Press Council of India also condemned the arrest

Security personnel during a raid conducted by National Investigation Agency (NIA) in connection with terror-funding cases, in Anantnag district, on March 14, 2023. | Photo Credit: PTI

Kashmiri journalist Irfan Mehraj was arrested by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in Srinagar on Monday for allegedly propagating a secessionist agenda under the garb of protecting human rights. Separately, the agency also charge-sheeted an alleged militant associate.


Mr. Mehraj worked for the online portal, which focusses on news about marginalised communities, and also edited Wande Magazine, an online magazine of longform writing. The NIA said that his arrest followed a comprehensive investigation into a non-governmental organization’s (NGO) terror funding case, which was registered in October 2020.

‘Secessionist agenda’

“Mr. Mehraj was a close associate of Khurram Parvez and was working with his organization, Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Societies (JKCCS). Investigation revealed that the JKCCS was funding terror activities in the Valley and had also been in propagation of a secessionist agenda in the Valley under the garb of protection of human rights,” the NIA said.


Also read: Global rights bodies call for release of Kashmir-based activist Khurram Parvez

Mr. Parvez, 46, whose organisation worked on alleged custodial disappearances and rights abuses in J&K, was arrested in 2022. The JKCCS was awarded the Rafto Prize for human rights in 2017. Mr. Parvez’s arrest was condemned by human rights groups, as well as by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders Mary Lawlor. Mr. Parvez is facing charges under sections of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) in a case that pertains to “criminal conspiracy and illegal money transfer for terror activities”.

‘Draconian law’

The Press Club of India (PCI) “vehemently opposed the imposing of UAPA on mediapersons”, according to its statement. “The misuse of this draconian law by the NIA in randomly arresting Irfan Mehraj, a journalist from Kashmir ominously points towards a violation of freedom of speech and expression. We demand his immediate release,” a PCI spokesman said.

The Journalist Federation of Kashmir, a Kashmir-based journalists’ body, also condemned the arrest. “Mehraj is a hardworking journalist whose work has appeared in several local, national and international platforms. He regularly contributed to the international broadcasters Deutsche Welle (DW), Al Jazeera and TRT. His work has also appeared in The Caravan, Himal Magazine, Brighter Kashmir and Rising Kashmir. His arrest seems to be another tactic of intimidating journalists in Kashmir who have always worked under perilous conditions, holding up values of press freedom in the face of dangers to life and liberty,” it said.


The federation urged the authorities “to respect press freedom and work towards a conducive environment where a journalist can report the facts on ground, express opinion on social media without fear or threat of arrest”.

Also read: Editors Guild condemns arrest of scribes in Kashmir, demands their immediate release

‘Abuse of UAPA’

Former Chief Minister and Peoples Democratic Party president Mehbooba Mufti said, ”While conmen are given a free run in Kashmir, journalists like Irfan Mehraj are arrested for doing their duty by speaking the truth. Draconian laws like UAPA are abused constantly to ensure that the process itself becomes the punishment.”

Meanwhile, the NIA said that it suspected the involvement of some Valley-based NGOs, Trusts and Societies in the funding of terror-related activities and this “is being probed”.


Ongoing probe

“Some NGOs, both registered as well as unregistered, have come to notice collecting funds domestically and abroad under the cover of doing charity and various welfare activities, including public health, education, etc. But some of these organisations have developed links with proscribed terrorist organizations, such as Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) etc.,” the NIA said.

In a separate development, the NIA has filed the first supplementary chargesheet against one overground worker of the HM in the J&K terrorism conspiracy case.

Terror fundraising

“During investigations, the NIA identified and arrested accused Muhammad Rafi Najar from Sopore, a close associate of designated terrorist Imityaz Kundoo alias Fayaz Sopore. He is a dealer in handicrafts and was based out of Pokhra, Nepal. He was found to be channelizing funds for proscribed terrorist organisations in the garb of legitimate trade of Kashmiri handicrafts,” the NIA said.


The profits accrued from the sale of the handicrafts were then sent to the Kashmir valley through hawala channels and distributed amongst the terrorists operating in the Valley through another chargesheeted over ground worker, the NIA added.

Conspiracy for violence

The arrest has been made in a case that pertains to the conspiracy hatched by the proscribed terrorist organisations, such as the LeT, HM and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), along with their frontal organisations such as the TRF and PAFF, and their over ground workers operating in J&K, to undertake violent militant action in the Kashmir Valley and in other major cities of India, including Delhi.

“Investigations in the case had earlier established the connections of commanders of these proscribed organisations based in Pakistan with their operatives in Kashmir valley to recruit and train the youth in handling of arms and explosives. They had floated a lot of propaganda material in cyberspace to talent-spot and recruit these individuals who then function as sleeper cells and cause terrorist incidents, including targeted killings, acting in small groups or lone wolf actors,” the NIA added. 

The NIA said that 26 persons had been earlier chargesheeted in the case, including Pakistan-based listed individual terrorists Bashir Ahmed Peer alias Imtiyaz Alam and Imitiyaz Kundoo alias Fayaz Sopore. The NIA also attached the property of Bashir Ahmed Peer on March 4 under Section 51A of the UAPA.

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