Srinagar: Hours after the National Investigation Agency of India released a statement about the arrest of a Kashmiri Journalist Irfan Mehraj in an alleged militancy-related case on Tuesday, former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti criticized the government for arresting the journalist.
Mehbooba said that draconian laws like the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act or UAPA are being “abused constantly” to ensure that the process itself becomes the punishment.
“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,” Mehbooba tweeted.
Earlier in the day, the NIA claimed that it arrested Mehraj in connection with an NGO-militancy case in the Srinagar district.
The NIA statement said, “Following comprehensive investigations into the NGO militancy funding case registered in October 2020, the National Investigation Agency arrested Irfan Mehraj from Srinagar yesterday (20, 03, 2023). Irfan 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 militant activities in the valley and had also been in the propagation of secessionist agenda in the Valley under the garb of protection of human rights.”
The spokesman further stated that the involvement of some Valley-based NGOs, trusts and societies in the funding of militancy-related activities is being probed in this case.
“Some NGOs, both registered as well as un-registered, 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 militant organizations, such as Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), Hizbul Mujahideen (HM), etc,” reads the statement.
Irfan was formerly a researcher with Khurram’s human rights organization Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society.
The LinkedIn profile of Irfan Mehraj reads: “I am an independent journalist and researcher based in Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir (India). My work has appeared in TRT World, Indian Express, The Caravan, Kashmir Life, Kashmir Reader, and Greater Kashmir among others.”
Earlier, Suchitra Vijayan, the author of ‘Midnight’s Borders’ tweeted, “Kashmiri journalist Irfan Meraj was arrested by the National Investigation Agency under draconian UAPA in Srinagar today. He has been moved to Delhi,” she said adding that Irfan is a reporter and the founding editor of Wande Magazine.
Quoting Irfan’s father Mehraj-ud-Din Bhat, The Wire report said, NIA had called the journalist to appear in its office at Church Lane Srinagar on March 20. He was out on a professional assignment when he received a call. He was told to come over to their office for five minutes. Later, he said, they came to know that Irfan had been arrested and was going to be shifted to Delhi today.
“My son is innocent. His work speaks for him loudly. I have full faith that truth will prevail and he will get justice,” the report quoted Bhat as saying.
Besides Irfan, three journalists from Kashmir Fahad Shah, Asif Sultan and Sajad Gul are among five journalists in India who are currently facing detention under various sections of the law.
Journalists, Siddique Kappan of Kerala and Manan Dar of Kashmir, who were also mentioned in the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) December 8, 2022 report, were released on bail recently. Dar was released on January 2, 2023, and Kappan on February 2, 2023.
Dar was arrested on 22 October 2021 for over a year, and Kappan was released 28 months after he was arrested, along with three others, near Mathura while going towards Hathras, where a Dalit girl had been raped and killed by Hindu men.
Earlier in 2021, the New York-based international press freedom watchdog called upon the Indian government to drop investigations into the work of Kashmiri journalists and allow them to report without “harassment, intimidation, and criminal investigations.”