Jammu & Kashmir

Irfan Mehraj arrest: UN Special Rapporteur, Journalist Federation of Kashmir, PCI seek immediate release

Kashmiri journalist Irfan Mehraj. [Photo: Facebook/Irfan Mehraj]

Srinagar: Reacting to the arrest of Kashmiri journalist, Irfan Mehraj, by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) of India, various organizations have condemned the arrest and sought the journalist’s immediate release.

“We vehemently oppose the imposing of UAPA on media persons. The misuse of this draconian law by 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,” the Press Club of India tweeted.

Mary Lawlor, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders said that she is deeply concerned about Irfan’s arrest.

“I’m deeply concerned about Kashmiri HRD and journalist @IrfanMeraj. He was called to come to the @NIA_India office in Srinagar and arrested in a 2020 case, accused of serious offences. I call for his immediate release,” Mary Lawlor tweeted.

Journalist Federation of Kashmir also condemned the arrest. The federation said Irfan was arrested in Srinagar and then shifted to New Delhi.

“Irfan 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,” the federation said in a statement posted on its Twitter handle.

“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. This is not the first time journalists from Kashmir have been arrested/harassed/questioned. Summons for questioning and denial of their fundamental right to travel for professional, academic and personal reasons is part of the tactic.”

Three journalists from Kashmir—Asif Sultan, Sajad Gul and Fahad Shah—are already in jail. JFK strongly condemns the pattern of intimidation and views it as continued attacks on freedom of the press in Kashmir, the statement said.

Former Chief Justice of India N V Ramana, while in office had said, “Journalists are the eyes and ears of the people and…independent journalism is the backbone of democracy.”

The Supreme Court in a ruling in 2020 said “India’s freedoms will rest safe as long as journalists can speak truth to power without being chilled by a threat of reprisal.” It further said that “Deprivation of liberty even for a single day is one day too many.”

For a vibrant press to flourish in a society, authorities have to move beyond hollow claims of respect for press freedom and work towards a conducive environment where a journalist can report the facts on ground, express opinion on social media without fear, threat of arrest, the statement added.

Irfan was arrested in Srinagar by the NIA on 20 March under various provisions of the Indian Penal Code, and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.

He is the founding editor of Wande Magazine and now works as a senior editor at TwoCircles.net. He has contributed to leading news publications like The Indian Express, Al Jazeera, Himal Southasian, DW and TRT World.

As per NIA’s statement, Irfan worked at Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) which was “funding terror activities”. He worked with the Kashmiri activist and human rights defender Khurram Parvez.

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.”

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