New Delhi, March 22 (KMS): Kashmiri journalist Irfan Meraj’s arrest by India’s dreaded National Investigation Agency (NIA) in a false case has evoked strong condemnation from the journalists, politicians and media watchdogs as well as human rights organizations.
A senior journalist based in Srinagar, in an interview to a foreign media channel said that these arrests were being made to perpetuate fear. Speaking on condition of anonymity, he said, “Sometimes you feel every journalist is silent and no one will be touched. But then, arrests like these show that things are not normal”. He added, “No one is writing or speaking about anything, but still, there is a lot of fear.”
Peoples Democratic Party chief, Mehbooba Mufti, spoke out against the arrest on Twitter saying that draconian laws like the UAPA (Unlawful Activities Prevention Act) are being abused constantly to ensure that the process itself becomes the punishment. She added while conmen are given a free run in Kashmir, journalists like Irfan Meraj are arrested for doing their duty by speaking the truth.
The Journalist Federation of Kashmir also condemned the arrest by NIA and said Meraj had been shifted from Srinagar to New Delhi.
The Press Club of India in a tweet demanded the immediate release of Irfan Meraj. “We vehemently oppose the imposing of UAPA on media persons. The misuse of this draconian law by NIA in randomly arresting Irfan Meraj, a journalist from Kashmir, ominously points towards a violation of freedom of speech and expression. We demand his immediate release,” it said.
The Free Speech Collective, an independent organisation that advocates for press freedom in India, said that the arrest was an alarming indication of how far the authorities will go to clamp down on independent journalism. Its co-founder Geeta Seshu said, Meraj’s arrest under the draconian UAPA will result in a silencing of the kind of stories he wrote about. He added, “Journalists in Kashmir are arrested, raided, issued show cause notices, offloaded from airplanes and defamed as ‘anti-national’. The authorities must stop this systematic targeting of independent journalists in Kashmir, who seek to practice their profession without fear or favour.”
Aakar Patel, chair of board at Amnesty International India, in a statement said, the arrest of Irfan Meraj under terror charges is a travesty. “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 stifling of the rights to freedom of expression and association continue unabated in Kashmir”. He added, “The repression must stop. Criminalization of legitimate human rights work is extremely alarming and the authorities must put an end to this immediately.”
UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Mary Lawlor, in a tweet said she was deeply concerned for Meraj’s arrest and called for his immediate release.
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders said Meraj was being targeted in retaliation for his work exposing human rights violations.