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NIA arrests fifth Kashmir journalist in NGO terror funding case

File Photo of National Investigation Agency (Photo: IANS)

The National Investigation Agency (NIA) has arrested Srinagar-based journalist Irfan Mehraj in a terror funding case registered in New Delhi in the year 2020. He is the 5th Kashmiri journalist arrested and detained by the Central and the Union Territory agencies for their alleged involvement in terror funding and separatist activities in the last four years.

Declaring his detention on Tuesday, the NIA spokesperson said that Irfan Meraj had been arrested on Monday following comprehensive investigations into the “NGO Terror funding case” registered in October, 2020. He said that 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 the propagation of a secessionist agenda in the Valley under the garb of protection of human rights”, the NIA spokesperson said.

“Involvement of some Valley-based NGOs (non-governmental organisations), Trusts and Societies in funding of terror related activities is being probed in this case. 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 spokesperson added.

A resident of Mehjoor Nagar, Srinagar, Mehraj has been booked and arrested in case FIR RC-37/2020 registered at NIA Delhi. He has been immediately shifted to New Delhi for sustained interrogation and other formalities. Sources said that Mehraj’s arrest came after several rounds of questioning by the NIA in the last over two years.

With a legacy verified account, Mehraj has around 4,000 followers on Twitter. He describes himself as editor of the news portal ‘TwoCircles.net’ which, according to him, is a ‘non-profit mainstream media’ outlet. Its Twitter handle @TCNLive has around 14,000 followers. On ‘linkedin.com’, Mehraj is connected to 478 persons including Turkey-based Kashmiri Mukhtar Baba who has been lately declared as a designated terrorist by the Indian government.

Mehraj describes himself as “an independent journalist and researcher based in Srinagar”. “My work has appeared in TRT World (Turkey), Indian Express, The Caravan, Kashmir Life, Kashmir Reader, Greater Kashmir among others”, Mehraj claims on the site.

JKCCS chief Khurram Parvez has been in jail continuously since his arrest by the NIA on 22 November, 2021. Previously he had been arrested and released over a dozen times in 20 years for his alleged involvement in separatist activities. His organisation claimed to be working for protection of human rights in the Kashmir conflict, even as almost all its reports and statements were selectively on the rights violations allegedly committed by the State agencies.

One of NIA’s own former officers, Superintendent of Police Arvind Digvijay Negi, was arrested in February 2022 and subsequently dismissed from service, after he was found to have leaked sensitive information to Khurram Parvez against whom he was investigating a case.

The NIA, according to sources, believes that Irfan Mehraj played a key role in promotion of separatist and terrorist activities in the Kashmir valley in his association with Khurram. Khurram has been booked under different sections of Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and other laws. He has received several awards from international human rights organisations which, according to the Indian government officials, “part and parcel of the separatist-terrorist ecosystem”. Senior UN officials, scores of the Left-leaning activists, media persons and organisations have demanded his release and discharge.

The Central and the UT agencies have proceeded against at least 9 Kashmiri journalists in the last four years for their alleged involvement in separatist and terrorist activities. While two of them, namely Kamran Yousuf and Qazi Shibli, were released, two more, namely photojournalist Masrat Zahra and Gowhar Geelani, were booked under UAPA but never arrested. Zahra was even permitted to travel abroad and pursue fellowships and higher studies in Germany and the United States of India. She is currently in New York.

Mehraj is the 5th Kashmiri journalist to be detained and lodged in jail in Delhi. Editor of online magazine ‘Kashmir Walla’ Fahad Shah, who also contributed to different international journals and newspapers, has been in jail since 4 February 2022 when he was arrested by the Police in Pulwama. Even as he got bail in two cases, he was subsequently booked under different sections of UAPA. He is the son of a retired Police officer.

Then working with the Srinagar publication ‘Kashmir Narrator’, Asif Sultan of Batmaloo, Srinagar, was arrested in August 2018 after the Police and security agencies claimed that he had provided shelter to some terrorists at his home and maintained contact with them. His arrest came days after an encounter between the Police and militants in which the militants escaped and one Police personnel got killed. He too was booked under UAPA after some courts granted him bail in PSA and other cases.

Sajad Gul of Sumbal, Bandipora, working with some online news portals, was arrested on 6 January 2022 after he posted on social media some videos of the women mourners who were protesting against the killing of a local terrorist Saleem Parray of Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT). Parray had been killed in a dramatic encounter while he was clicking pictures with a young woman at the famous Shalimar garden.

According to the Police and the local population, Parrey was the most dreaded terrorist of Hajan area who was involved in over a dozen civilian killings including several beheadings and knife attacks in his own area in 2017-18. The Police called Sajad Gul for his tweets and social media posts which allegedly glorified a dreaded terrorist and his death in an encounter. He too got bail in initial cases and was subsequently booked under stringent laws.

Aadil Farooq Bhat of Khrew, with PG in journalism and mass communication from Central University of Kashmir, was arrested near Press Enclave in Srinagar on 10 August 2021, minutes after 10 civilians were injured in a grenade attack at Hari Singh High Street. Two hand grenades were recovered from his bag. Police claimed that he was associated with the terrorists who had thrown the grenade. At the time of his arrest, he was working as a sub editor with a local news gathering agency Current News Service.

Bhat had been arrested also in 2019 but released after Chairman of Hurriyat Conference Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and some media organisations raised uproar that an innocent and uninvolved student had been detained by the government. However, there was no outcry over his second arrest when he was caught with two hand grenades in his bag.

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