India’s National Investigation Agency (NIA) on Wednesday carried out raids at several locations, including the offices and residences of human rights activists and journalists in Indian-administered Kashmir, triggering outrage in the Muslim-majority region.
The raids come a day after India’s Hindu nationalist government enacted a series of new laws – and amended some – allowing any of its nationals to buy land in the disputed region. New Delhi has changed several laws governing Kashmir since August 2019 when it stripped the region’s limited autonomy.
The office of local English daily Greater Kashmir was among the premises searched by officials in connection with, what the NIA said was, an investigation into funding for “secessionist and separatist activities”.
In a statement, an NIA spokesman said those whose premises have been searched include “residence and office of Khurram Parvez (co-ordinator of Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society or JKCCS), his associates Parvez Ahmad Bukhari, Parvez Ahmad Matta and Bengaluru-based associate Swati Sheshadri; Ms. Parveena Ahanger, Chairperson of Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDPK) and offices of NGO Athrout and Greater Kashmir Trust”.
The statement said, “Several incriminating documents and electronic devices have been seized. Further investigation in the case is continued.”
The APDP and the JKCCS are the two prominent local human rights groups which have been vocal about the rights abuses in the region. The JKCCS published a detailed report on the rights abuses and communications blockade in Kashmir in the wake of the abrogation of Article 370 in August 2019. Article 370 of India’s constitution granted a measure of autonomy to the region, which included a ban on outsiders from buying land in Kashmir.
The crackdown has triggered outrage in the region, with the regional Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) president and former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti condemning the raids.
“The NIA raids on human rights activist Parvez and the Greater Kashmir office in Srinagar is yet another example of the Government of India’s vicious crackdown on freedom of expression and dissent. Sadly, the NIA has become BJP’s pet agency to intimidate and browbeat those who refuse to fall in line,” Mufti tweeted.
Anuradha Bhasin, the editor of local daily Kashmir Times, whose office and residence were sealed by the authorities earlier this month, termed the raids as “attempts to impose silence even on our whispers”.
“This comes a day after the disempowering land laws. Can this be just a coincidence?” she tweeted referring to the land laws that have drawn widespread criticism from Kashmiris who see it as a move to bring about demographic change in India’s only Muslim-majority region.
A human rights activist based in Kashmir who did not want to be identified told Al Jazeera that the raids are a part of the government’s plan “to silence people entirely”.
A journalist working with the Greater Kashmir, the largest circulated English daily in the region, told Turkey’s Anadolu Agency on the condition of anonymity that NIA officials called the owner, editor-in-chief, general manager and the head of the human resources department to the newspaper’s office in Srinagar.
The officials had questioned the owner, Fayaz Kaloo, in June 2019 at its headquarters in New Delhi for several days.
The NIA has already been investigating a “terrorism” funding case in which several pro-freedom leaders have been jailed. It was not clear whether Wednesday’s raids are related to the earlier case.
Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan, with both claiming the region in its entirety. Most Kashmiris support the rebel goal of independence or to merge with Pakistan.
India calls the Kashmir unrest “Pakistan-sponsored terrorism”. Pakistan denies the accusation and most Kashmiris call it a legitimate freedom struggle.
Tens of thousands of civilians, rebels and government forces have been killed in the armed rebellion that erupted in 1989.
With contributions from Rifat Fareed in Srinagar.