Kashmiri freelance journalist Irfan Mehraj has been detained under terrorism and criminal charges, including inciting disaffection toward the government, since March 2023. As of late 2023, he was held in New Delhi’s Tihar Prison Complex.
ARREST AND DETENTION
On March 20, 2023, the National Investigation Agency (NIA), India’s counterterrorism body, arrested Mehraj under sections of the penal code and the anti-terror Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. Earlier that day, Mehraj was working on a documentary about drug addiction in Kashmir when investigators called him by phone to appear for “five minutes” of questioning, according to a person familiar with the case, who spoke to CPJ on the condition of anonymity due to fear of reprisal.
The person and other sources who spoke to CPJ on the condition of anonymity due to fear of reprisal said that they believed authorities targeted Mehraj because of his civil society work and critical journalism on Indian government policies and rights abuses, which included reports on extrajudicial killings and surveillance in Kashmir.
In a March 21 press release, the NIA stated that Mehraj’s arrest concerned an investigation opened in October 2020 over alleged terrorism funding. The NIA alleged that Mehraj was working with the Kashmir-based human rights group Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) and was a close associate of human rights defender and JKCCS coordinator Khurram Parvez, who has been imprisoned since November 2021.
On September 15, 2023, the Delhi police filed a charge sheet against Mehraj, which his lawyer had not received in full as of late 2023, according to the person who spoke to CPJ on the condition of anonymity.
That source, two journalists, and another person familiar with Mehraj’s case told CPJ on the condition of anonymity due to fear of reprisal that prior to his arrest, NIA officers repeatedly questioned him in relation to the terror-funding investigation and his journalistic work, including since-removed articles posted to the online outlet Wande Magazine, where he served as founding editor.
Mehraj previously worked as a researcher with JKCCS but left the organization shortly following the October 2020 NIA raids on the offices and residences of several Kashmiri human rights defenders, including Parvez, those people said.
Mehraj also is an editor at the TwoCircles.net news website, which reports on issues throughout India, including caste discrimination, violence against Muslims, and right-wing Hindu groups.
Jammu and Kashmir Police did not respond to CPJ’s email sent in late 2023 requesting comment.