SRINAGAR, India – India’s premier anti-terror probe agency searched on Thursday offices of various charities in the disputed Kashmir region, sparking fears of a crackdown against aid groups and rights defenders to curb dissent.
It was the second day in a row that the National Investigation Agency (NIA) raided offices of aid agencies and activists in Kashmir after it searched the premises of a leading English daily, as well as residences of two prominent rights activists and a journalist on Wednesday.
An NIA statement from New Delhi said that its officers searched the offices of six non-profits and trusts because they were allegedly raising domestic and foreign funds for charitable activities and using the money to carry out “secessionist and separatist activities.”
“The NIA conducted searches at seven locations in (Kashmir) and two locations in Delhi,” the probe agency said in the statement.
The agency said that the groups used the funds collected for “public health, education (to) carry out and sustain secessionist and terrorist activities” in Kashmir.
“Several incriminating documents and electronic devices (were) seized during the searches,” the statement added.
Among the charities and non-profits under the scanner are Falah-e-Aam Trust, which runs some 350 educational institutions across the region.
The government-registered trust was established in the early 1970s by the Jamaat-e-Islami, a socio-religious group, for “education and service to mankind.”
But the Jamaat-e-Islami, founded in the early 1940s, has long been under the government radar for allegedly being the ideological mentor of the largest militant outfit in Kashmir: Hizbul Mujahideen.
Another group whose NIA officers searched in Kashmir is the J&K Yateem Foundation, which runs homes for orphans, widows, and victims of violence in the valley.
A Kashmir police official, privy to the raids, told EFE that the NIA seized laptops, phones, and data storage devices during the search operations.
In Delhi, NIA sleuths raided the premises of former Delhi Minority Commission chief Zafarul Islam Khan, a prominent Muslim scholar-activist who runs the Charity Alliance and also edits The Milli Gazette, a bi-monthly English newspaper.
Delhi Police booked Khan on May 2 on charges of sedition over a social media statement he posted to thank Kuwait for “standing with Indian Muslims” against “Hindutva bigots.”
“My home and offices were raided by NIA this morning. They took many papers, all laptops, hard disks of all desktops, cash found,” Khan, 72, tweeted.
He said the NIA investigators linked him and his NGO “with Kashmir terror.”
“I have no relationship or even contacts with Kashmiri militants and have not even visited Kashmir for many years. It seems an attempt to implicate me in some terror or riot case.”
The agency searched on Wednesday the premises of Agence France-Presse’s Kashmir correspondent Parvaiz Bukhari and offices of rights activists Khurram Parvez and Parveena Ahanger, apart from the premises of leading English daily Greater Kashmir.
Ahangar runs a human rights organization, the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons, which works for the families of victims who have been allegedly subjected to enforced disappearances by security forces during the three decades of Kashmir conflict.
Ahangar founded the association in 1994, years after her teenage son was allegedly abducted by the Indian Army and never seen again.
The APDP said in a statement that the investigators seized several documents and electronic devices, including Ahangar’s mobile phones, during the searches.
It expressed “grave apprehension” that the seized documents and devices could be accessed by other government agencies, potentially causing “adverse consequences and reprisal against victims and families” who have testified against security forces.
The association said the office data included more than 1,000 testimonies of enforced disappearances, 400 testimonies of pellet gun injuries, 300-400 testimonies of arbitrary detentions and torture, and some cases of sexual violence.
Former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, who was released recently after more than a year in detention, tweeted that the raids on human rights activists and journalists “is yet another example of the government’s vicious crackdown on freedom of expression and dissent.”
She said the NIA had become a “pet agency” for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party “to intimidate and browbeat those who refuse to fall in line.”
The crackdown on non-profits and activists come days after the authorities sealed the offices of another English daily, Kashmir Times.
The seizure triggered outrage and condemnation from global media watchdogs, denouncing the move as a step to throttle the press freedom in the troubled region.