Plight of Kashmiri detainees in Indian jails and world’s indifference

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Raies Ahmed

In Indian illegally occupied Jammu and Kashmir, congestion in jails and in fection of inmates at large scale have triggered concern among the general public about the safety of Hurriyat leaders and activists.

Ruwa Shah, daughter of illegally detained prominent APHC leader, Altaf Ahmed Shah, in a tweet expressing concern over the health of her father Altaf Ahmad Shah and other Hurriyat leaders languishing in New Delhi’s infamous Tihar jail said, every day at least two people are dying of Covid inside the jail and more than 250 people have tested positive, so far.

She said, “Honestly I don’t know whether to feel happy that he is fine so far or to worry how vulnerable he and all others are to contract the infection in an environment where it’s hard to even get a painkiller.”

Ruwa Shah has been visiting her father since his arrest in 2017 but now worries that he faces a new threat to his health from the virus.

“If there is an outbreak in the overcrowded prison without even basic medical facilities, it is going to be catastrophic,” she added.

Last year in her article Ruwa Shah said, “My father is a political activist, and has been one since he was in college.

He was detained under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act in July 2017 after incendiary media trials that led the NIA to imprison many Kashmiri politicians.

No court has convicted him of any crime. He has been an under-trial prisoner since then. We have prepared ourselves for a long legal battle but that is a different matter”.

My father and many other leaders are accused of “sedition” and “waging war against India.” The thing with UAPA is that the state and the court already assume the accused is guilty. They already call him a “terrorist.”

Someone who spent his entire life in peaceful politics, seeking a resolution to the Kashmir issue, how come he is a terrorist? She says that it looks like that his father, God forbid, is already on a death row.

He is being executed slowly, every day, even though he should have, for all legal reasons, been treated as innocent until proven otherwise, she maintained.

It is to be mentioned that despite the alarm repeatedly raised by the world rights bodies about the condition of Kashmiri prisoners in jails, the fascist Modi led Indian government is paying no heed to calls for the release of approximately three thousand Kashmiri Hurriyat leaders, activists, youth, women and civil society members from Indian jails.

The worried families are asking whether the incarcerated Kashmiri prisoners are not humans that they are not set free despite Covid surge.

The conflict and civil strife in IIOJK have ravaged the territory for several decades, and reports of arbitrary arrests and human rights abuses often highlight the plight of locals – the black laws including Public Safety Act (PSA) and Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act have been seen as a path to brutalize people, especially the young.

Many experts look at black laws as a tool for the Indian government to detain people on suspicion and fake case in the name of law and order and threat to security.

They could end up behind bars for up to two years, even without a trial for being a threat to public order.

Hajra Bano, mother of Kashmiri journalist Aasif Sultan said she has not seen his son since August 2018.

She has spent her days and nights praying for his release and navigating a maze of bureaucratic and judicial structures with the hope for justice.

Her husband is a cardiac patient, and her own health becomes a challenge on some days. Bano is also a source of strength and succor to her daughter-in-law and her granddaughter.

There are several people who couldn’t attend the last rites of family members. Ghulam Qadir Bhat of Kupwara, his wife died while he was in a jail in Jammu. Similarly detained APHC leader Amir Hamza and Muhammad Yaseen Attai’s wives died in 2020 and they couldn’t attend their last rites.

The last words of jailed APHC leader, Ayaz Akbar’s wife Rafiqa Begum who died in April 2021 were that she want to see her husband before death, but all in vain.

Chairman of International Forum for Justice and Human Rights JK, Muhammad Ahsan Untoo, said that he was himself detained in Tihar jail when his mother died in 2008 and in 2013 while he was in Kathua jail in Jammu his daughter had died and he couldn’t attend their last rites.

Dozens of prisoners have died in jails because of the criminal negligence of jail authorities and nobody till date has been charged in those custodial murders.

77-year-old senior APHC leader and Tehreek-e-Hurriyat Jammu and Kashmir Chairman Mohammad Ashraf Sehrai who was in detention since July 2020 recently died in Indian custody in Jammu.

Muhammad Ashraf Sehrai was suffering from multiple diseases and was not provided with any treatment during his incarceration. His family members were kept unaware of his health condition.

A few days ago, Mujahid Sehrai said his father complained of not being able to read the Holy Quran or clearly identify someone in front of him.

“He said he is losing eyesight and he finds it difficult even to stand up and walk up to the landline phone which is probably some distance away from his prison cell for the weekly call,” said his son Mujahid.

Another political prisoner Ghulam Mohammad Butt, 65, member of Jama’at-e-Islami Jammu and Kashmir died in Allahabad jail in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh in December 2019, about 1,652 kilometers (1,026 miles) from his home in the Kupwara district of northern Kashmir. No family member had spoken to him or visited him after his detention on July 17, 2017.

Hurriyat leaders and activists including Muhammad Yasin Malik, Shabbir Ahmed Shah, Masarrat Aalam Butt, Aasiya Andrabi, Nayeem Ahmed Khan, Fehmeeda Sofi, Naheeda Nasreen, Altaf Ahmed Shah, Ayaz Muhammad Akbar, Peer Saifullah, Raja Merajuddin Kalwal, Shahid-ul-Islam, Farooq Ahmed Dar, Syed Shahid Yousuf, Syed Shakeel Yousuf, Muzafar Ahmad Dar, Ghulam Muhammad Butt , businessman Zahoor Watali and Eng Abdur Rashid continue to remain in detention in New Delhi’s infamous Tihar Jail in fake cases registered against them.

Besides, thousands of people including Hurriyat leaders and activists like Jamaat-e-Islami chief Dr Abdul Hameed Fayaz, Advocate Zahid Ali, Muhammad Yousuf Mir, Muhammad Yusuf Falahi, Zahoor Ahmed Butt, Muhammad Rafiq Ganai, Amir Hamza, Farooq Ahmed Tawheedi, Hayat Ahmed Butt, Imtiyaz Haider, Shaziya Akhter, Saika Akhter, Aasiya Akhter, Naseema Bagum, Hina Bashir, Aasiya Bano, Naseema Bano, Raskeem Akhter, Seeba, an LLM student of Kashmir University, Anjum Younis, Tabasum Maqbool, Saima Akther and journalist, Aasif Sultan, remain lodged in different jails of IIOJK and India under black law, Public Safety Act.

The occupation authorities have kept the veteran Hurriyat leader, Syed Ali Gilani, and Chairman of Hurriyat forum, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, under house detention since long time and have not allowed them to carry out their political activities and even they have not been allowed to offer Friday prayers and address public meetings.