Four United Nations’ special rapporteurs have expressed grave concern at the arrest of senior Hurriyat leader Mohammad Ashraf Sehrai, followed by torture and his death in custody and urged the Indian government to investigate the case.
Muhammad Ashraf Sehrai was arrested by Indian police from his residence in Srinagar on 12 July 2020 and shifted to Udhampur Jail in Jammu after being booked under draconian law Public Safety Act. His condition deteriorated in jail, but was not given timely access to doctor and was only shifted to Government Medical College, Jammu, on 04 May this year where he died the next day.
The UN special rapporteurs in their letter to the Indian government demanded an impartial inquiry into the custodial killing of the senior Hurriyat leader.
The letter was signed by Morris Tidball-Binz, Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions; Tae-Ung Baik, Chair-rapporteur of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances; Tlaleng Mofokeng, Special Rapporteur on the Right of Everyone to Enjoyment of the Highest Attainable Standard of Physical and Mental Health; and Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on Torture and other cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment signed the communication.
The letter was dispatched in July 2021 but publicised on Friday after failure of the Indian government to respond to it within the stipulated time frame.
The rapporteurs have urged the Indian government and its authorities in IIOJK to undertake a prompt, thorough, independent and impartial investigation into the death in custody of Muhammad Ashraf Sehrai so as to determine and document the reason for his arrest, its factual and legal basis, his treatment in detention, including any indication that he may have been tortured or otherwise mistreated, and the cause of his death.
“We are also concerned by the reported lack of access to adequate medical care while he was in prison, given his fragility and known physical conditions,” reads the communication sent by the rapporteurs to the Modi government.
They have sought clarifications from the Modi regime on various cases provided to them by the Human Rights Council regarding Ashraf Sehrai’s death. They have asked the Indian government to provide detailed information concerning the legal grounds for the arrest and detention of Sehrai “and for his alleged subjection to solitary confinement and secret (incommunicado) detention”.
The letter has also sought the detailed information on the reasons why Ashraf Sehrai was “needed to be admitted into Government Medical College and why he died there, while in detention”.
The special rapporteurs have asked for any document related to “medical diagnosis, death certificate as well as post-mortem report undertaken after the death to determine its cause(s); and whether such documents were shared with the family”.
They have sought the current status of Ashraf Sehrai’s two sons, Mujahid Ashraf Khan and Rashed Ashraf Khan, as well as detailed information on the factual and legal grounds for their arrest, their continued detention, and the measures taken to ensure that they are treated humanely while detained, have access to their family and their lawyers, and are ensured due process of law in the respect of the international human rights norms for fair trial that are binding on India by virtue of the treaties it has ratified.
As per the letter, Muhammad Ashraf Sehrai was arrested on 12 July 2020 by several armed forces “in plain clothes, without an arrest warrant”. He was booked under draconian law, Public Safety Act (PSA), and was taken to Saddar Police Station.
“His family was later informed that he was at Udhampur District Jail, in Jammu,” the letter reads.
The family had later, in October 2020, travelled to the Udhampur District Jail to inquire about his whereabouts.
“However, they did not get any information about his whereabouts, were threatened by security officers at the jail and by an Indian Army officer, and told to not return,” reads the letter by the rapporteurs.
“Despite filing a Habeas Corpus case in the Jammu Kashmir High Court, which should decide on the case within 15 days, Mr. Sehrai was not released.
Likewise, his family filed three requests before the said Court for ensuring his vital medical treatment,” it reads. The family had also sought for his transfer from the Udhampur jail to Central Jail Srinagar, considering his ailing condition, as per the rapporteur, but nothing happened.
The letter says that after the funeral of Sehrai, his sons, Mujahid Ashraf Khan and Rashed Ashraf Khan were arrested from his home and continue to be in detention.
They are booked under Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and are being shifted to different prisons.
The cause of Sehrai’s death was said to be bilateral pneumonia and low levels of oxygen saturation and thus attributed to COVID-19, reads the letter by rapporteur.
“However, he reportedly died due to the lack of access to his medicine and adequate medical care while in prison,” it reads. “Sleep deprivation and being placed in solitary confinement might have also had a negative impact on his health.”
The letter by rapporteur reads: “Reportedly, Indian authorities have so far not opened an investigation into the allegations of torture suffered by Mr. Sehrai and the causes of his death in custody.”
“If confirmed, these allegations would amount to multiple violation of the right of every individual to life and security, the absolute and non-derogable prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, of the right not to be arbitrarily deprived of one’s life or liberty, as well as the right to health, as set forth in articles 6, 7 and 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which India acceded to on 10 April 1979,” it further reads.
The UN had urged the Indian government to send a response within 60 days on 21 July 2021 and while awaiting a reply, it also urged that “all necessary measures, provided by law and the human rights obligations of India, be taken to review the cause of the arrest, detention and death of Mr. Sehrai; to ensure that the human rights of his two detained sons are respected; and in the event that the investigations support or suggest that they are correct, to ensure the accountability of any person(s) responsible for the alleged violations”.—KMS