NEW YORK: Voicing “deep concern” over the recent demise of senior Kashmiri leader Ashraf Sehrai in Indian custody, Pakistan has called on United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to ask India to release all Kashmiri political prisoners languishing in crowded jails where their health is also threatened by the deadly second wave of coronavirus sweeping the country.
“As the COVID-19 situation in India worsens, we remain deeply concerned over the health and safety of thousands of other incarcerated Kashmiri leaders as well as innocent Kashmiris, languishing in different jails at undisclosed locations,” Ambassador Munir Akram said in a letter to the UN chief, released on Friday.
Sehrai, 78, chairman of Tehreek-e-Hurriyat, who vigorously championed the Kashmiri people’s right to self-determination, passed away on Wednesday in a Jammu prison where he was denied proper medical facilities.
“His arrest (under Public Safety Act) was the worst manifestation of Indian state oppression,” the Pakistani envoy said, adding that he remained incarcerated under poor conditions and the prevailing COVID-19 crisis, ultimately leading to his death.
“While the Government of India has made perfunctory announcements about the release of several detainees as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, most Kashmiri political prisoners remain incarcerated in different jails,” Ambassador Akram said, noting that a committee formed by the Indian government, which was mandated to decongest jails in the wake of Covid-19, had stated that it will not release those booked under the Public Safety Act, or militancy-related convicts, on any parole.
This, he said, had provided an excuse for the continued incarceration of leading Kashmiri political leaders including Aasiya Andrabi, Muhammad Yasin Malik, Shabir Ahmed Shah, Advocate Shahid-ul-Islam, Altaf Ahmed Shah, Nayeem Ahmed Khan, Ayaz Akbar, Peer Saifullah, Raja Merajuddin Kalwal, Syed Shahid Yousuf, Shakeel Ahmed, Farooq Ahmed Dar, Fehmeeda Sofi, Nahida Nasreen, Zahoor Ahmed and others. Some remain under house arrest, including Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, he pointed out.
“By detaining people for such lengthy periods, without allowing them to effectively challenge their detention in a court of law, India is clearly in violation of its international human rights obligations, Security Council resolutions, Geneva Conventions and international humanitarian law,” the letter to Guterres said.
In this regard, the Pakistani envoy pointed out that the UN chief’s own office and the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michele Bachelet, have repeatedly called for a human rights-based approach to prevent the COVID-19 virus from rampaging through places of detention.
On behalf of the Government of Pakistan, Ambassador Akram urged the UN chief to use his influence and push the government of India to immediately release all detentions in Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IOJK) under Public Safety Act; all women, elderly, pre-trial detainees and undertrials on bail; any convicted political prisoners on parole, especially ones held in jails away from IOJK; and people illegally detained or held in police lockups, joint interrogation centres, and house arrests.