Majid Kapra

Omar Abdullah freed after nearly eight-month detention

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Calls for release of all detainees, restoration of high-speed Internet

Photo-Javed Khan/Kashmir Images

Srinagar: Former chief minister Omar Abdullah was on Tuesday freed after nearly eight months in detention after the administration revoked the stringent Public Safety Act (PSA) against him.

Informing about the release of Omar Abdullah, government spokesman Rohit Kansal in a tweet said “government issues orders revoking detention of Shri Omar Abdullah”, who was lodged at the makeshift detention centre at Hari Niwas after being detained under PSA in the month of February.

A huge posse of media personnel and supporters, many of them in masks, waited for him outside his residence after he was released.

The National Conference leader, who turned 50 on March 10, has been under detention since August 05, when the Centre announced the revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status under Article 370 and its bifurcation into the union territories of Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh.

The order revoking the PSA against him was issued by Home Secretary Shaleen Kabra. Abdullah was booked under the stringent act on February 05, hours before his six-month custody under preventive detention was to end.

The government has revoked his detention with “immediate effect”, the order stated.

Abdullah’s mother was the first to arrive at the makeshift detention centre after news came in that her son was about to be released. He was kept at the state guesthouse Hari Nivas, just a few hundred metres from his official residence.

His father, former chief minister Farooq Abdullah, was also charged under the PSA and released on March 13 after 221 days in detention. PDP leader and former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti continues to be under detention.

On February 05, Omar Abdullah, who was junior foreign minister and commerce minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led Cabinet in 2000, was served with a three-page dossier that was challenged in the Supreme Court by his sister Sara Abdullah Pilot.

The Supreme Court last week asked the Centre and the Jammu and Kashmir administration to inform by this week if it was releasing him.

A bench of Justices Arun Mishra and M R Shah told the counsel appearing for the Centre that Abdullah’s sister’s plea against his detention would be heard on merit if he was not released soon.

The petition, which may now become infructuous, could have come up for hearing on Wednesday or later this week.

Meanwhile, soon after his release, Omar Abdullah called for the release of all detained people within and outside Jammu and Kashmir and appealed for the restoration of high-speed mobile Internet services.

“The politics and situation of this state, what happened on August 05 (last year), I will talk about it in detail, but first, let us get rid of coronavirus, save ourselves and our families and friends. And then all those detained, be it within the state or outside it, I want the Centre to have mercy on them, bring them home and release them,” Omar told reporters outside his residence.

He said all the detained leaders, including PDP president Mehbooba Mufti, should be released in view of the situation arising out of the coronavirus scare.

“Be it Mehbooba Mufti or my NC colleagues, or leaders from PDP or from any other party. Some do not belong to any party, but are in detention since August (last year). In these difficult times, they should be brought back to their families,” he said.

Omar said people faced many hardships after the August 05, 2019 decisions of the Centre, but the time was not ripe to talk about them as the people were fighting the war of life and death.

“The hardships that the people faced… our children couldn’t go to schools for many months, shopkeepers didn’t have an earning for months. People associated with hotels, taxis, houseboat, shikara and factories had to face difficulties. I was detained at one place, but the difficulties the people here faced, they were kept at their homes, I had thought that I will talk a lot about it, but today I realise that we are fighting a huge war – the war of life and death.

“Unfortunately, we have gathered here against the government’s directions. We were told that social distancing should be followed, that we should take precautions to contain the spread of this disease. However, what lesson will we give to the people when we ourselves are not ready to follow it,” he said.

He said people must follow the government orders of social distancing and precautions to fight coronavirus.

“Be it Article 370 or 35-A or UT or bifurcation of the state, I will talk to you in detail once the current situation passes,” he added.

However, Omar Abdullah appealed to the Centre to lift restrictions on the high-speed mobile Internet in the Union Territory.

“I humbly appeal the Centre to lift the restrictions on the communication. If nothing, at least 3G/4G be restored. We are told to take lessons on awareness about coronavirus from the internet, but what to do when nothing opens (because of low speed),” he said.

Omar took to Twitter and posted a picture of himself sporting long pepper beard.

“232 days after my detention today, I finally left Hari Niwas. It’s a very different world today to the one that existed on 5th August 2019,” he wrote.

“Had lunch with my mum and dad for the first time in almost 8 months. I can’t remember a better meal even though I’ve been in a bit of a daze and don’t remember what I ate,” he wrote in another tweet.

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