Rashid Paul

Amid coronavirus pandemic, families of Kashmiri political prisoners demand they be set free

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Srinagar: With COVID-19 continuing its deadly march all over the world, Kashmiri political prisoners’ plight is giving sleepless nights to their families, who are worried about their well-being, and demand that they be set free.

Around 5200 persons were detained (official data) post-August 05, 2019 in the Kashmir when Government of India withdrew the special constitutional provisions of Jammu and Kashmir and split the state into two union territories.

With some prisoners including the convicts and under-trials facing even serious charges have been released elsewhere amid the unexpected situation caused by the COVID-19, no such relaxation has been extended in Kashmir, which is a cause of grave concern for their families.

Thousands of prisoners including the political detainees continue to be in jails in and outside Kashmir till date. More than 3,500 people from Kashmir were in prisons in different parts across India till 4th of December 2019, reveal official statistics.

Ajaz Ahmed Bedar, senior vice-president of the Kashmir Lawyers Association was part of the legal representatives that has visited some of the jails where Kashmiri prisoners are imprisoned.

“We found two to three persons crammed in 8ft x 8ft unhygienic cabins. They were susceptible to all kinds of infections and had no proper health-care facilities. We also saw the inmates being deprived of the bare minimum services as guaranteed under law,” he said.

Although some detenues have been released since, there are still so many people in prisons, especially under the preventive detention law, Bedar said. “The lives of these prisoners are at great risk in these terrible times of the corona pandemic,” said the lawyer.

Sharing some of his jail experiences, Nazir Ahmad Ronga, a senior High Court lawyer recently released from the Ambedkar Nagar jail of Uttar Predesh said, “Kashmiri political prisoners are treated at par with criminals housed in these jails, and are in a in a deplorable situation. They are malnourished.”

Ronga said that he lost 10 kilograms of his body weight during the six month detention.

He said “30 Kashmiri prisoners were quarantined in a hall in the Ambedkar Nagar jail and others were put up in small cabins. An assistant pharmacist takes care of their health. Covid-19 infection can swallow up the entire cluster of these prisoners,” he said.

“Some of the boys lodged in the jail screamed at night in hallucination,” revealed Ronga.

He appealed the Government of India to release the Kashmiri detenues, especially those in the Ambedaker Nagar jail.

“Under these times of crisis when the whole humanity is fighting for its survival and seems caught up in a situation worse than a nuclear holocaust, keeping Kashmiri prisoners in jails is inhuman,” said Parvez Imroz, a human rights campaigner .

Jails in India, according to Imroz, are overcrowded and the situation has been worsened by the coronavirus outbreak.

Asked about the legal remedies available to Kashmiri prisoners in the wake of the courts having been closed, Imroz said “extraordinary situations demand extraordinary initiatives”.

“Prisoners across India are being released; it would be callousness to keep Kashmiri prisoners in jails in these times of the global pandemic,” said the human rights advocate.

“The government has invoked laws to keep its entire population under lockdown. It makes no sense if people alleged of disturbing public order and peace are kept in jails and not released to be kept in home quarantine,” he suggested.

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