“I am not a free man,” says Mustafa Kamal, younger brother of former CM and National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah. The police had told the J&K High Court that Kamal is a free man, but policemen guarding his Srinagar residence didn’t allow reporters to meet him. In September, they would say he was under house arrest and not allowed to meet anybody. Now they tell reporters to get an appointment from the “higher-ups”. Kamal tells Outlook on phone that he is not allowed to step out of his house. “I have documentary proof and will submit it to the court,” he says. So, Kamal has to prove he is not under house arrest even as he is not allowed to leave his house, point out kin of politicians, explaining why they feel it is useless to challenge their detention in court.
Unlike many other politicians, including his nephew, former CM Omar Abdullah, detained at Hari Niwas sub-jail, Kamal, his sister Khalida Shah and her husband Muzaffer Shah chose to challenge their “detention”. When the petition came up for hearing last month, the police told the court that none of them was under house arrest since August 5. Last week, Justice Ali Mohammad Magrey dismissed the petition after the government produced a letter from the senior superintendent of police, Srinagar, to the inspector general of police (IGP), Kashmir, saying the petitioners were not put under house arrest.
“These are political cases and political arrests,” says a relative of a detained politician. “There is nothing legal about it, so it’s a waste trying to fight it in court.”
Earlier, on September 13, former IAS officer Shah Faesal withdrew his habeas corpus petition against unlawful detention. The Delhi High Court allowed him to withdraw his plea after his wife filed an affidavit. Some sources claim Faesal’s wife was allegedly told that he could be booked under the Public Safety Act (PSA) and sent to any jail outside J&K if the habeas corpus is pursued. “I met the petitioner (Faesal)...in the lobby of the detention centre where he is being held...at the Sher-i-Kashmir International Conference Centre in Srinagar,” reads her affidavit. “The petitioner communicated to me that...hundreds of other residents of...Jammu and Kashmir have been unlawfully detained.... Aware of the fact that many or most of these detenus have no legal counsel or other remedies, he no longer wishes to pursue the present petition as a legal remedy against his unlawful detention.”
IGP (Kashmir) S.P. Pani claims nobody has threatened anyone. “They are all in judicial, not police, custody, and are free to challenge their detention,” he says.
Lawyer Shafqat Hussain, who has fought PSA cases for years, believes mainstream leaders are in “protective custody”. “Why are they not filing petitions in the high court?” he asks. “We have filed petitions on behalf of those who have been in prison for demanding the right to self-determination and azadi. The high court has ordered shifting many prisoners to Srinagar.” Since Article 370’s abrogation, at least 358 petitions have been filed in the high court challenging detentions under the PSA. Among the petitioners are Kashmir Bar Association president Mian Abdul Qayoom, former president Nazir Ahmad Ronga and general secretary Ashraf Bhat. Ailing and aged Qayoom and Ronga were taken into custody on August 5 and shifted to jails in Uttar Pradesh. Bhat was booked in late September after he allegedly accused additional advocate general Shah Aamir of misleading the high court by stating that everything is normal in Kashmir and there is no strike. Bhat too was sent to a UP prison.
The politicians perhaps took the cue on what they could face if they pursued their cases from the booking of Farooq Abdullah under the PSA on September 16, a day after the Supreme Court issued a notice to the J&K government on a petition filed on his behalf. The petition stated that if Farooq had not been formally arrested and no curbs placed on him, he should be produced before the apex court. National Conference MP Akbar Lone says the former CM could have challenged his detention, but decided against it.
Iltija Mufti, daughter of former CM and PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti, says she cannot answer on behalf of the detained leaders of her mother’s party. Mehbooba Mufti has been lodged at Chesmashahi sub-jail.
By Naseer Ganai in Srinagar