Srinagar, Kashmir administered by India – A prominent pro-freedom leader in India-administered Kashmir, Muhammad Ashraf Sehrai, has died inside a hospital south of the city of Jammu, where he was detained last year. He was 77 years old.
An official at Jammu Government Medical College Hospital said the COVID-19 report was negative, but that he had developed “respiratory stress”. India has witnessed coronavirus infections and deaths in recent weeks.
The Hurriyat Conference of All Parties (APHC), an amalgam of pro-freedom groups in the region, accused the authorities of not taking their state of health seriously.
“Despite repeated calls for the release of political prisoners held in various prisons for humanitarian reasons in the face of the devastating Covid catastrophe, authorities are playing with their lives,” the statement said.
Sehrai was the chairman of Tehreek-e-Hurriyat, a pro-freedom group in Kashmir that advocates Kashmir’s merger with neighboring Pakistan. He was detained under the Public Safety Act (PSA), a law that allows for detentions without trial for up to a year.
Sehrai was a longtime deputy of Syed Ali Geelani, one of the most influential Kashmir resistance leaders who has been under house arrest for years.
Sehrai spent most of his life as a close aide to Geelani and his association dates back to the 1960s, when they were part of Jamat-e-Islam, a local version of Ikhwan-ul-Muslimeen or the Muslim Brotherhood. .
India imprisoned thousands of Kashmiris, including prominent resistance leaders, as part of their mass repression following the removal of the Himalayan region’s limited autonomy on August 5, 2019. The India’s only Muslim region is now ruled directly by the country’s interior ministry.
India claims to have held local body elections in the region, but critics say local bodies have no legislative powers.
Sehrai’s youngest son, Junaid Ashraf, was the top commander of the Pakistan-based rebel suit, Hizbul Mujahideen. Ashraf died in a shooting in the main city of Srinagar in May 2019. Sehrai was arrested and imprisoned a few months later.
“Not allowed to meet”
Housed in Udhampur Prison, 200 km from his home, his family says they cannot see him for five months, as meetings in prisons were banned due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
His son Mujahid Sehrai said the family was informed yesterday evening of his father’s deteriorating health.
“We received a call because she suffered loose movements and was taken to hospital. I booked tickets and arrived in Jammu in the afternoon. Since then, I am waiting for the body and we have been told that they have some paperwork to complete. “We couldn’t see his face,” he told Al Jazeera.
Mujahid said his father suffered from various illnesses, including bronchitis, and that his conditions worsened in prison.
“We would send him medicine every month from home. We had also filed a medical petition in court and we appealed for him to be allowed to receive medical treatment, but to no avail, ”he said.
Mujahid said his father was allowed to call once a week, but from the last two weeks they did not receive any calls.
“The last time he spoke, he told us that he had pain in his body and that he was feeling weak. He was fasting and they were not receiving adequate food in prison,” Mujahid said.
Last week, the wife of another jailed separatist leader, Ayaz Akbar, died of cancer at her home. But Akbar, according to his family, was not allowed parole to attend his funeral.
With the second wave of pandemic sweeping India, the families of Kashmiri prisoners have demanded that their relatives housed in prisons in different parts of India be released on parole, for fear of their safety.
Mehbooba Mufti, the region’s former chief minister, has also demanded the immediate release of political detainees.
“The least the GOI can do in such a dangerous circumstance is to immediately release these detainees on parole so that they can return home to their families,” she tweeted after Sehrai’s death addressing the government of India.
The Jammu and Kashmir High Court Lawyers Association (JKHCBA), a body of lawyers in the region, in a statement called it “death by custody” and demanded an independent investigation into the case. of the death of Sehrai.
In a statement issued on Wednesday, the JKHCBA said they had filed three applications in court highlighting Sehrai’s serious heart disease. “Surprisingly, no orders were issued on all three applications,” the statement said, adding that the association is deeply concerned about the courts’ casual approach to dealing with “matters of freedom and judicial apathy.”