A former Chief Minister of India-administered Jammu and Kashmir wrote Friday to Indian Premier Narendra Modi, asking him to consider releasing Kashmiri prisoners lodged in Indian jails given the “horrendous situation” created by the coronavirus.
The letter said that worrying reports are trickling in about prisoners dying from infections and subsequent lack of medical attention.
“Most recent reminder of the lurking threat to their lives is the death of senior Hurriyat leader-Mohammad Ashraf Sehrai who lost his life because he contracted COVID-19 in jail and was deprived of medical care,” Mehbooba Mufti wrote.
Mufti who is president of regional mainstream political party, Peoples Democratic Party, said that at a time when the system is struggling to cope with the situation, the lives of prisoners may be the least priority.
“As far as Kashmir is concerned, it is no secret that thousands of detainees and political prisoners came to be arrested since Aug. 5, 2019 who continue to languish in jails despite throughout the world, most countries have released prisoners on parole in view of the alarming COVID-19 crisis,” Mufti wrote.
In a run-up to abrogate the special status of the Jammu and Kashmir region in 2019, hundreds of Kashmiris, including politicians, lawyers, businessmen were arrested by the Indian government.
“Most of them are detained under preventive detention and do not face any prosecution. Many continue to be held even after courts granted them bail. In such a situation, a democratic and civilised country like India should not drag its feet and must release all Kashmiri prisoners immediately,” she said.
She said she is hopeful that the Indian premier will give due consideration to the matter and order the release of prisoners.
Kashmir is held by India and Pakistan in parts and claimed both in full. A small sliver of Kashmir is also held by China.
Since they were partitioned in 1947, the two countries have fought three wars -- in 1948, 1965 and 1971 -- two of them regarding Kashmir.
Some Kashmiri groups in Jammu and Kashmir have been fighting against Indian rule for independence, or unification with neighboring Pakistan.
According to several human rights organizations, thousands of people have reportedly been killed in the conflict in the region since 1989./aa