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August 19, 2019

IHK jails run out of capacity

Top Story

August 19, 2019

HELD SRINAGAR/ISLAMABAD: Thousands of people detained without charge in the Indian Held Kashmir (IHK) are being flown out, as jails in the occupied valley have run out of capacity.

The authorities have detained thousands of people over fears of unrest after New Delhi stripped the region of its autonomy two weeks ago. A magistrate confided to AFP that at least 4,000 people had been arrested and held under the Public Safety Act (PSA) — a controversial law that allows the authorities to imprison someone for up to two years without charge or trial.

"Most of them were flown out of Kashmir because prisons here have run out of capacity," the magistrate said, adding that he had used a satellite phone to collate the figures from colleagues across the Himalayan territory amid a communications blackout and lockdown imposed by the authorities.

The revelations came as the family of a timber trader alleged he died after choking on the tear gas fired by the security forces. "The security forces first damaged the property and when he went out to check, they fired tear gas shells and because of the smoke, he suffocated and died," Muddasir Ahmed, the nephew of 62-year-old Sidiq Khan, told AFP Sunday. The authorities did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The curfew, imposed since early August, has virtually turned the occupied Kashmir into a prison. Almost all Hurriyat leaders, including Syed Ali Gilani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq continue to remain under house arrest or in jails.

One youth died in the early days of the lockdown after he jumped into a river while being chased by police. Authorities have repeatedly declined to provide a tally of how many people have been taken into custody, apart from confirming more than 100 local politicians, activists and academics were detained in the first few days after the state was stripped of its semi-autonomous status.

They said the "few preventive detentions" were made to avoid a "breach of the peace" in a region that has fought an indigenous armed rebellion against the Indian rule for three decades. Those detained include high-profile former chief ministers Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah.

Jammu and Kashmir government spokesman Rohit Kansal said previously there was "no centralised figure" for the total number of people detained.

However, AFP spoke to numerous government officials in Srinagar, including police and security personnel, who confirmed the sweeping arrests. A police official said around 6,000 people were medicallyexamined at a couple of places in Srinagar after they were detained".

"They are first sent to the central jail in Srinagar and later flown out of here in military aircraft," he added. Residents living around the airport in Srinagar, where the Indian Air Force controls air traffic, say military aircraft land and take off every night.

Another security official said "thousands are jailed" but that the figure did not include other residents whose detentions at police stations had not been recorded. The families of those detained were reluctant to speak to AFP, fearing they would get into trouble.

A resident who asked not to be named told AFP a shopkeeper was arrested despite not taking part in protests, with a police officer telling him he was detained "because he talks a lot". Authorities earlier Sunday reinstated the heavy restrictions even though they had earlier eased them, after eight people were injured during protests.

The Press Trust of India (PTI) cited unnamed officials saying there had been clashes in a dozen locations around Srinagar on Saturday. Authorities have previously denied or played down reports of any violence and stressed that most of the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley had been peaceful. State government spokesman Kansal told reporters late Saturday that eight people had been injured in clashes but did not provide further details. A senior government official told AFP earlier Sunday that more telephone exchanges would return to normal operations "by the evening" and schools in some areas would reopen on Monday.

New Delhi’s shock decision has sparked public anger and frustration and there have been several rallies in Srinagar attracting thousands of demonstrators.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Imran Khan on Sunday said the Hindu supremacist Modi government posed a threat to Pakistan as well as to the minorities in India, and in fact to the very fabric of Nehru and Gandhi's India.

In a series of tweets, he said, “To understand the link between the Nazi ideology & the ethnic cleansing & genocide ideology of RSS-BJP Founding Fathers just Google”.

The world, he emphasised, must also seriously consider the safety and security of India's nuclear arsenal in the control of fascist, racist Hindu supremacist Modi government. This is an issue that impacts not just the region but the world, he added.

He also wrote that already four million Indian Muslims faced detention camps and cancellation of citizenship. “The world must take note, as this genie is out of the bottle and the doctrine of hate and genocide, with RSS goons on the rampage, will spread unless the international community acts now to stop it.

“And the threat also extends to Pakistan, the minorities in India and in fact the very fabric of Nehru and Gandhi's India. One can simply Google to understand the link between the Nazi ideology & ethnic cleansing & genocide ideology of the RSS-BJP Founding Fathers,” he maintained.

The prime minister further wrote, “India has been captured, as Germany had been captured by Nazis, by a fascist, racist Hindu supremacist ideology & leadership.” He said the Nazi ideology of the Modi government threatened 9 million Kashmiris under siege in the Indian Held Kashmir for over two weeks which should have sent alarm bells ringing across the world with UN observers being sent there.