| Yasin Malik at the press conference. (AFP)
Srinagar, Nov. 12: Yasin Malik celebrated his freedom today by challenging the moving force behind his release — chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed — to a direct contest at the hustings.
“I am prepared to fight an election against Sayeed in any constituency of Kashmir Valley, but those elections should be supervised by an independent election commission,” Malik said, accepting the chief minister’s challenge asking the Hurriyat leaders to prove their representative character. He named a senior Jammu-based journalist, Ved Bhasin, as his choice to supervise the poll.
“I will even appeal to the Mujaheedeen to halt their activities and let Sayeed bring in all his star campaigners against me,” Malik said at a press conference at the Hurriyat headquarters.
“Sayeed won elections in Kashmir by seeking votes as representative of militants,” said the JKLF chairman, who was released yesterday after being detained for eight months.
Malik’s release is seen as part of the new coalition government’s policy to release political prisoners and militants against whom police could make no substantial cases.
“The People’s Democratic Party chief told Kashmiris during his election campaigns that the militants hiding in the forests should come down as they now had their representatives in the form of the PDP candidates,” he said.
He refused to accept the contention of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee that the recently held elections in Kashmir were a ‘great victory for Indian democracy’. “But let me say that those who voted in Kashmir voted for something else. The poll percentage in each constituency was only 28 per cent. People were coerced to vote by the security forces.”
The JKLF chief said there was nothing to be welcomed in his recent release. “Kashmiris have been suffering for the past 55 years. I was held for nothing. They had no proof against me.”
Maintaining that there was no legal justification for his detention, Malik said he was arrested to keep him away from the election scene. He alleged that after the designated court in Jammu under the Prevention of Terrorism Act accepted his bail application, the government re-arrested him under the Public Safety Act.
“They suppressed our voice by arresting 31 leaders and activists of the Hurriyat Conference. They should have allowed opponents to raise their voices during those elections. They are still claiming to be a big democracy.”
He refused to acknowledge that his release indicated any change in the policy towards separatist leaders.
“Each time after the polls in Kashmir Hurriyat leaders are released. Farooq Abdullah also released us after the 1996 elections. The same has been repeated after the recent elections. We are all political prisoners and the new chief minister has himself accepted that it was a political problem.”
Malik accused A.K. Suri, the state police chief, of trying to “fabricate evidence against him”. “Suri said he had proof against me. I am asking where is the proof. They even said $100,000 seized was for the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Hizbul Mujahideen. They could not prove this.”
“I don’t know what is lesser crime and bigger crime under which the separatists are being held. Their crime is that they want freedom. Our ongoing struggle is not a war. It is a political militancy.”
Replying a question on Ram Jethmalani Kashmir Committee, Malik accused Ram of “double standards” saying “he says one thing to us and quite the opposite to you (journalists). Recently he was quoted by a newspaper saying that his efforts were for achieving emotional loyalties of Kashmiris with India.”