The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Kashmir teen on fast dies in custody

Pakherpora (Budgam), Oct. 22: When people across Kashmir were busy observing Shab-e-Qadr — the night of prayers — 17-year-old Mohammad Maqbool Dar was battling for his life. The next morning, Saturday, his torture-scarred body reached home.

Ramzan Dar, a labourer from this village, lost his only son allegedly because of torture by troops of the 53 Rashtriya Rifles. On Friday, the soldiers had dragged the boy, still to break his Ramzan fast, into their vehicle before the family’s eyes.

“He begged for help but we were helpless,’’ Ramzan said.

Police, who have registered a murder case against the troops, dismiss the army claim that Maqbool had militant links.

The army denies any role in the death — saying the boy had died in hospital after falling ill during questioning — and has instituted a court of inquiry to pinpoint the cause of death.

“The army killed my son. Why did they do it'” sobbed mother Haneefa at the family’s thatched house today.

“His only fault was that he was working hard to earn a livelihood to be able to look after his ageing parents and only sister.’’

The troops came on Friday evening. “He was keeping a fast and it was iftaar time when they took him away. During Shab-e-Qadr, we spent the night praying that we see him again. But in the morning, his body arrived,” Ramzan said.

People have been dropping in to offer sympathy, but none had dared join the family in their protests when the body arrived.

“We paid a heavy price when we protested against the atrocities by the forces last year. A number of us were booked and we still have to appear in court,’’ a neighbour said.

Defence spokesman Lt Colonel A.K. Mathur said Maqbool was an “overground worker” for the Hizb-ul Mujahideen.

“He was arrested for questioning after we learnt that he has a pistol. We wanted to know where he had got it,’’ Mathur said.

“Yesterday morning he complained of illness and we took him to a hospital where he died. We have instituted a court of inquiry to investigate the cause of his death. We are awaiting the post-mortem report.”

He said the police, too, had arrested Maqbool before for his involvement in militancy.

District police chief Ashiq Bukhari, however, said Maqbool had no militant links.

“We have registered an FIR against the army and started investigations,’’ he said, adding: “Even if he had any involvement (in militancy), does the army have a right to kill him'”

The Chrar-e-Sharief police’s station house officer, Muhammad Ashraf, too, said Maqbool was innocent.

“They (the army) took the boy alive and brought him back dead. His house was raided a few days ago by the army but they did not find him there.”

The next morning, Ashraf recalled, the parents had accompanied Maqbool to the police station to hand him over to the army.

“We interrogated him and found him innocent. We got the local army officer here and he also agreed that Maqbool was innocent,” Ashraf said.

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