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5 Valley politicians freed

Move to release the 5 suggests a shift in the government’s policy towards the Valley’s high-profile detainees
An Indian policeman holds a drone as they monitor the situation outside the Jamia Masjid or the Grand mosque in Srinagar, Friday, December 27, 2019.

Muzaffar Raina   |   Srinagar   |   Published 31.12.19, 01:12 AM

The Jammu and Kashmir administration has released five senior politicians, including three former legislators, from an MLA hostel turned jail in Srinagar, making it the first large group of leaders to be freed since the central government’s August 5 decision to scrap the then state’s special status.

Some politicians had been freed earlier too but were released in ones and twos, so Monday’s move to release the five suggests a shift in the government’s policy towards the Valley’s high-profile detainees.

A senior official claimed more politicians would be released in the coming days.

The five men released on Monday include former legislators Ishfaq Jabbar from the National Conference (NC), Zahoor Mir from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Yasir Reshi from the People’s Conference.

Mir was a minister in the PDP-BJP government in the state that collapsed in 2018.

The others who have been released are Ghulam Nabi Bhat, also from the NC, and Bashir Mir from the Congress.

The five had been lodged in Srinagar’s MLA hostel and were among dozens of senior politicians, including three former chief ministers, who were arrested ahead of or after the August 5 decision.

The former chief ministers — Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti — and many of their senior colleagues are still under detention.

An official said more than two dozen senior politicians, including Ali Mohammad Sagar, Sajjad Lone, Naeem Akhtar and Shah Faesal, are still lodged in the MLA hostel.

The three former chief ministers have been detained in other makeshift jails.

They were all taken into preventive custody under Section 107 of the Criminal Procedure Code — with no FIRs being lodged — but Farooq, who is the NC president and represents Srinagar in Parliament, was later booked under the draconian Public Safety Act, which allows detention without trial for up to two years.

An official said the five were released after they signed bonds pledging not to break law and order but the claim could not be independently confirmed. “They were released and handed over to their families,” he said.

A leader of a political party said the mobiles of the released leaders were not working. “I don’t know whether they are free to talk,” he said.

The politicians freed earlier had to reportedly sign bonds before they were released. In several cases, the bond they were forced to sign to secure their freedom put a blanket ban on them from talking about “recent events”, a thinly veiled reference to the changes to the then state’s constitutional status and the clampdown that followed. The state has since been split into two Union Territories.

Those released earlier included former ministers Imran Ansari, Mohammad Ashraf Mir and Hakim Mohammad Yasin, and former legislators Noor Mohammad and Syed Akhnoon. They have not spoken in public since their release and have been reluctant to speak to the media.

Union minister of state G. Kishan Reddy had told Parliament last month that 5,161 preventive arrests had been carried out — including of political workers, stone-throwers and separatists — since August 4 in Jammu and Kashmir “with a view to prevent commission of offences involving breach of peace and activities prejudicial to the security of the state and maintenance of the public order”.

The minister had said 609 people were still under detention, including 218 stone-throwers. Human rights groups had claimed the number of men still detained was more.

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