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Freedom test for Jammu and Kashmir administration

The National Conference has called four of its leaders to a meeting at Farooq Abdullah’s residence on Thursday, 'relying fully' on the regime’s stand
Many politicians have been released but several, including former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, continue to be in detention or under undeclared house arrest

Muzaffar Raina   |   Srinagar   |   Published 20.08.20, 02:48 AM

The National Conference has put to the test the claim of the Jammu and Kashmir administration in court that the party’s leaders are not under house arrest and are “free to move”.

The National Conference has called four of its leaders, who are still said to be under house arrest but whose freedom the government has vouched for in court, to a meeting at party chief Farooq Abdullah’s residence on Thursday, “relying fully” on the administration’s stand.

The party said more leaders claimed to be free by the government would be called to similar meetings in small batches in keeping with pandemic precautions.

Till Wednesday evening, none from the government was willing to comment on the meeting call.

Thousands of politicians and activists were arrested or put under house arrest following the scrapping of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status last year. Many of them have been released but several, including former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, continue to be in detention or under undeclared house arrest.

The NC had in July filed a habeas corpus petition in Jammu and Kashmir High Court claiming that 16 of its leaders, mostly former ministers and MPs, were being illegally kept under house arrest.

In response, the government had last week told the court that the 16 leaders were “free to move” and that they were not under any kind of detention, preventive or substantive. The government had said they needed only to adhere to certain precautions “as deemed fit” for their security.

 A government counsel had termed the NC’s claims “shocking” and “surprising”. The court is scheduled to hear the matter again on August 24.

Last month, the Centre had claimed in the Supreme Court that Congress veteran and former Union minister Saifuddin Soz “is free” and “was never detained or put under house arrest”. However, Soz and his family had accused the government of lying, and a day after the court recorded the Centre’s claim and refused to entertain any further pleas on the matter, security personnel were caught on camera stopping the 82-year-old leader from speaking to the media from even the confines of his house compound.

On Wednesday, NC spokesman Imran Nabi Dar said in a statement that the party had taken cognisance of the government’s stand in the high court and called its senior leaders to the meeting with Farooq.

“Now relying fully on the stand of the Govt. before the HC that the members are free to move and expecting no hogwash on part of the government, the Party President Dr. Farooq Abdullah has invited senior party members including Mr Ali Mohammad Sagar, Mr Abdul Rahim Rather, Mr Mohammad Shafi Uri and Mr Nasir Aslam Wani for a meeting at his residence on 20.8.2020 at 5 pm,” the statement said.

All four leaders are former ministers and had been named in the NC’s habeas corpus petition. Among them, Sagar had been formally arrested and allegedly put under house arrest after being released recently. The other three, though not formally arrested, are said to be under unauthorised house arrest.

The NC statement said the party was “mindful of the present pandemic” and “accordingly the meetings with various leaders who have been under detention will be done in batches of four members per meeting”.

“Needless to add that all SoPs shall be strictly followed by all concerned. The party is hopeful that the liberty of the members under detention is now absolute and the meeting is held successfully on the appointed day,” the NC said.

Omar Abdullah, Farooq’s son and former chief minister, tweeted the NC letter and wrote: “The @JKNC_President has taken cognisance of the reply submitted by the J&K administration in the High Court. Since no leader is under detention as claimed by the government, Dr Abdullah has invited his colleagues for a meeting in batches of 4 keeping in mind COVID precautions.”

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