Tehreek-Hurriyat chair and a possible replacement of veteran resistance leader Syed Geelani, Mohammad Ashraf Sehrai was detained under the controversial Public Safety Act, which allows for detention for up to two years without trial.
As Kashmiris in the India-administered portion of the disputed Himalayan region observe Martyrs Day, more activists face an uncertain future in custody, including a leader tipped to replace Syed Ali Geelani as the new head of the All Parties Hurriyat (Freedom) Conference.
Regional security forces took senior pro-liberation leader Mohammad Ashraf Sehrai into preventive detention, as well as several members of the outlawed Jamaat e Islami group on Sunday, under the country’s Public Safety Act, the Press Trust of India news agency quoted police chief Dilbagh Singh, as saying.
The move came ahead of the annual Martyrs Day in Kashmir which honours the memory of 22 Kashmiri Muslims killed by a Hindu ruler on July 13, 1931.
This year, the day was dropped from the list of official holidays by the regional administration which is under the direct rule of the Indian government following the abrogation of the region’s special autonomous status in 2019.
Singh said Sehrai and roughly a dozen members of Jamaat e Islami were detained and were likely to be booked under the Public Safety Act, which allows for detainees to be held for up to two years without trial.
Geelani’s potential replaced jailed
Sehrai, 76, is the present chairperson of the pro-Pakistan Tehreek-Hurriyat party in Kashmir.
He has been tipped to be the new leader of the All Parties Hurriyat (Freedom) Conference (or APHC), an umbrella association for over two dozen political and social groups seeking an end to Indian rule in the Himalayan region, after lifetime chairman Syed Ali Shah Geelani resigned last month.
Members of Sehrai’s family said they were taken by surprise at the early-morning arrival of police at 0000 GMT (5:30 am local time) in Srinagar.
“Abba [father] was reading the Quran at that time when the police party arrived at our residence at Baghat, Srinagar,” Sehrai’s son-in-law Younis Rather said.
Arrested without charges
Rather said a local police officer in the region’s capital, Srinagar, took Sehrai away without providing any details about his detention, only saying he was following orders from higher officials.
“When we went to the Sadder police station, they asked us to bring medicine and clothes for Abba and did not give any further details.
Later in the afternoon, the police called us on phone and told us he had been booked under the Public Safety Act and was likely to be shifted to Udhampur Jail,” Rather said.
The police had yet to provide the family with official documents on the charges under which Sehrai had been booked, he said.
Police sources said Sehrai he had been detained to thwart “unlawful” activities by separatist groups.
On May 19, Sehrai’s son, Junaid Sehrai – a commander of the Hizbul Mujahideen insurgent group – was killed in an encounter with security forces in Srinagar along with another member of the group in the gun battle that also led to the destruction of 14 residential houses.
Kashmir has been a UN-recognised territorial dispute between India and Pakistan since 1947.
Rebel groups in Indian-administered Kashmir have battled for decades for the region’s independence or its merger with Pakistan and enjoy broad popular support.
India has more than 500,000 troops stationed in Kashmir.
At least 100,000 people have died as a direct result of this dispute and the two neighbours have already fought three wars over the region.
After scrapping the Muslim-majority Himalayan region’s semi-autonomous status, India passed controversial domicile laws. These allow non-locals to take up jobs and ultimately buy properties in the disputed Muslim-majority region, something previously not possible under Article 370.
Kashmiris say India wants to effect a demographic change in the region by settling non-local Hindus there.