Srinagar: Separatist group the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq has urged the authorities in Jammu and Kashmir to release deceased Hurriyat leader Ashraf Sehrai’s sons who have contracted COVID-19 in jail.
Sehrai’s two sons – Mujahid Ashraf and Rashid Ashraf – were arrested by the police earlier this month on alleged charges of protesting at their father’s funeral in north Kashmir. The funeral was attended by close friends and family members with a heavy presence of armed forces.
Ashraf Sehrai, 80, died on May 5 at a Jammu hospital after developing serious health complications in District Jail Udhampur, where he had been incarcerated since last year. Authorities later claimed that he had contracted COVID-19 but many – especially members of his family – alleged that the separatist leader died due to medical negligence in jail.
Sehrai’s family ferried the body of the former Tehreek-e-Hurriyat (TeH) chairman from Jammu to Kupwara – a 400 km journey – before burying him early morning due to the administration’s directions to avoid a gathering of any sort. About two weeks later Rashid and Mujahid were arrested and the two have under been under detention since.
“The family has already suffered much. Their mother, who is also not keeping well due to the tragedy and the arrest of her sons, has added to the family's miseries,” the APHC said in a statement.
A number of political parties and civil rights groups have been advocating for the release of political prisoners, who many claim have been arbitrarily detained in view of the second wave of COVID-19 in the region and across the country. Cases in the union territory have spiked remarkably since April and many detainees, including the elderly and those with multiple ailments, have also contracted the virus, putting lives at risk. The families of those jailed outside J&K have also demanded their release or at least that they be shifted to UT jails as a safety measure. The request, however, has not been ‘heard.’
“Hundreds of Kashmiri political leaders, activists and youth continue to be behind bars for years altogether and are not being released despite the second wave of Coronavirus pandemic wreaking havoc,” an APHC spokesperson said.
APHC added that global human rights organisations, the United Nations, and all nations in the world must use their “influence” in at least securing the release of Kashmiri political prisoners during the COVID-19 pandemic, including its chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, who continues to remain under house arrest since August 5, 2019, the day the Central Government abrogated Article 370 and bifurcated the erstwhile state into two union territories.
Sehrai’s predecessor and Hurriyat stalwart Syed Ali Geelani, who is 92 years old and suffering from serious health ailments including dementia, is also amongst those who continue to remain under detention. His incarceration, however, began in the year 2010 and was extended by successive governments helmed by the Congress, National Conference (NC), the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and continues under the UT administration.