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Crusade goes cyber

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Kashmiri youths have, perhaps for the first time, initiated a global online campaign calling for the release of 23-year-old Waqar Ahmad Moharkan of Srinagar, currently being held under the Public Safety Act (PSA). The campaign is significant not just because the youths are directly appealing to the world but because their efforts challenge the chimera of normalcy in the Valley. Activists in Kashmir have been hankering for a repeal of PSA and for the release of Amnesty International's report 'A Lawless Law, Detention Under the Public Safety Act' for a year now, but this security legislation continues to be deployed against dissenters and protesters.

The website, www. savewaqar. org, started by a group that calls itself 'Friends of Waqar' recounts how the final-year B. Com student of Islamia College, Srinagar, was arrested by the police on October 1, 2011 for participating in protests in Lalbazar. Even though he was granted bail on October 23 he was not released. He was immediately rebooked instead and shifted to Central Jail on November 5 under a 10-day judicial remand. A case under PSA, which allows preventive detention without trial for two years, was slapped against him. This effectively means Waqar is being denied a trial.

Waqar's father filed a writ petition in the court last week for enforcement of legal, fundamental and constitutional rights. It states that the detention was ordered by a district magistrate on the basis of a letter by the senior superintendent of police and material on record. But when a copy of the letter and the material were demanded by the detainee, they were denied and he was not able to make an effective representation against it. Therefore, argue Friends of Waqar, the "impugned order of detention is legally invalid".

The website says that Waqar was illegally detained for two days at the interrogation centre at Air Cargo Building near the police station Shergari.

Curiously, on November 6, a news item published in the leading Urdu daily Aftab, cited Waqar's name as among the 30 youths who had been released and handed over to their parents on the direction of an amnesty declared by chief minister Omar Abdullah.

However, last week, the home secretariat refused to give a copy of the list to a group of youths who seeking answers. In a written reply under the Right to Information Act, the J&K home department said none of the protesters had been granted amnesty.
On December 11, Waqar's father received a call from the concerned police station informing him that his son was being shifted to Kotbhawal Jail, 300 km away from Srinagar, making it very difficult for the family to visit him.

Waqar's case, which has been taken up by Mian Abdul Qayoom, president of the J&K High Court Bar Association (also detained under PSA in 2010), is a copybook example of what has been well documented in Amnesty International's report. The pattern of his arrest - failure to pursue criminal charges, subsequent application of PSA, violations of even the PSA stipulations, and illegal confinement at the infamous "cargo" - mirrors that of hundreds of others. It is precisely this pattern, which impelled Amnesty International to declare in its report that "administrative detention under the PSA continues to be used in J&K to detain individuals for years at a time without trial, depriving them of human rights protection otherwise applicable in Indian law".

Another feature in common with other PSA detainees is that Waqar's detention order is couched in vague language, without alluding to any specific crimes. According to the website the "baffling and ridiculous grounds of detention" cited in the order are: "You have frequently come in the adverse notice of the police for your involvement in anti-social activities aimed at disturbing the public tranquility and peace in the city. You are instrumental in mobilising the anti-social elements for creating havoc in so far as causing serious law and order problem is concerned which inevitably besides endangering human life also causes impediments in the smooth economic development of the state. Your said acts are aimed at keeping the state on boil and thereby bringing about secession of J&K from Union of India. It has also emerged that your such nefarious designs are being carried out in a well thought out manner to bring the whole Downtown area to a standstill. "

Mir Shafkat Hussain, a lawyer who has successfully challenged scores of PSA detentions in the High Court, says that the lack of specific details and charges prevents detainees from challenging the order. This happens because even the basic norms under PSA are hardly ever followed. The detention is ordered either by the divisional commissioner or the district magistrate. In practise, these authorities merely 'rubber stamp' the police version. Shafkat Hussain says in his career he has come across only two district magistrates who took their role seriously and scrutinised the police version, sending it back if necessary.

Human rights activists say such arbitrary interpretation of PSA is becoming more common in the state's attempts to quell dissent, which in recent years has changed from armed militancy to unarmed street protests. A number of young protesters and stone-pelters have been booked under PSA after the police failed to pursue criminal charges against them.

The death of another young PSA detainee, 22-yearold Sajad Ahmad of Sopore, on March 22 further highlights the alleged misuse of PSA. Sajjad Ahmad's family says that though he was in a bad shape after interrogation by the Special Operations Group, he was denied medical attention, flouting even the court's instructions.

In such cases the state has often claimed that the protesters are goons who have been paid to throw stones or that they are being used by the Lashkar-e-Toiba. Even peaceful protests by Kashmir Students Union against the Amarnath land row and the controversy surrounding Shopian rape-murders were dealt with an iron hand. The union office on the campus was razed and a ban imposed on student activities.

The young men ask why youth elsewhere in India are treated differently. One angry student wondered how angry young men in Rajasthan or Haryana are permitted to block roads and rails in thousands. "Why are we denied any such space?" he asks.

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