Kashmir’s Paralyzed Courts Leaves Detainees in Limbo

Altaf Hussein Lone looked anxious as he sat on a red printed sofa in a large hall of the high court in Srinagar, the main city of Indian-occupied Kashmir.

Since there is no public transport readily available, he had to pay an exorbitant amount to travel from his home in Baramulla, more than 50km (30 miles) away.

Mr Lone was at the court looking for a lawyer to represent his brother, Shabbir, a village leader who had been  arrested under the highly conteroversial Public Safety Act. But he was unable to find one.

Ironically, the lawyers of the Jammu and Kashmir Bar Association in Srinagar – a body representing more than 2,200 professionals – have been boycotting the courts for more than 50 days over the arrest of their present and former presidents, Mian Abdul Qauyoom and Nazeer Ahmed Ronga.

Both men were arrested under the PSA and sent to two different prisons in distant Uttar Pradesh state for “advocating secessionism” – a move that some lawyers describe as a “political vendetta”.

This has left family members of detainees in the lurch. Without a lawyer, everyone  is worried and unsure of how to proceed.

More than 250 petitions have been filed since 5 August but none are being heard as the court has assigned only two judgws to hear them.   Apart from a lack of lawyers, the court is down to nine judges from the usual 17.

Faris who was also at the Srinagar court, said he was looking for a lawyer to represent his father-in-law who was arrested on 7 August. He said the 63-year-old was taken away by security forces close to midnight and spent several days at the local police station before being moved to Srinagar Central Jail.

“He followed the ideology of Jamaat-e-Islami [a militant group opposed to Indian rule in the region] but abandoned it five years ago,” Faris added. “We have been running around for a month now. He has had two surgeries.”

The dismal state of affairs in the Srinagar high court was raised in the Supreme Court, and even prompted chief justice Ranjan Gogoi to announce that he would visit  Srinager to see for himself if the situation was as bad as reported. He has not announced a date to do so as yet.

But what it means is thousands of Kashmiris remain detained in prisons around the country.

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