New Delhi: In the last four weeks in the Kashmir Valley – under a security and communications lockdown since August 5 – a staggering 250 habeas corpus petitions have been filed. These petitions, which are a recourse in law through which a person can report an unlawful detention or imprisonment to a court, have reportedly been filed by individuals challenging their detention under the draconian Public Safety Act (PSA).
According to Indian Express, the fact that almost six such petitions have been filed daily in the Jammu and Kashmir high court has been kept under wraps when hearing a clutch of petitions about the ongoing situation in the Valley.
As per the records accessed by the English daily, since the Centre’s two-pronged move in Kashmir on August 5 – reading down Article 370, thus revoking the state’s special status, and bifurcating the state into two union territories – until September 19, 252 habeas corpus petitions have been moved before the Srinagar wing of the high court.
These petitions mainly challenge the prevention detention orders passed by district magistrates under the PSA.
Since the clampdown in the Valley, hundreds have been held under the PSA and detained, with many even being moved out of the region due to lack of space. According to Scroll, government estimates of the numbers taken into custody range from 290 to 4,000.
Amid the communications gag and widespread detentions, courts were being looked at as the last place for individuals to get recourse.
The court has, however, shown little urgency in dealing with these cases. Nearly 150 petitions are in the stage of admission and 85 are listed for orders. In 20 cases, the stage of the case still remains unknown.
Moreover, between August 5 and August 26, 288 cases were heard at the high court in Srinagar. However, in 256 of these cases, the petitioners were not present. In 235 cases, the respondents did not show up.
Among those detained under the PSA is Nazir Ahmed Ronga, a former president of the Kashmir High Court Bar Association. Under the controversial Act, a person can be jailed for six months without a trial. One of the charges levelled against Ronga, in the PSA dossier accessed by The Wire, talks about his potential to mobilise people to participate in voting even when a boycott was called.
A majority of the petitions filed – 147 – have challenged the detention and Section 22 of the PSA, which states:
“No suit, prosecution or any other legal proceeding shall be against any person for anything done or intended to be done in good faith in pursuance of the provisions of this Act.”
Indian Express further reported that 16 have challenged the detention under Section 13 of the Act, which states that grounds of order of detention needs to be disclosed to persons affected by the order.
What still remains unclear is whether notices have been issued to the government based on these peitions, and in how many cases. Also, whether or not the government has responded to any notices.