After High Court's Third Intervention, Kashmir Man Detained Under PSA Finally Released

Manzoor Ahmad War said he had been “begging” the authorities for 15 months – when the high court ordered his release – to bring his son back to Kashmir, but in vain.

Srinagar: Despite ordering his release on two occasions, the Jammu and Kashmir high court has termed the incarceration of a youngster from North Kashmir at a jail in Uttar Pradesh as a “serious violation of fundamental rights.”

Following the court’s third intervention, the victim, Muzamil Manzoor War, 25, a resident of Baramulla’s Dangerpora village, was brought to Kashmir and produced before the high court on Monday, June 5.

He was shifted from Agra Central Jail to Kashmir more than 15 months after his detention under the Public Safety Act (PSA) was struck down by J&K high court. Under the PSA, which has been termed a “lawless law” by Amnesty International, a detainee can be held indefinitely without charges or trial.

The court had sought the personal appearance of the deputy commissioner (DC) of Baramulla in the case, observing that the continuing detention of War was a “disturbing scenario” which shows an attempt to “undermine the rule of law.”

“A prima facie case is made out of serious violation of the fundamental right of the petitioner as guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India,” the court observed while ordering the personal appearance of the Baramulla DC in the case.

Manzoor Ahmad War said that he had been “begging” the authorities for the last 15 months to bring his son back to Kashmir, but his pleas fell on deaf ears. “I am a law-abiding citizen with full faith in the constitution and judiciary. But when the authorities refused to implement court orders, I was left with no recourse,” he said.

Despite court orders, Manzoor Ahmad War, father of Muzamil, has been doing rounds of government offices for 15 months to get his son freed. Photo: Jehangir Ali

In the letter dated August 2, 2022, the elder War had also urged the J&K administration to shift his son to Kashmir “on humanitarian grounds”, saying that he had no source of income to meet him at Agra. The letter noted that being a “member of a poor family”, his son was “also facing many hardships at Agra” as he has “never left the Kashmir Valley.”

However, he didn’t get any response from the administration, which is run directly by New Delhi after the Union government read down Article 370 on August 5, 2019.

The junior War, a student, was detained on August 17, 2020, under the “draconian” PSA on charges of posing a threat to the “security and sovereignty of the country”. According to court documents, accessed by The Wire, he was arrested in an Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act case by Sopore police station in north Kashmir under sections 20 (punishment for being member of terrorist organisation) and 23 (intent to aid terrorist organisation), and section 7/25 of Arms Act.

The J&K police claimed that War was arrested on February 22, 2020, when a team of security forces was carrying out random checking of vehicles in the Sopore area of Baramulla district following inputs about the movement of militants. The police also claimed to have recovered a grenade from his possession.

However, his father said that a team of security personnel raided their home on the night of January 20, 2022, a month before his son was officially shown to have been arrested. He said his son was detained by Special Operations Group, J&K police’s anti-terrorism unit, with the promise that he will be returned to the family “after some questions”.

“For three days, we had no idea where he was kept. Then the police acknowledged that he was in their custody and we were finally able to meet him after seven harrowing days. They told us he was using a VPN to access some banned sites because of which he was arrested,” War, a private-school teacher, told The Wire.

Nearly six months after his arrest, the then DC of Baramulla G.N. Itoo passed an order on August 17, 2020, to book the younger War under Section 8 (A) of the J&K Public Safety Act while accusing him of working against the security of the country.

The father, however, challenged the PSA order in the high court in the same year.

His counsel, advocate Shafqat Nazir, argued that the PSA order was “suffering from non-application of mind” on the part of the authorities, as his son was already in Baramulla jail at the time when the PSA order was approved.

Besides accusing the younger War of posing a threat to the national security and integrity of the country, the PSA detention order also stated that it was “necessary” to detain him under the PSA because “there was every possibility” that he may get bail from the court in FIR No 35.

However, the defence counsel told the court that War had not applied for bail in any court.

“The respondents have not produced any cogent material, which would show reasons to justify the detention of the petitioner even when he was already in custody on the date of the passing of the (PSA) order,” the court ruled while ordering his release on February 11, 2022.

The jail authorities in Agra, however, refused to set War free, compelling his father to knock on the door of the J&K high court again. On August 30, 2022, the court ruled that the order quashing the detention of Muzamil under PSA should be conveyed to the jail authorities in Agra to pave the way for his release.

In normal circumstances, such orders, once issued, are meant to be officially communicated by the government to the jail authorities without the court’s directions. However, despite the second order, the jail authorities again refused to release War, forcing the high court to intervene in the case again for the third time.

“The District Magistrate, Baramulla is directed to produce the person of the petitioner before this court on the next date of hearing on which date the District Magistrate, Baramulla, shall also remain present in person,” the court ruled, taking strong notice of the violation of its previous order.

War said that the incarceration of his son over the last 15 months also impacted the trial in the anti-terror case in which Muzamil was arrested in 2020 by Sopore. “My son has lost precious time away from home. I am glad that the court order has finally been implemented but who will now return these 15 months?” War said.