Srinagar: The Law Society of England and Wales, a professional body representing more than 180,000 solicitors in England and Wales, has written an official letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressing “grave concern” over the continued detention of J&K High Court Bar Association President Mian Abdul Qayoom for the past seven months.
The 76-year-old lawyer was recently shifted to New Delhi’s Tihar Jail from the Central Jail in Agra, Uttar Pradesh, where he was lodged since August last year.
“The Law Society is gravely concerned about the arrest and detention of Mr. Mian Abdul Qayoom, lawyer and President of Jammu and Kashmir High Court Bar Association. The night of August 4, 2019, Mr. Qayoom was arrested under the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act 1978 (“PSA”), together with others who were also arrested after the Government of India repealed Article 370 of the Constitution of India,” the Law Society, which holds Special Consultative Status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council since 2014, wrote in a letter addressed to the prime minister.
Copies were also sent to home minister Amit Shah, Chief Justice of India Sharad Arvind Bobde, and National Human Rights Commission chairperson H.L. Dattu. The letter, dated March 5, is signed by Simon Davis, president of the Law Society of England & Wales.
As an independent professional body for solicitors in England and Wales, the Law Society aims to protect “everyone’s right to have access to justice” and also works internationally to “defend human rights at home and abroad”.
The letter says that Qayoom’s detention “seems to be politically motivated and a consequence of his work as a lawyer and representative for persons detained under the PSA in Kashmir”. Calling his continued detention as “judicial harassment”, the law society emphasises that his ongoing imprisonment “impedes his ability to carry out his legitimate work as a lawyer.”
According to a civil society report released in October last year, the police apprehend Qayoom because he could “motivate people to agitate against abrogation of Article 370”. The Law Society’s letter notes this claim, adding, “Mr. Qayoom has not been formally charged with any crime and no allegation against him has been tested in a court of law.”
The letter further points out that Qayoom, who was shifted outside the Valley after August 5 and lodged in Agra’s Central Jail, did not have access to a lawyer during the first six months of his detention.
The senior lawyer suffers from serious ailments that require medical treatment and reportedly suffered a heart attack on January 29, after which he was transferred to a hospital. He was recently shifted to Tihar Jail in New Delhi.
“He is in his seventies and suffers from chronic health problems, including diabetes, reduced kidney functions and heart problems. We have been informed that these medical conditions have worsened in detention and that Mr. Qayoom now has to use a wheelchair. We are concerned that Mr. Qayoom’s ongoing detention in Tihar prison is likely to result in Mr. Qayoom’s health deteriorating further,” the letter says, adding that his family has raised serious concerns about the quality of medical care he is currently receiving.
Qayoom’s nephew Mian Muzaffar, who has been meeting his uncle in Agra and Tihar prisons regularly, told The Wire last month that the senior lawyer is a diabetic patient and surviving on a single kidney. “He has lost more than 10 kg in prison. His Creatinine level has also gone up to 1.8 in prison, which is dangerous,” said Muzaffar.
“We fear he is slipping from our hands. If he continues to be in prison, his health will deteriorate further. He should be released on health grounds now,” said Muzaffar. “Why treat him as a criminal and keep him away from his family for all these months?”
The law society’s president urged the relevant authorities to immediately release Qayoom “in the absence of any charges having been brought against him on the basis of sufficient and credible evidence in proceedings that comply with the international fair trial guarantees.”
Authorities have also been asked to ensure his “physical and psychological wellbeing Qayoom in correspondence with international standards regarding detention conditions, including by providing him with the medical care he requires, as well as access to legal counsel and visitation rights”. It also demands that Qayoom and other members of the legal profession be permitted “without intimidation, harassment or improper interference” to carry out their profession.
Majid Maqbool is a journalist and editor based in Srinagar, Kashmir.