Srinagar: Confined to his Srinagar residence for more than four years, All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) chief Mirwaiz Umar Farooq has decided to wage a legal battle against the Jammu and Kashmir administration over his “arbitrary and illegal” detention.
In a legal notice to J&K’s chief secretary Arun Kumar Mehta, Mirwaiz, who is also the chief cleric of Kashmir, has threatened to challenge his “unwarranted” detention in court if the administration, which is run directly by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Union government, doesn’t lift the curbs imposed on him since 2019.
Mirwaiz was put under house arrest along with other mainstream and some separatist leaders of Jammu and Kashmir on August 4, 2019, a day before the Union government introduced the J&K Reorganisation Act 2019 as a Bill in parliament for downgrading the erstwhile state into two union territories.
While mainstream political leaders such as National Conference president Farooq Abdullah and his son Omar Abdullah, and Peoples Democratic Party chief Mehbooba Mufti were freed within months after J&K lost its statehood, two key Hurriyat hawks – Syed Ali Geelani and M. Ashraf Sehrai – died while in detention.
Several separatist leaders and activists, including JKLF chief Yasin Malik, Shabir Shah and Nayeem Khan, were booked under terrorism charges and shifted to Tihar jail in the national capital. Barring senior Hurriyat leaders Abdul Ghani Bhat and Bilal Gani Lone, who were also affiliated with the Mirwaiz-led APHC, all Hurriyat leaders are presently incarcerated.
J&K’s Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha has consistently maintained that there were no restrictions on Mirwaiz and that “he is free to go wherever he likes”.
However, in the legal notice, Mirwaiz has rejected Sinha’s claims, saying that a “large contingent of security personnel” has been deployed outside his residence in Nigeen locality of Srinagar that “nullifies the aforesaid stand of lieutenant governor which speaks volumes”.
The legal notice, sent by senior advocate Nazir Ahmad Ronga, states that Mirwaiz has been subject to “miseries, mental torture and sense of insecurity” since he was detained, even though he is “known for his integrity and humanity” and “preaches the message of peace & love, strengthening of brotherhood and communal harmony”.
“The unfortunate part is that my client has not been allowed to participate in funeral and burial proceedings of his close relatives & near ones and not only this, he has been prevented to perform and lead Friday congregational prayers which again is the violation of his right to religion,” the legal notice, seen by The Wire, states.
As the chief cleric of Kashmir, Mirwaiz used to preside over matters of Islamic jurisprudence in Srinagar and he also led Friday prayers at Jamia Masjid, Kashmir’s largest mosque in downtown Srinagar’s Nowhatta, which hosts the biggest congregational prayers on important days in the Islamic calendar.
Mirwaiz has alleged that his house arrest is a “violation of the fundamental and religious rights…guaranteed by the constitution”, according to the legal notice, which has also been marked to LG Sinha, DGP J&K Police Dilbag Singh and SSP Srinagar.
“All this has been done in view of events & episodes post abrogation of Article 370 & 35A which is violative of Article 21 & 25-28 and that requires to be prevented under law. No attempt should be tolerated to fiddle with the sanctity of law which protects everyone equally as all are equal among equals,” the notice states.
Mirwaiz has also alleged that he has been put under house arrest “illegally without serving of any order of detention” and the security personnel deployed outside his residence were stopping visitors from meeting him and also preventing him from coming out.
“He has not been even informed as to why he has been detained nor has any ground of detention been provided to him. The liberty of my client has been curtailed in an arbitrary manner as such, therefore the said illegal & unwarranted detention is against the basic structure of the principles of natural justice,” Mirwaiz’s counsel Ronga states in the legal notice.
Mirwaiz has claimed that he “suffered an irreparable loss in terms of various and serious health issues which he has been experiencing and confronting since his detention”. ”But it seems that it also has no impact on state administration,” the notice, which was sent to the J&K chief secretary on Wednesday, August 17, states.
Mirwaiz has urged the J&K administration to “remove the…large contingent of security forces” outside his Srinagar residence and lift the restrictions against his participation “in religious activities and…congregational prayers on Fridays at Jamia Masjid”.
“If my client finds no prompt and positive response to this legal notice, he shall be constrained and compelled to file the appropriate proceedings or writ in the competent court of jurisdiction which he has a right to do and move for the redressal of his genuine and legitimate grievances and for the protection of his fundamental rights guaranteed particularly under Article 21 & Articles 25 to 28 of the constitution,” the notice states.
Earlier this month, Mirwaiz completed four years under “arbitrary and extrajudicial detention”, coinciding with the fourth anniversary of the reading down of Article 370 which granted special status to Jammu and Kashmir.
“Without any written order or any charges against him, APHC chairman is undergoing arbitrary and extrajudicial detention, leading to the suspension of all his fundamental human rights and freedoms, and his responsibilities as the Mirwaiz of J&K,” the APHC said in a statement on August 4.
In 2019, Mirwaiz had reportedly signed a ‘bond of silence’ to secure his release from house arrest along with two leaders from the National Conference and one leader each from the Peoples Democratic Party and Peoples Conference.
The bond, reportedly signed under Section 107 of the CrPC, prohibited Mirwaiz and others from making “political speeches”. Mirwaiz, who has been consistently criticising the policies of the BJP-led Union government on Jammu and Kashmir, has however rejected reports that he signed a bond to secure his release.
An influential separatist and religious leader, Mirwaiz participated in the bilateral talks between India and Pakistan over the Kashmir issue along with a delegation of the moderate Hurriyat leaders in New Delhi. The delegation also met then deputy prime minister and senior BJP leader L .K. Advani in 2004.
The talks were shelved in 2009 in the aftermath of the Mumbai terror attacks and, back in Kashmir, the moderates were grilled by the hawks in the Hurriyat led by Geelani for participating in India-Pakistan rapprochement at the cost of the Kashmir issue.