‘50 Days of Night’: When Will Detained J&K Leaders be Released?

Authorities offered to release leaders if they signed a ‘bond’, but most leaders didn’t agree to the bond’s terms.

4 min read
Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti are among the J&K leaders who have been arrested. Image used for representational purposes.

Even after being in ‘jail’ or under ‘house arrest’ for over 50 days, around 200 mainstream politicians in the Kashmir Valley see no prospects of their release till at least 31 October, when Jammu & Kashmir will be formally bifurcated into two union territories.

Knowledgeable sources disclosed to The Quint that the authorities had, early this month, ‘offered to release’ the mainstream political detainees on the condition that they would, for some time, ‘cease their political activities’, including issuing statements and interviews to media.

However, the plan failed, as some of the leaders refused to sign the ‘bond’, one that the detainees were supposed to submit to the magistrates.

“Most of the detainees looked inclined to sign and submit the bond. But the former ministers Ali Mohammad Sagar (National Conference), Naeem Akhtar (Peoples Democratic Party) and Sajjad Gani Lone (Peoples Conference) declined to sign an undertaking that they would not indulge in any kind of politics for some time,” well-placed sources revealed to The Quint. They said that the PDP youth leader Waheed-ur-Rehman Para too put his foot down, and turned down the government’s offer.

Restrictions Tightened after Detained Leaders Turn Down ‘Offer’

Within days, the authorities withdrew permission to the detainees’ seven-days-a-week meetings with anybody who wanted to see them at Sher-e-Kashmir International Conference Centre (SKICC). “Now the facility is restricted to only their family members and close relatives, who can meet the detainees on Wednesday and Saturday every week,” said an official source.

On Wednesdays and Saturdays, they are taken down to the lobby on the ground floor to meet their relatives.

“In the first three or four weeks, there were strict restrictions on their meetings with family members, friends and relatives. However, the situation changed after the Jammu and Kashmir High Court issued directions on a writ petition filed by Sajjad Lone’s sister, advocate Shabnam Lone, on behalf of her mother. Thereafter, restrictions were drastically relaxed, and their families, friends and relatives were allowed to meet them rather freely at SKICC. They were also permitted to carry pulao and other waazwaan items for the detained leaders. But it all ended soon, as some of the inmates chose to not sign the bond,” the official source revealed.

According to these sources, restrictions on carrying smartphones (which could be used only for taking images or videos, as mobile, telephone and Internet services have been shut since 5 August) into the detention centres continue as before. There are also strict instructions that no media person should be allowed in, even as one not-so-familiar journalist is said to have met an ex-minister, after he identified himself simply as the politician’s ‘family friend’.

Strict Surveillance Maintained

Under instructions from the top, CCTV footage of all entries and meetings is being preserved. Superintendents of the ad hoc jail at SKICC are changed every two weeks or so, and they only have the incoming call facility on their mobile phones, after the facility was restored selectively for some officers. This probably is to ensure that none of the detainees interact with anybody from outside.

Initially, the District Magistrate was authorised to permit meetings, but since the middle of August, nobody other than the designated superintendent of the ad hoc jail, has had the powers to allow meeting of the detainees with their family members.

Family members and close relatives are still allowed to see the top mainstream politicians and provide them with books and medicines.

However, all the boarding and housekeeping arrangements are done by the government under the supervision of Special Security Group (SSG) personnel, who are also there to keep an eye on the former chief ministers and their families.

Movement of all the 34 detainees at SKICC is said to be limited to their rooms and a dining area on the first floor. “We provide them with boiled eggs or omelettes, besides tea and bread in the breakfast area as per the jail manual. Sometimes, we also serve them channa puri. For lunch and dinner, they get two vegetables each daily, and chicken once a week,” said an employee of Hotel Centaur. He said that all the detainees were free to visit each other in their rooms, while all of them would have breakfast, lunch and dinner together at the dining hall.

Officials said that in addition to the 34 leaders at SKICC and around a dozen more at their respective residences, around 50 of the mainstream political activists had been lodged at Srinagar Central Jail, while about a hundred more had been arrested and shifted to different jails outside Jammu and Kashmir.

Only 4 MPs Allowed Free Movement in the Valley

Of all the political leaders, just the four sitting Members of Parliament — Mohammad Akbar Lone and Hasnain Masoodi (NC’s Lok Sabha members) and Mir Mohammad Fayaz and Nazir Ahmad Laway (PDP’s Rajya Sabha members) are free to move around in the Valley as they please. Of them, Lone, Masoodi and Mir have been meeting with the detained politicians.

All the personal security officers (PSOs), static house guards and over 600 vehicles provided to the detained politicians, had been withdrawn immediately after their arrest in the first week of August.

Insiders said that only three of the detained leaders, namely Ali Mohammad Sagar, Sajjad Gani Lone and Waheed-ur-Rehman Para, have been permitted to have their own domestic helps at SKICC. No such concession has been granted to others.

(The writer is a Srinagar-based journalist. He can be reached @ahmedalifayyaz.)

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