Ashraf Sehrai: Ailing, jailed pro-freedom Kashmiri leader dies

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SRINAGAR, Jammu and Kashmir

Ashraf Sehrai, an ailing, incarcerated pro-freedom Kashmiri leader, died at a hospital in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir on Wednesday, police and family confirmed. He was 77.

Sehrai was the chairman of Tehreek-e-Hurriyat, one of the constituent parties of the Hurriyat Conference, the biggest pro-freedom grouping in disputed Kashmir.

He was under “preventive detention” at the Udhampur jail since July 2020, and was taken to a hospital in Jammu city on Tuesday, his son Mujahid Sehrai told Anadolu Agency.

Like hundreds of other Kashmiri political prisoners, Sehrai was kept in jail far from his hometown of Srinagar. Uhdampur is more than 200 kilometers from the region’s capital.

Harish Kotwal, the jail’s superintendent, said he was shifted to a city district hospital and then to Jammu after complaining of respiratory distress.

Sehrai had a number of health problems, including hearing impairment and walking difficulties. He underwent cataract surgery a few months before his arrest.

The family regularly sent him medicines for hypertension, high levels of uric acid, hyperthyroidism, post-surgery eye issues, and an enlarged prostate.

After dozens of prisoners tested positive for coronavirus, human rights activists and families had repeatedly appealed to the Indian government to release ailing prisoners from overcrowded jails.

Sehrai was already under house arrest when he was detained under the Public Safety Act, a law described as “lawless law” by Amnesty International. Under this law, the government can detain for up to three months any person it considers a “threat to law and sovereignty.” But the detention can be repeated as long as the government wants, or until the courts void it.

Sehrai was a close confidante and most influential pro-freedom leader after Syed Ali Geelani, the septuagenarian who has been under house detention for the better part of the past decade.

Both had a decades-long affiliation with Kashmir’s largest religio-political organization, Jama’at-e-Islami Jammu and Kashmir, which was banned in March 2019, months before the Indian government scrapped the region’s autonomy on Aug. 5, 2019. Hundreds of its activists and leaders were jailed in the run-up to the decision.

Tipped to take over the leadership of the resistance after Geelani, Sehrai is said to have made attempts to revive the movement, which included calling a meeting of other several pro-freedom parties amid harsh measures by New Delhi.

Meanwhile, Pakistan said it is “deeply grieved” over Sehrai’s death in Indian custody, and also expressed concerns over deteriorating health conditions of several other incarcerated pro-freedom leaders amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Unfortunately, they are not even provided any medical treatment. Given the worst pandemic situation in India, the Indian government must immediately release the incarcerated Kashmiri leadership and all innocent Kashmiris,” the Foreign Ministry said.

Kashmir is held by India and Pakistan in parts and claimed by both in full. Since they were partitioned in 1947, the two countries have fought three wars, two of them over Kashmir.

Some Kashmiri groups have been fighting against Indian rule for independence, or unification with neighboring Pakistan.

According to several human rights organizations, thousands of people have been killed in the conflict in the region since 1989.

*Aamir Latif contributed to this story from Karachi, Pakistan

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