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Former chief minister of Kashmir freed as India goes on virus lockdown

  • Abdullah’s release comes a week after the Supreme Court’s inquiry into his detention

PATNA: Omar Abdullah, former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, walked free on Tuesday, after nearly eight months of detention.
 “It’s a very different world today to the one that existed on Aug. 5, 2019,” Abdullah said in a Twitter post, minutes after his release, referring to the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19). He was detained along with hundreds of Kashmiri political activists after New Delhi revoked the special status and relative autonomy of Kashmir, put the region on lockdown and imposed a communications and internet blackout.
 In a brief press conference in Srinagar, the National Conference (NC) leader called for the immediate release of others in preventive detention.
 “Be it Mehbooba Mufti (the former chief minister) or any leader from NC, they should be freed. We are fighting a war of life and death. All our people who have been detained should be released at this time,” Abudullah said.
 He also demanded the restoration of 3G and 4G networks in the region.
 He refused to comment on political developments by saying that the time was not appropriate and requested that everyone “follow government orders to fight COVID-19.”
Abdullah’s release comes a week after the Supreme Court’s inquiry into his detention.
“If you are releasing him, then release him soon or we will hear the matter on merits,” India’s apex court told the government on March 18.
 On Tuesday, the government of Jammu and Kashmir, in a brief press statement, said that the detention order of Abdullah was “revoked.” According to politicians from India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Abdullah’s release is a “positive sign for the resumption of the demo-cratic process in the state.
 “The situation then when the leaders were put behind detention and now is different. There was a peculiar reason to detain them. The situation now is different and conducive to starting the democratic process, and the release of Abdullah should be seen in that light,” Srinagar-based BJP leader Dr. Hina Bhat told Arab News.
 Well-known Kashmiri academic and political analyst Prof. Siddiq Wahid said: “Theoretically Omar Abdullah is released, but for all practical purposes he is under detention, because he comes out of detention at a time when not only Kashmir but the whole nation is under lockdown due to COVID-19.
 “It’s very difficult to say at this stage how the politics is going to play out in Kashmir,” Wahid told Arab News.
 On Monday, rights activists in Kashmir launched an online campaign appealing to the Indian government to release hundreds of Kashmiri political prisoners detained since August, in view of the spread of COVID-19.
 The hashtag #ReleaseKashmiriPrisoners has been trending on social media, with activists urging world human rights bodies to press on the Indian government.
 “Kashmiri prisoners who are under preventive detention in various jails across India should be released urgently. Preventive detention is otherwise a human rights violation, but in the context of the pandemic if anything happens to a single prisoner it will be the state’s responsibility,” Srinagar-based human rights activist Khurram Parvez told Arab News.