Calls grow to seek the release of hundreds of Kashmiri political prisoners incarcerated in jails amid Covid-19 pandemic following the death of top resistance leader Mohammed Ashraf Sehrai in Indian police custody.

India says Kashmir militancy is sponsored by Pakistan. Pakistan denies the charge, and most Kashmiris call it a legitimate freedom struggle.
India says Kashmir militancy is sponsored by Pakistan. Pakistan denies the charge, and most Kashmiris call it a legitimate freedom struggle. (AA)

Pakistan has conveyed its "deep" concern to the UN over the custodial death of jailed Kashmiri resistance leader Mohammed Ashraf Sehrai and called for the release of all political prisoners in the Indian-administered Kashmir.

Munir Akram, Pakistan's permanent representative to the UN, in a letter to UN chief Antonio Guterres, urged him to press New Delhi to immediately release all prisoners illegally detained in the disputed Himalayan valley.

Akram said Pakistan has urged the UN chief to ask the government of India to immediately release all illegally detained prisoners in view of the prevailing Covid-19 crisis and deteriorating humanitarian situation in the disputed Himalayan region.

Sehrai who challenged India's rule over the region for decades died on Wednesday while in police custody. He was 78.

He was admitted to a government hospital with multiple ailments on Tuesday from a jail in the southern Jammu region, officials and his family said.

Officials said Sehrai had contracted coronavirus in  jail causing his death.

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Health condition of prisoners 

Sehrai "spent his life struggling for the legitimate right of self-determination of #Kashmiris and suffered persecution at the hands of Indian occupying forces," Akram said in a series of tweets.

Sehrai's son, Mujahid Sehrai, said his father was denied proper medical care in jail and complained of ill health when they spoke several days ago.

"He told us several times in the last few months during his two phone calls a week to home that he was not getting proper medical treatment," his son said. 

"We moved to a court on April 16 with a petition seeking proper medical assistance for him but the court was yet to review it."

Sehrai was arrested last July under the Public Safety Act, which allows authorities in Indian-controlled Kashmir to imprison anyone for up to two years without trial.

For the past year, political and civic groups have urged the government to release political prisoners from overcrowded jails where coronavirus infection rates are high.

India has arrested thousands of Kashmiris under the Public Safety Act since 1989, when an armed rebellion erupted in Indian-controlled Kashmir in 1989.

Rights groups say India has used the law to stifle dissent and circumvent the justice system, undermining accountability, transparency, and respect for human rights.

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Court orders de-congestion of jails

India's top court on Saturday ordered Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government to de-congest all Indian jails as the coronavirus crisis envelops urban and rural India. 

"The requirement of decongestion is a matter concerning the health and right to life of both the prison inmates and the police personnel working," the Indian Supreme Court said.

"In the present situation there is a serious concern about the spread of Covid-19 in overcrowded prisons where there is lack of proper sanitation, hygiene and medical facilities," it noted.

Mehbooba Mufti, former chief minister of India-administered Kashmir, said she has written to Modi, asking him to consider releasing Kashmiri prisoners given the "horrendous situation" created by the coronavirus.

"Most recent reminder of the lurking threat to their lives is the death of senior Hurriyat leader-Mohammad Ashraf Sehrai who lost his life because he contracted Covid-19 in jail and was deprived of medical care," Mufti wrote.

"As far as Kashmir is concerned, it is no secret that thousands of detainees and political prisoners came to be arrested since August 5, 2019 who continue to languish in jails despite throughout the world, most countries have released prisoners on parole in view of the alarming Covid-19 crisis," she said.

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Divided region

Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan, but the rivals each claim the region in its entirety. 

Rebels have been fighting against Indian rule since 1989. 

Most Muslim Kashmiris support the rebel goal that the territory be united either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country.

India says Kashmir militancy is sponsored by Pakistan. Pakistan denies the charge, and most Kashmiris call it a legitimate freedom struggle.

Tens of thousands of civilians, rebels and Indian forces have been killed in the conflict.

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies