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Saturday, April 25, 2015

Historic judgment in Tabinda Gani gangrape-cum-murder case

Death sentence awarded to all four rapists of teenage student

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz
SRINAGAR, April 24: In a significant judgment, unprecedented in the history of judiciary in Jammu and Kashmir, a trial court in Kupwara on Friday pronounced capital punishment on all the four culprits of gangrape and murder of a 14-year-old girl student, Tabinda Gani, nearly eight years after the gruesome incident occurred in northern Kashmir.

District and Sessions Judge Mohammad Ibrahim Wani, who heard the last stage of the arguments and counter-arguments in the last over one year, announced death sentence to the accused Sadiq Mir and Anzar Ahmad Mir of Langet besides Jehangir Ansari of West Bengal and Suresh Kumar of Rajasthan, in a courtroom packed to capacity by lawyers, litigants, common residents and family members and relatives of the victim. He said it was among the “rarest of the rare” cases in which Supreme Court has upheld the award of capital punishment in India.
Tabinda’s father Abdul Gani Shah expressed satisfaction on pronouncement of death sentence on all four of the accused but told reporters that he and his family would feel relieved only after the culprits would be hanged to death. Members of the victim’s family were all in tears when the trial court announced the award, bringing the seven-year-long prosecution and legal battle to its logical conclusion.

Then Superintendent of Police, Handwar, Dr Haseeb Mughal, had got the FIR registered amid massive protests and pursued the investigation with exemplary dedication. All the four accused were arrested and charges against them were established and produced before court in a short time.

The trial court presided over by judges like Abdul Rashid Bhat, Mohammad Nazir Fida, Sheikh Altaf Hussain (twice), Rasheed Ali Dar and lastly Mohammad Ibrahim Wani heard the prosecution and defence for about seven years. The accused were found guilty of the charges levelled against them and the quantum of punishment was reserved twice in the last one week. It finally came out on Friday.

Residents of Handwara, Langet and other areas gathered in large numbers at the victim’s home at Batpora (Langet) to hail the judgment. They shouted slogans in favour of the judiciary and officers of Jammu and Kashmir Police who brought the rapists and killers of the teenage student to justice.

Judicial sources said that the capital punishment was subject to the affirmation by a Division Bench of Jammu and Kashmir High Court. The District Court would refer the matter to the High Court which in turn would issue notices to both, prosecution as well as the defence. Even after affirmation by the High Court, the convicts could approach Supreme Court of India and subsequently file an appeal of mercy before President of India. If rejected, they could be hanged to death but as per the convenience of the Ministry of Home Affairs of Government of India.

Even as two Kashmiris, Maqbool Bhat and Afzal Guru, have been executed in 1986 and 2013, (both at Delhi’s Tihar Jail), lawyers said that no convict had been hanged to death in Jammu and Kashmir in the last over 50 years. Guru was executed for a crime allegedly committed outside his home State. Bhat as well as Guru were political prisoners in the sense that both of them were active supporters and activists for J&K’s separation from the Union of India.
Cold-blooded murder

According to the residents and the prosecution witnesses, Sadiq and Anzar, who were both residents of Tabinda’s Batpora village, had planned the young girl’s rape in the fields covered with maize plants, with cobler Suresh of Rajasthan and Jehangir of West Bengal. On July 20, 2007, when she was returning to her home, she was captured and whisked away to a fully covered spot where the four youths took turns to commit on her rape. They subsequently committed her cold-blooded murder while slitting her throat and dumping the body nearby.
The rape-cum-murder of the young student sent shockwaves throughout Kashmir valley. Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad directed Police to immediately start investigation and get the culprits identified and arrested. His government announced cash award of Rs 1.00 lakh for anybody who would help the Police in investigation and arrest of the culprits. A Special Investigation Team pursued the matter and challan was soon filed in a judicial court in Kupwara.

Hurriyat Conference Chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and the ruling Peoples Democratic Party President Mehbooba Mufti were among the prominent politicians who hailed the judgment. Senior officials claimed that it could remarkably add to the “respect and credibility” of the State Police.

It has taken 8 long years to deliver justice but the fact is that it is unique in our memories. District & Sessions Judge Kupwara Mohammad Ibrahim Wani on Friday awarded death sentence to all four rapists and killers of the young schoolgirl Tabinda Gani. We appreciate the great work done by the Jammu and Kashmir Police investigators and prosecutors who pursued this case for eight years and finally the brilliant judges for taking this case to its logical conclusion. Appreciate the support of the residents of Langet and Handwara, and rest of Kashmir, to the victim's family.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Masarat Aalam detained under fresh PSA order, shifted to Jammu jail

‘One-week period to pursue legal remedy’ denied to the separatist leader

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, April 23: Kashmiri separatist hardliner Masarat Aalam Bhat has been detained under a fresh order, issued by District Magistrate of Budgam under Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act [PSA], and immediately shifted to Jammu’s Kote Bhalwal Jail.

According to knowledgeable sources, Senior Superintendent of Police, Budgam, Fayaz Ahmad Lone, submitted a dossier for Aalam’s detention under PSA to District Magistrate Mir Altaf Ahmad who ordered the Muslim League leader’s arrest at midnight on Wednesday. Early on Thursday, grounds of detention were read out to Aalam and he was despatched to Kote Bhalwal Jail by road.

Sources said that the State Home Department, functioning directly under the control of Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, would determine the period of Aalam’s detention in view of the charges levelled against him. Currently, he was under arrest with regard to FIR filed against him, and several others, under different provisions of Ranbir Penal Code and Unlawful Activities [Prevention] Act, for allegedly leading a strong pro-Pakistan rally in reception of the senior Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani.

Immediately after taking over as Chief Minister on March 1st, Mufti Sayeed had ordered Aalam’s release from 54-month-long detention as the beginning of his exercise to release all the political prisoners. In days of his release, however, Masarat landed in trouble on account of allegedly organising and leading a rally in which animated participants shouted pro-Pakistan slogans, demanded Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan, and waved Pakistani national flags while passing through the J&K Police Headquarters. Apparently under pressure from several quarters, he was booked under UAPA and subsequently arrested at his residence in Srinagar.

With the arguments in progress on his bail application in a judicial court in Budgam and a possibility of his getting bail on April 25, authorities on Wednesday night decided to detain him under PSA. The PSA detainees can be held without prosecution for a period of two years.

Arrested in 2010 for allegedly organising a violent summer agitation, which left over a hundred civilian demonstrators and arsonist dead and thousand injured, Aalam had not been released even after he was granted bail in over two dozen criminal cases registered against. His detention under PSA was extended or invoked afresh several times in the last four years.

‘Flawed’ detention order

Informed sources said that a battery of Srinagar-based lawyers would immediately not only challenge Aalam’s fresh detention order but also press contempt proceedings against the State government directly in Supreme Court of India. Their contention is that Budgam DM’s order has been enforced by Police without granting the accused a period of one week for seeking legal remedy.

While disposing of Writ Petition No: 2 of 2013, on March 22, 2013, the Supreme Court of India Bench, comprising Justice R.M. Lodha and Justice Chelameswar, had ordered: “However, it is observed that if any fresh detention order is issued by the Government of Jammu and Kashmir with respect to Masarat Aalam Bhat, same shall not come into force for a period of one week from the date of communication of the order to enable him to pursue appropriate legal remedy”.

The Writ Petition had been filed by Aalam’s uncle Farooq Ahmad Bhat to seek dismissal of Srinagar District Magistrate’s Order No: DMS/PSA/39/2012 Dated October 30, 2012, whereunder Aalm had been detained. However, during the proceedings, J&K Government revoked Aalam’s detention while suo moto issuing Home Department’s Order No: Home-389 of 2013 Dated March 18, 2013. Accordingly the petition was disposed of but with a rider that Aalam be granted period of one week before his arrest to pursue legal remedy if the State were to detain on any fresh charges.

As Omar Abdullah’s government did not release him despite bail in all the criminal cases filed against him at different Police Stations, Aalam filed a separate petition in J&K High Court, seeking his release from “illegal confinement” and compensation worth Rs 50 lakh for “illegal detention” after June 14, 2014. The proceedings are in progress in Srinagar. It was during this course that the Government rejected Jammu Police’s and administration’s proposal of detaining PSA for a fresh term, though the main reason was that officials of DC’s office and Home Department had failed to get the action confirmed within stipulated period. The PDP-BJP government finally released Aalam in first week of March 2015.


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Mufti Sayeed Rides A Tiger

By ceding space to separatists, his government is snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

April 21, 2015
THE TIIMES OF INDIA | Editorial Page

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

For good reason, namely that they have been competitively apologetic to Kashmir’s Pakistan-supported separatists and neither of them has politically contested the secessionist ideology after Farooq Abdullah’s exit as chief minister, Mufti Sayeed’s Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Omar Abdullah’s National Conference (NC) are suffering a credibility deficit in their pleading for ‘some space’ for hardliners like Masarat Alam and Syed Ali Shah Geelani. Not once but umpteen times, their political ambitions have lit fires that took months and years to subside.

Ironically, even after assembly elections that recorded the highest turnouts, it is the boycott fringe that is setting the agenda for an elected government.

Until becoming chief minister with 16 PDP MLAs in a House of 87 in 2002, Mufti had never succeeded in entering the assembly after his Congress party withdrew support from Sheikh Abdullah’s government in 1976. Even in its best performance, PDP got 28 seats last year.

It has a clear purpose in being ‘soft’ to separatists as that helps the party sweep polls in south Kashmir’s Jamaat-e-Islami dominated Pulwama and Shopian districts. NC’s copycat tactics is attributed to the junior Abdullah’s lack of self-confidence and disconnect with Kashmiris.

Notwithstanding Mufti’s history of being India’s home minister when security forces committed the worst human rights abuse in 1990, Mufti in 2002 and thereafter succeeded in getting a chunk of the separatists’ vote. This has helped him become chief minister twice.

He brilliantly demonised Farooq and his NC for excesses perpetrated by armed forces and the Special Operations Group (SOG) of the J&K Police. What helped him don the mantle of messiah for a section of the pro-Pakistan population was that Mufti promised revocation of AFSPA, disbanding SOG, punishment to delinquent police officials and involvement of separatists and Pakistan in a dialogue process.

He just had to touch on the scars of the 1979 ‘persecution’ when Sheikh Abdullah’s followers trooped into Jamaat villages, torched properties, devastated orchards and molested women over Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s execution by Zia-ul-Haq’s military regime in Pakistan.

Sheikh’s party and progeny being for them “the first and last evil”, Jamaat in the two districts boycotts elections but lends some support to PDP to beat NC. So it was not for nothing that Mufti publicly acknowledged the separatists’ “help” after taking over as CM.

But his predicament is that there are other separatist constituencies – Geelani’s Sopore and Palhalan, Masarat Alam’s uptown Srinagar, Mirwaiz Umar’s Shehr-e-Khas and Yasin Malik’s Lalchowk – which have not been under his influence or control.

This time around, Mufti’s ambition of extending PDP’s base to the capital’s ultra-radical swathes in exchange for Masarat’s release has boomeranged. Followers of Geelani and Alam spoiled the gameplan with a strong pro-Pakistan show in front of J&K police headquarters, unprecedented in the last several years.

It embarrassed BJP and forced the home ministry to ensure Masarat’s detention and an end to “all anti-national demonstrations”.

With the first civilian fatality in a protest in the last four years, Mufti’s government is now caught between a rock and a hard place. Questions are being raised in New Delhi over the long rope Mufti has retained in buttressing the secessionist constituency since his daughter Rubaiya Sayeed’s abduction in 1989.

Release of five hardcore militants brought a sense of victory to insignificant guerrilla groups who soon after involved entire Kashmir in their “Crush India” campaign. That laid the foundation for endless spells of armed insurgency and separatism.

Again, in 2008, two PDP ministers put the state on fire over allotment of land to a Hindu shrine board, followed by Mufti’s pressure on Ghulam Nabi Azad’s government to rescind the order. It brought down Azad’s government and triggered the state’s worst communal and regional strife at a time when separatists and militants had been rendered virtually irrelevant. Both got a fresh lease of life.

Masarat’s release and the turbulence thereafter came ironically at a time when the Kashmiris had completely marginalised the secessionists with their massive and enthusiastic participation in arguably the state’s fairest assembly elections. The valley was awaiting the much promised flood relief and even a promising tourist season. Even the death of two young students in unprovoked army firing at Chhatergam did not lead to a mass uprising.

Few in Srinagar have been able to comprehend the logic of expanding space for separatists without seeking an assurance that it does not lead to a situation where the government itself would be begging for space from them.

Rather than a seemingly clandestine arrangement, the PDP-BJP coalition could have initiated a transparent dialogue process with the separatists while making it clear that nobody would be permitted to vitiate the atmosphere of peace and tranquility. Perhaps more confidence building could have been done with the symbolism of granting permission to prosecution of scores of the armed forces’ personnel involved in violation of human rights and fake encounters which have been pending with the Centre for years.

Instead the situation has been brought back to square one, creating conditions for a fresh round of pro-Pakistan euphoria in Kashmir.

[The writer is a senior journalist]