MUZAFFARABAD, Jan 12: Authorities in Azad Jammu and Kashmir’s lakeside city of Mirpur lodged two visitors from Indian-held Kashmir in judicial lockup on Saturday for want of a valid visa, triggering strong protest by activists of nationalist groups.

“Mirpur police have arrested Sardar Devinder Singh Behal, chairman of the Jammu Kashmir Social Peace Forum (JKSPF), his associate Vijay Abrol and Sardar Arif Shahid, president of the Jammu Kashmir National Liberation Conference (JKNLC) on a flimsy charge under the pressure of intelligence agencies,” Advocate Mahmood Baig, who led a demonstration in Muzaffarabad against the detentions, said.

“We condemn this arrest and demand their immediate release,” he added.

Mr Behal and his colleague had arrived in Pakistan through Wagah border post early this month and the authorities said they possessed visas for Lahore and Rawalpindi/Islamabad in Pakistan and Muzaffarabad and Kotli in AJK.

Officials claimed they had wrongly told police at the Mangla entry point that they would travel to Kotli via Mirpur, but violated their visa conditions by staying in Mirpur throughout Friday and attending a reception held by the JKNLC and some other nationalist groups.

During the reception, several speakers had taken strong exception to exchange of fire across the Line of Control (LoC) and asked Pakistan and India to stop a “proxy war” in the disputed region.

On their way back to Rawalpindi in the night, Mr Behal and Mr Abrol were arrested and booked under Section 14 of the Foreign Act of 1946 for “illegal movement within the jurisdiction of Mirpur without valid visa”. Mr Shahid was booked under Section 109 of APC for “abetment in the unlawful act”.

They were taken to the Mirpur district jail after an executive magistrate granted their physical remand to the police. When Dawn contacted Mirpur Deputy Commissioner Chaudhry Guftar Hussain, he said he was on leave, and in his village in Kotli district.

Additional Deputy Commissioner-General Chaudhry Tariq also said he was on leave.

The demonstrators warned of ‘state-wide’ protests against the arrests.

Marching through the regional capital’s main thoroughfare amid heavy downpour, they asked that if people from Pakistan and India could sit together, why the divided Kashmiris were being prevented from meeting each other.

They said the law and order situation might deteriorate if the activists were not released within 14 hours.

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