SRINAGAR: A prominent politician in Occupied Kashmir who challenged India’s rule over the disputed region for decades died on Wednesday while in police custody. He was 78.

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

Sehrai’s son, Mujahid Sehrai, said his father was denied proper medical care while in jail. He said he spoke to his father 10 days ago and he complained of ill health.

“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 a court on April 16 with a petition seeking proper medical assistance for him but the court is yet to review it.”

Authorities did not immediately announce the cause of his death. However, his son said doctors said his oxygen levels had dropped early on Wednesday.

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

All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) said authorities had left Sehrai unattended in jail until his condition worsened. In a statement, it said it deeply regrets this inhuman attitude of the authorities and is pained by it.

It also expressed concern about the health of hundreds of other Kashmiri political detainees as India faces a massive health crisis because of an explosion of coronavirus cases. Last week, the grouping said the prisoners were being denied even basic amenities, leading to serious health problems among the prisoners.

Sajad Lone, a pro-India Kashmiri politician, called Sehrai a transparently honest politician. “Have we become so weak that an old infirm dying person is a threat to the state?” he said in a tweet.

Moeed Yusuf, national security adviser to Prime Minister Imran Khan said he was deeply saddened by Sehrai’s death. “He dedicated his life for Kashmir’s self-determination. Many more Kashmiri leaders are at risk,” Yusuf said in a tweet.

“It is India’s responsibility to release all those detained on political grounds to create conducive environment.”

India has arrested thousands of Kashmiris under the Public Safety Act since 1989, when an armed campaign erupted in Occupied Kashmir.

Sehrai was head of Tehreek-i-Hurriyat, an anti-India political group, and a member of the largest religious and political group, Jamaat-i-Islami.

He spent more than 16 years in various Indian jails in a political career that spanned nearly six decades. His son was killed in a gunfight with Indian troops in April last year in the region’s main city of Srinagar.

Azad Jammu and Kashmir’s Prime Minister Raja Farooq Haider also expressed shock and grief over the demise of Sehrai and reiterated calls to the United Nations and the international community to press India for release of thousands of Kashmiri detainees, added Tariq Naqash.

In his statement, the AJK premier paid glowing tribute to Sehrai and said his family had a history of offering sacrifices for the noble cause of their nation.

“The world community in general and the UN in particular should no more behave as silent spectators as it emboldens India to carry on its killing spree in occupied Jammu and Kashmir,” he said.

Altaf Ahmed Bhat, the chairman of the Jammu Kashmir Salvation Movement, termed Sehrai’s passing an “assassination” and said it was “yet another reflection of the extreme cruelty let loose by India’s occupation machinery in the disputed Himalayan region”.

Published in Dawn, May 6th, 2021

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