UNITED NATIONS: Pakistan has urged UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres to help secure immediate release of all illegally detained prisoners in Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK).

In a letter sent to Mr Guterres on Friday, Pakistan’s UN Ambassador Munir Akram also expressed deep concern on the demise of a senior Kashmiri leader, Ashraf Sehrai, in the Indian custody.

Ambassador Akram pointed out that Mr Sehrai, who had been arrested last year on fabricated charges, had several health problems but the Indian authorities ignored repeated calls for his release. He remained incarcerated in Indian jail under poor conditions and the prevailing Covid-19 crisis, which ultimately led to his death.

The letter expressed concern over the conditions of detention facilities in IIOJK and India, which were often “overcrowded, in some cases dangerously so”. The prisoners “live in unhygienic conditions with little or no access to health services” in crammed spaces where “physical distancing and self-isolation are practically impossible,” it added.

Amb Munir expresses concern over conditions of detention facilities in IIOJK and India amid Covid pandemic

The letter also mentioned the continued incarceration of Kashmiri leaders Aasiya Andrabi, Mohammad Yasin Malik, Shabir Ahmed Shah, Advocate Shahid-ul-Islam, Altaf Ahmed Shah, Nayeem Ahmed Khan, Ayaz Akbar, Peer Saifullah, Raja Merajuddin Kalwal, Syed Shahid Yousuf, Shakeel Ahmed, Farooq Ahmed Dar, Fehmeeda Sofi, Nahida Nasreen and Zahoor Ahmed. Some remained under house arrest including Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, he added.

Ambassador Akram recalled that since the outbreak of the pandemic, the secretary general and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights had repeatedly called for a humanitarian approach to prevent the virus from rampaging through places of detention but India ignored all such appeals.

The letter pointed out that because of the Covid-19 crisis, India was working on a plan to “decongest” its prisons but decided not to release thousands of Kashmiris languishing in its jails.

Underlining the Covid-19 crises in India where over 21 million people have been infected by the deadly virus and thousands die every day, the Pakistani envoy suggested that the danger of infection, even death, was higher for those in prison. He urged the UN chief to ask India to immediately release all those detained under the Public Safety Act. He also demanded the release of all women, elderly, pre-trial detainees and undertrials on bail, including political prisoners and those detained from the civil society. Pakistan demanded that convicted political prisoners on parole and people illegally detained or held in police lockups, joint interrogation centres, and house arrests also be released.

Only in the India-held Jammu and Kashmir, the Kashmiri media on Saturday reported 4,788 additional Covid-19 cases and 60 deaths during the past 24 hours. Of them, 1,529 were from Jammu and 3,259 from the Kashmir valley. The latest statistics hiked total infections in the region to 206,954.

Published in Dawn, May 9th, 2021

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