Mirwaiz Umar Farooq released after 4-year house arrest

Saturday, Sep 23, 2023

HELD SRINAGAR: The Indian government freed occupied Kashmir’s chief Muslim cleric and influential Kashmiri leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq on Friday after more than four years of house arrest.

The 50-year-old was detained along with other political leaders and thousands of residents when the Indian government cancelled the Muslim-majority region’s constitutional semi-autonomy and imposed federal rule in 2019.

A months-long internet shutdown followed as India bolstered its armed forces in the disputed region to contain protests.Most detainees were subsequently released, but the Mirwaiz remained unable to leave his residence, down the street from his Jamia Masjid mosque in Srinagar.

Thousands of worshippers gathered to see him lead Friday prayers for the first time in 218 weeks, with women showering him with sweets and religious slogans resounding around the 14th-century building.

Last week, a court asked authorities to explain his continued detention and he told the crowd that police informed him Thursday that officials had decided to release him.“This period of my house arrest and separation from my people has been the most painful for me since my father’s death,” he said, breaking down.

“God willing, you might think our spirit is low. No, our spirit is high,” the Mirwaiz said, calling the constitutional changes by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government “unacceptable”.

Modi “said about Ukraine that this is not the time for war. He is right,” he added. “Disputes and disagreements should be resolved by talks rather than using power or unilateralism.” He called for the release of “numerous political prisoners”.

“Our beloved and our king of hope has returned to this mosque after so long,” regular worshipper Bashir Ahmed told AFP after the prayers. “How can I not be weeping with joy?” Since the imposition of direct rule, Indian authorities have curbed media freedoms and public protests.

Moves aimed at bringing “peace and prosperity” to the disputed region also allowed Indians from elsewhere to buy land and claim government jobs in the territory, a policy denounced by critics as “settler colonialism”.