India arrests former Kashmir chief minister

New Delhi (AFP) –


A former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister, seen as being pro-India, has been formally arrested under a law allowing him to be held for up to two years without charge, authorities said Tuesday.

Farooq Abdullah, 81, has been under house arrest since early August when India stripped Kashmir of its autonomy, imposed a security lockdown and detained dozens of local politicians including those who back the region being part of India.

But on Monday he was formally arrested under the Public Safety Act (PSA) and his home turned into a "judicial lockup", Muneer Khan, a senior police official in Kashmir, told AFP.

It is the first confirmed case of a Kashmiri politician being arrested under the PSA since India's August 5 move when it sent tens of thousands of troops to Kashmir and imposed a communications blackout.

India's national security adviser said earlier this month that a "majority" of Kashmiris supported its move except for a "vocal minority" backed by Pakistan, which India accuses of backing a decades-old insurgency that has killed tens of thousands of people.

But in the wake of the lockdown, even pro-India politicians have spoken out about New Delhi's intervention.

A day after the Indian government revoked the special status, Abdullah climbed a wall of his house to address the media and condemned the move. That was the last time he was seen in public.

"Why could they not wait? After 70 years, they have stabbed the people of the state. As soon as our gates open, our people will be out.

"We will fight, we will go to the courts. We're not gun-runners, grenade-throwers, stone-throwers, we believe in a peaceful resolution of things," Abdullah said.

- 1947 split -

The PSA was introduced in the 1970s -- under Abdullah's father Sheikh Abdullah -- to prevent timber smuggling but since an uprising against Indian rule erupted in 1989 it has been used to detain thousands of people, activists say.

The UN human rights office said in 2018 that special laws in Kashmir including the PSA "have created structures that obstruct the normal course of law, impede accountability and jeopardize the right to remedy for victims of human rights violations".

Amnesty International in June said that the PSA "circumvents the criminal justice system in Jammu & Kashmir to undermine accountability, transparency, and respect for human rights".

Kashmir has been split between India and Pakistan since 1947 and since then the two nuclear-armed neighbours India and Pakistan have fought two wars over the region.

Mobile phones and the internet remain cut off in much of the Kashmir Valley, the hotbed of resistance to Indian rule, more than six weeks after New Delhi's move, which it says is aimed at boosting the region's economy.

In the same period India arrested more than 4,000 people, 3,000 of whom were subsequently released, with nearly 200 civilians and 415 members of the security forces injured in hundreds of protests, a senior government source told AFP last week.