Hardline Hurriyat Conference leader Masarat Alam, who organised the anti-India protests of 2010 in the Valley that saw the death of 112 people, was freed from a Baramulla jail on Saturday evening. This came two days after Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed asked the state police chief to initiate the process of releasing political prisoners against whom there were no criminal charges.
Masarat, who was in detention under the Public Safety Act (PSA) since October 2010, was shifted to Srinagar and released from the Shaheed Gunj police station at 9 pm. He did not speak to the media after his release.
The release of Masarat, who heads Hurriyat constituent Muslim League, followed an order from the state home department that said that his detention under PSA had not been approved by it, a senior police officer told The Sunday Express. Confirming this, Principal Secretary Home Suresh Kumar said, “We did not approve his detention under PSA when his file was put before us in January-February this year.”
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The release order was issued in the afternoon, but police took time in completing the formalities, including checking whether he was wanted in any other case elsewhere in the state.
Masarat is the first top separatist leader to be released by the new government. It came despite voices of protest in main coalition partner BJP leader and Forest Minister Bali Bhagat said, “We will see when the matter comes before the state cabinet. The issue regarding release of political prisoners who do not have any criminal charges against them can be examined.”
BJP general secretary (organisation) Ashok Koul said, “How he (Mufti) can do it without taking us (BJP) into confidence?” Pointing out that his party will protest, Koul said there were certain decisions which have to be taken at cabinet meetings and not at individual level.
Instructing DGP K Rajendra to release the political prisoners at a review meeting on Wednesday, Mufti had said, “Dissent in democracy makes the system vibrant and dynamic.. Democracy is a battle of ideas and it should not be held hostage to the agreements or disagreements on issues.” On Saturday morning, the DGP said police will comply with the government orders.
Masarat, who had become a prominent figure in the valley for issuing protest calendars during the 2010 unrest, was arrested on the outskirts of Srinagar city after a four-month search and an announcement of Rs 10 lakh award for information about his whereabouts.
The arrest had come barely two months after his release from jail in July 2010. Since then, he had been kept in one or the other jail on the basis of detention orders issued by district magistrate under the PSA, notwithstanding the court quashing the orders from time to time.
The 43-year-old science graduate, who is widely seen as the successor to Hurriyat hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani, has spent nearly 15 years in jail without any criminal charge ever since his detention under PSA for the first time in 1990. To keep him in jail, successive state governments slapped PSA on him from time to time. Since 2008, the PSA had been slapped on him more than 13 times.
He continued to remain in jail even after the Supreme Court in 2013 barred his preventive detention without the state government giving him a week’s time to act against any such proposed action.
Police sources said the previous government led by Omar Abdullah had once decided to release Masarat and a senior police officer was sent to speak to him. He was told that he will be released but will be sent to jail again the day he restarts his activities. The government later abandoned the idea as a large section of the security establishment did not want to take the risk.
In June 2014, police in a faux pas released Masarat but re-arrested him within a few hours. It was during this short release that Hurriyat chairman Geelani called him and asked him to take over the leadership of Hurriyat.
Meanwhile, BJP workers in Jammu led by state unit secretary Yudvir Sethi- whose wife Priya Sethi is a minister of state in the Mufti government- held a demonstration against the government in protest against the release of Masarat.
Shiv Sena general secretary Ashok Gupta described the protest as an attempt to fool the people. It is their own government which ordered Masarat’s release, he said, adding that if they were so perturbed they should ask their leaders to pull out of the government.