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Jailed Hurriyat leader Mohammad Ashraf Sehrai passes away at Jammu hospital

The separatist leader was booked under the Public Safety Act (PSA) by the J-K administration in July last year and shifted to a jail in Jammu.

Written by Bashaarat Masood | Srinagar |
Updated: May 6, 2021 6:05:01 am
Mohammed Ashraf SehraiMohammad Ashraf Sehrai (L) with Syed Shah Geelani (R) (Photo: ANI/Twitter)

Prominent Hurriyat leader and chairman of Tehreek-e-Hurriyat, Mohammad Ashraf Sehrai, died in detention in Jammu on Wednesday.

The 77-year-old separatist leader, who was jailed under the Public Safety Act (PSA), was shifted to Jammu hospital from Udhampur jail on Tuesday evening.

Government officials said Sehrai tested positive for Covid-19 posthumously and his family has been allowed to take the body to Srinagar for last rites.

Sehrai’s son Mujahid Sehrai, who reached Jammu on Tuesday on learning about his father’s deteriorating health, accused the administration of delay in his treatment. “He had complained of ill-health and weakness when we spoke with him 10 days ago, He was denied proper treatment,” Mujahid said. “During our phone calls in the past, he had said he was not getting proper treatment.

“In April, we had moved court seeking proper medical care for him; the court was yet to hear it.”

Sehrai’s death has been widely condoled, both by separatist and mainstream political leaders, in Jammu and Kashmir, who called him an honest politician.

Once a close confidant of Syed Ali Shah Geelani — their association dated back to the 1960s — Sehrai later developed differences with Geelani over the latter’s handling of the separatist movement, and the influence of his family in political affairs of the separatist conglomerate, Hurriyat Conference.

Originally from the frontier district of Kupwara, Sehrai was a prominent leader of Jamat-e-Islami before parting ways with the outfit in 2004 over the Jamat’s dissociation from militant struggle in J&K. With the Jamat dissociating itself from militancy and renewing its focus on social welfare and religious outreach, the churning in the socio-religious outfit led to the formation of Tehreek-e-Hurriyat (TeH), co-founded by Geelani and Sehrai, which got the backing of the radical element in Jamat.

Sehrai, tipped to be Geelani’s successor, was elected chairman of TeH after Geelani stepped down as its head. Barely five days after his appointment, Sehrai’s son Junaid Ashraf joined the militant ranks. Junaid was killed by the security forces in Srinagar in May last year.

After taking over as chairman of TeH, Sehrai developed differences with Geelani’s handling of the separatist movement and the interference of his family. In fact, as chairman of TeH, Sehrai had rejected membership application of Geelani’s older son Dr Nayeen-uz-Zaffar, thus spurning any move from him to claim succession to Geelani.

In July last year, when Geelani, in a controversial letter, dissociated himself from the Hurriyat Conference, Sehrai was seen as a natural successor. While Sehrai was not convinced with the authenticity of Geelani’s letter and formed a three-member committee to check its veracity, he was picked up by the police, detained under the Public Safety Act and shifted to Udhampur jail in Jammu.

Sehrai was seen as an uncompromising separatist leader with a more hardline approach than Geelani.

Condoling his death, former J&K chief minister and PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti tweeted, “Deeply saddened to know about Ashraf Sehrai sahab’s sudden demise. Like him countless political prisoners & other detainees from J&K continue to be jailed purely for their ideologies & thought process. In today’s India one pays a price with his life for dissent. The least GOI can do in such dangerous circumstances is to immediately release these detainees on parole so that they return home to their families.”

In multiple tweets, People’s Conference chairman Sajad Lone stated: “A long political career comes to an end. This is the irony of Kashmirii politics. Top quality politicians consumed by the conflict. The ideological versatility of Kashmiri politics is a curse. A transparently honest politician spent decades in Jail. And why did he have to die in incarceration and not at his home amongst his kin and loved ones. Have we become so weak that an old infirm dying person is a threat to the State. I am not being critical but please introspect. Sehrai sahib was a political leader, not a terrorist.”

Hurriyat Conference leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq said that in Sehrai’s death, the people of J&K have lost a sincere leader.

The Hurriyat said in a statement: “He was dedicated to his party and its ideology and worked tirelessly and selflessly for the people’s movement, suffering lockups and jails in the course of his life. Sehrai sahab’s contribution to the people’s movement will always be remembered and honoured…. Despite repeated appeals to release political prisoners lodged in various jails on humanitarian grounds…authorities are playing with their lives. We once again ask Government authorities to release all political prisoners”.

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