Ashiq Hussain Faktoo, Valley’s longest serving prisoner who has spent almost half his life behind the bars, may finally have a chance that could change his fate.
In the Srinagar central jail for past 22 years, Faktoo has succeeded in persuading the Supreme Court to reconsider his conviction and life term. The court has agreed to look into its verdict of sentencing him to life imprisonment in a murder case, based primarily on his confessional statement recorded under TADA.
A Jammu court had acquitted Faktoo in 2001, but the SC overturned this verdict and held him guilty.
A bench of Justices Dipak Misra and V Gopala Gowda dismissed central government’s plea to throw out the writ petition filed by Faktoo, alias Muhammed Qasim, against the conviction order, noting the issue required proper consideration by the SC and that it was not ‘advisable’ to junk his plea “at the threshold.”
The bench observed that the technicalities should not come in the way of examining various contentions raised by Faktoo’s counsel senior advocate Ram Jethmalani, who besides challenging the reliance on the contentious confessional statements, assertively asked for a writ of “ex debito justitiae” (as a matter of right), to have the default judgment set aside.
The court turned down the Centre’s argument that this petition had to be dismissed straightaway since a SC judgment could not be challenged by a writ petition. The bench suo motu ordered for converting the writ petition into a review petition and said it would be heard in the open court on the fundamental principles of review as well as on the maxim of “ex debito justitiae.”
A top-ranking former commander of the Islamist outfit Jamiat-ul-Mujahideen (JM) and a separatist ideologue, Faktoo has been serving life imprisonment on account of his alleged involvement in the murder of human rights activist Hridhay Nath Wanchoo.
Faktoo’s profile remains unmatched among the separatist leaders for a variety of reasons. He married in 1990 an equally prominent separatist activist and Dukhtaraan-e-Millat (DM) chief, Syeda Asiya Andrabi – five years senior to him. Their six-month-old child also had to spend almost three years in prison with his parents.
Faktoo has the distinction of being the only Kashmiri militant who has completed PhD during his continued detention. He was awarded Doctorate of Philosophy by the Department of Islamic Studies of the University of Kashmir.
During his detention, Faktoo has joined as head of Muslim League. His deputy, Massarat Alam, played arguably the most prominent role in the street agitation over Amarnath land row in Kashmir in 2008. His plea to the state government to exercise its power of remission has also yielded no positive outcome.