Kafkaesque trial of Masrat Alam

Masrat Alam has spent 23 years of his life under detention since the 90s. Given the decades-long history of his continued detention, the Bhat family is skeptical if Alam would be released.

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The Jammu and Kashmir High Court on Wednesday, 18 November, quashed Masrat Alam’s thirty-eighth Public Safety Act (PSA) and directed the authorities to release the 49-year-old anti-India leader, “if he is not required in any other case.”

The court had noted that the detention order had outlived its duration. Alam was booked on 14 November 2017 under the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act of 1978, better known as PSA. Under the law, however, an individual can be detained, without trial, for a maximum of two years.

Alam has been under detention since 2010, booked under back to back PSA’s. Given the decade-long history of his continued detention, the Bhat family is skeptical if Alam would be released. 

“We have put all our faith in Allah that this time he is out at least he gets to live his life as a free man,” Farooq Bhat, Alam’s uncle, told The Kashmir Walla. “He hasn’t gotten to live his life. Being locked up like this again and again he has missed through the important milestones of his life.” 

Back to back arrests

Alam was first arrested in 1990 and jailed till his release in 1991. His second arrest was in 1993 and he was jailed for four years. It was during this time that he co-founded the anti-India Muslim League along with Mushtaq-ul-Islam. In the last three decades, between 1990 and 2020, Alam has been booked under the PSA 38 times and jailed for a period of about 23 years.

He was released from detention in 2010, just three days before the killing of 17-year-old Tufail Mattoo by government forces in Srinagar, which triggered an uprising through the summer, leading to the killing of more than 120 youth by the government forces. Alam evaded the authorities for much of the uprising until his eventual arrest on 18 October 2010.

He has been under intermittent long periods of detention since then.

Alam was briefly released in 2015 by the then chief minister, late Mufti Mohammad Sayed. But his release had caused the first turbulence in the coalition government between Syeed’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the Bharatiya Janata Party. Alam was subsequently detained, after almost a month, for taking out a rally and shouting slogans against India.

Last year, he was also named in a supplementary charge sheet, before a Delhi court, in a 2017 militancy funding case by the National Investigation Agency (NIA), alongside Yasin Malik, Asiya Andrabi, Shabir Shah, and a former MLA, Rashid Engineer.

It remains to be seen if, after the scheduled release, he would be arrested again in a different case, like in the past.

The revolving-door detention system

Currently held at the infamous Tihar jail in New Delhi, Alam comes from a family of cloth merchants in downtown Srinagar’s Zaindar Mohalla and attended the missionary Tyndale Biscoe School.

Alam has been challenging his detention in the courts since 2007. Several PSA orders have been quashed by the court, each time for the absence of incriminating evidence against him or on technical grounds. Almost every time, he has been booked under fresh PSA moments after his release.

The PSA has been termed a “lawless law” by rights advocates while the pattern of repeated use of PSA to detain an individual has been called a “revolving door detention” by the global advocacy group, Amnesty International.

According to a United Nations Human Rights report, between June 2016 and April 2018, more than 1,000 Kashmiris have been held under the law. Over the years, Kashmiris from different walks of life — civilians, pro-freedom activists, and even unionist politicians — have been detained under the law.

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