Having lost a long-running legal battle to secure the release of high-profile ideologue Ashiq Hussain Faktoo in Jammu and Kashmir High Court last week, radical secessionists in Kashmir have turned to the streets seeking their leader's release.

Large parts of the Kashmir valley shut down on Monday in response to calls from Syed Ali Shah Geelani's faction of the Hurriyat Conference and the Muslim League--a party led by another key secessionist leader who is in prison, Massrat Alam Bhat.

Earlier a top-ranking commander of the Islamist guerrilla outfit Jamiat-ul-Mujahideen (JM), Mr Faktoo has been serving life imprisonment awarded to him by Supreme Court on account of his involvement in the assassination of a noted human rights activist Hridhay Nath Wanchoo. Mr Wanchoo was kidnapped by the JM militants and his bullet-riddled body was later recovered in a locality in close vicinity of then J&K Police headquarters in December 1992.

After Mr Geelani, Dr Faktoo’s profile remains unmatched among the separatist leaders for a variety of reasons. Husband of the equally prominent separatist activist and Dukhtaraan-e-Millat (DM) chief, Syeda Asiya Andrabi, Dr Faktoo enjoys the distinction of being the only Kashmiri militant who has completed Ph D during his 13-year-long continued detention. Dr Faktoo, as also Chairman of so-called moderate faction of the Hurriyat Conference, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, has been awarded Doctorate of Philosophy by the Department of Islamic Studies of the University of Kashmir in the last two years.

During his detention, Mr Faktoo has joined as head of Muslim League. His deputy, Massarat Alam, played arguably the most important role in the street agitation over Amarnath land row in Kashmir in the year 2008.

Legal battle:

Earlier this year, Dr Faktoo had made a representation to the state government, seeking termination of his detention with the argument that life imprisonment meant imprisonment for 14 years. His application was also based on the fact that the Srinagar Central Jail authorities had appreciated his conduct and behaviour, including his voluntary assignment of teaching IGNOU distance education courses to a number of jail-mates.

However, the state Home Department dismissed Dr Faktoo’s representation on the ground that the precedent of reducing the term of imprisonment was by no means binding on the government. Subsequently, his counsel and former head of High Court Bar Association, Mian Abdul Qayoom, who himself represented HCBA as a Hurriyat constituent for about ten years, challenged dismissal of Mr Faktoo’s application in High Court.

In his November 16 judgment, Mr Justice Mansoor Ahmad Mir dismissed Dr Faktoo’s petition, ruling that the life imprisonment meant ‘imprisonment for entire life’. Justice Mir referred to a number of Supreme Court rulings, including Swamy Shradananda vs State of Karnataka, AIR 2008 SC 3040, and decreed that “punishment of imprisonment for life handed down by the Court means a sentence of imprisonment for the convict for the rest of his life”.

Mr Geelani came out with the first reaction from Hurriyat as he publicly attributed motives to Justice Mir’s judgment and dismissed it as an extension of “political vendetta”. Calling for a protest shutdown, he threatened to launch an agitation if Mr Faktoo was not released from jail.

“In 2009 the Chief Minster had said that he will look into the case and do justice accordingly. But recently in an interview with the Hindustan Times, Mr Abdullah said that he wanted to see Dr Qasim in jail for whole life. It directly shows that the decision has been given at the behest of the Chief Minster,” Geelani said addressing a press conference at his residence on Saturday last. He alleged that the courts in this state and the country were not “free from the influence of occupation”.