New agitation follows judgment that said Faktoo could remain in jail for life

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

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 Massrat Alam Bhat, another key secessionist leader who is in prison.

Earlier a top-ranking commander of the Islamist guerrilla outfit Jamiat-ul-Mujahideen (JM), Dr. Faktoo has been serving life imprisonment awarded by the Supreme Court for his involvement in the assassination of human rights activist Hridhay Nath Wanchoo. Mr. Wanchoo was kidnapped by JM militants, and his bullet-riddled body was recovered in a locality in the vicinity of the then Jammu and Kashmir Police headquarters in December 1992.

After Mr. Geelani’s, 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 militant who has completed Ph.D during his 13-year-long continued detention. Dr. Faktoo, as also the chairman of the 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, Dr. Faktoo has joined the Muslim League as its head. His deputy, Massarat Alam, arguably played the most important role in the agitation over the Amarnath land row in 2008.

Legal battle

Earlier this year, Dr. Faktoo made a representation to the State government, seeking termination of his detention, arguing that life imprisonment meant imprisonment for 14 years. His application also mentioned Srinagar Central Jail authorities’ appreciation of his conduct and behaviour, including his voluntary assignment of teaching IGNOU distance education courses to a number of mates.

But the Home Department dismissed Dr. Faktoo’s representation on the ground that the precedent for reducing the term was by no means binding on the government. Subsequently, his counsel and former head of the High Court Bar Association, Mian Abdul Qayoom, who himself represented HCBA as a Hurriyat constituent for about 10 years, challenged the dismissal of Dr. Faktoo’s application in the High Court.

In his November 16 judgment, Justice Mansoor Ahmad Mir dismissed Dr. Faktoo’s petition, ruling that the life imprisonment meant “imprisonment for entire life.” He referred to a number of Supreme Court rulings, including Swamy Shardananda vs State of Karnataka 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.”

In the first reaction from the Hurriyat, Mr. Geelani attributed motives to the ruling judgment, dismissing it as an extension of “political vendetta.” Calling for a shutdown, he threatened to launch an agitation if Dr. Faktoo was not released.

“In 2009, the Chief Minster [Omar Abdullah] had said he would look into the case and do justice… But recently in an interview to Hindustan Times , Mr. Abdullah said he wanted to see Dr. Qasim in jail for whole life. It … shows that the decision has been given at the behest of the Chief Minister,” Mr. Geelani said at a press conference on Saturday. He alleged that courts in the State and in the country were not “free from the influence of occupation.”

  • Faktoo was given life term for involvement in the killing of rights activist Hridhay Nath Wanchoo

  • Geelani calls it political vendetta