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Human Rights

Execution Sparks Unrest in Kashmir

SRINAGAR , Feb 11 2013 (IPS) - “Give us his body; we want to give him a respectable burial…” this is the overwhelming demand across Kashmir following the hanging of Mohammad Afzal Guru who was convicted for his role in the attack on the Indian parliament on Dec. 13.  2001. Nine people died in the attack.

Guru was convicted by a trial court in 2002. Two years later, the Indian Supreme Court upheld the trial court’s order.

A mercy petition from his family was rejected by President Pranab Mukherjee on Feb. 3. He was executed on Feb. 9 in New Delhi’s Tihar Jail. The body was buried in the jail premises.

His family and many others have objected strongly to the burial. “We will not sit silent until the body of our beloved brother is returned to us,” Afzal’s elder brother Aijaz Guru told IPS in a broken voice over phone from his house in Doabgah-Sopore, 65 km north of Kashmir state capital Srinagar. “We want to give him a decent burial.”

He added: “We are well aware that our brother became a victim of vote bank politics. Now his body should be returned to us. It is our right.”

The demand for Guru’s body is the second such from Kashmiris. There is already a demand for return of the mortal remains of Maqbool Bhat, a Kashmiri separatist leader who was hanged and buried in Tihar Jail on Feb. 11, 1984 after being convicted on the charge of killing an Indian official. Kashmiris have kept an empty grave for Bhat’s mortal remains in Srinagar’s ‘Martyrs’ Graveyard’.

The execution of Afzal Guru has evoked strong reactions from civil society and political parties in Kashmir across the board. With elections in India due next year, many say Guru was hanged for ‘petty’ political reasons and that he was not given fair trial.

“This is part of India’s election drama and a proposition motivated by electoral considerations in which Kashmiris are being made sacrificial lambs,” separatist leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq told IPS over phone from New Delhi where he was detained briefly after the hanging of Guru.

“Yes, there was politics involved at every stage and it was indeed a political trial rather than a judicial trial,” Prof. Anuradha Chenoy from the School of International Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi told IPS on phone.

According to Chenoy, there are many loopholes in the Indian judicial system. “The Indian lower courts and judiciary as a whole look at some cases in a typical fashion: if they treat somebody as an enemy, they look at his case with that perspective only; and not on merit,” she said. “It is well known that Guru did not get a fair trial.”

Expressing her distress about Afzal’s last wish to see his family not being fulfilled, she said:  “Every person’s last wish before death is to see his family. But it is quite unfortunate that he did not get an opportunity to see his wife and son before he was hanged.”

Guru’s friends say he had “given up militancy” in the late 1990s and had set up a pharmaceuticals business.

Delhi University lecturer Syed Abdul Rehman Geelani, who was earlier acquitted in the same case, said that Afzal Guru’s family was not informed by the government about his execution. “His wife had absolutely no clue. Under the law, she had every right to meet him before the execution,” he told IPS.

“I woke her up early on that morning (Feb. 9) and informed her about rumours of Afzal’s hanging. It was so shocking for her as she was completely unaware. She told me that she had received no communication at all.”

India’s Home Secretary R. K. Singh has said the family was sent a letter through speed post.

That led Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah to say: “If we are going to inform someone by post that his family member is going to be hanged, there is something seriously wrong with the system.”

Omar Abdullah said this kind of execution is “unheard of.”  In an interview to Indian news channel NDTV, he said:  “There are enough voices already in the rest of the country who believe that the evidence was flawed.”

According to Abdullah, there could be long-term political implications. “We can deal with the short-term implications as we have taken enough security measures for that, but what we are worried about are the long-term political implications of this execution,” he said.

Mehbooba Mufti, president of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) – the largest opposition party in the legislative assembly – said that while “the hanging should not have been carried out, the return of Afzal’s body was the least the government could do to show concern for humanity.”

The Kashmir government has imposed curfew all over the state. At least three people have been killed and scores injured in clashes between police and people who defied curfew restrictions.

Internet services have been blocked in order to curb protests on social media. News channels have also been blocked.

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