In June, this year, the state government provided information of number of people arrested under draconian Public Safety Act (PSA) in seven districts of Kashmir valley as 3400. The information was given in response to an application filed under Right to Information Act by a prominent Human Rights defender, Khurram Parvez of Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society. In March 2011, the Amnesty International, an international watchdog, released a report on the law, A ‘Lawless Law’: Detentions under the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act. It said the report “documents how the Public Safety Act (PSA) is used to secure the long-term detention of individuals against whom there is insufficient evidence for a trial”. Amnesty found out that the estimates of the number detained under the PSA over the past two decades range from 8,000-20,000, with 322 reportedly held from January to September 2010 alone. Speaking to Aatif Tariq Shah, in this interview, Shafqat Hussain, Laywer, who has been fighting several cases for the people booked under this act, speaks how state has been misusing this act and what is its impact on people.
How do you explain Public Safety Act in Kashmir?
As a lawyer dealing with the cases under Public safety act (PSA) from last more than two decades, the law, as per my knowledge and experience has been totally misused .To explain PSA, the meaning of Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act (1978) has been made to detain a person where the activities of detenue is prejudice to the security of the state or maintenance of the public order or if satisfied with respect to any person that with the view to preventing him from the smuggling of timber or liquor. So this PSA was misused by the authorities since 1978 but for the last 22 years. The District Magistrates or Divisional Commissioners who are empowered to detain any person under PSA are passing these detention orders under the dictates of police officers. The detaining authorities never apply their own mind before passing the detention orders. It is the draconian law which has been imposed on thousands of Kashmiris on irrelevant grounds. So this act was never used in a proper manner by the authority council.
What has been its impact?
It has really a bad impact because it has been misused by the concerned authorities. Minors, old men, men, women, girls were detained. Especially minors were detained under PSA and they were lodged hundreds of miles away from their families and were kept in detention with hardcore criminals, who were lodged in different jails of India, which results in a bad impact on them and also on women folk.
Do you think its revocation will serve any purpose? How?
Because the authorities use this act for their own purpose that is why not only revocation but this act should have been totally repealed. This is a last resort for the government to detain any innocent person under the provision of PSA. While using and detaining on one ground that person is allegedly involved in an activity which cause prejudice to the security of state or maintenance of public order that is why they are using this act for their own purpose.
Who have been largely affected by it?
Kashmiri Muslims by and large are affected by this draconian act because on flimsy grounds they are detaining the people without any compelling reason shown in the grounds of detention.
You have worked on many PSA cases. Does it change life of a person who has been arrested under PSA?
I dealt thousands of cases of PSA. Once a person is detained under the provisions of PSA, he/she is lodged and detained away from his/she home around 300-400 kilometers away. Often, people have been detained without any regular trial. So a person under detention for maximum period of two years for any activity prejudice to the security of the state and one year for detaining a person for public order. Detaining person under PSA, totally changes the life of detenue because he/she does not get any opportunity to plead his/her innocence. Like other criminal cases were an accused faces trail in regular criminal courts, he/she get opportunities to prove his/her innocence, but a person under PSA has to remain in custody for such a period fixed by the government that is why it changes their life.
Do you think government is using it as a tool to crush, dissent, and threaten masses?
Yes, government is using it as a tool because in the last four years since 2008 and 2010, many innocent protestors who were thousands in number were on roads, raising slogans for freedom of Kashmir and revocation of order passed for the transfer of land to Amarnath Shrine Board. They were also raising slogans in 2010 for punishing the security forces who killed many innocent people in Kashmir. The government misused this PSA, booked thousands of innocent Kashmiris. So government always uses this act by slapping it on innocent Kashmiris, also they use this act for their own benefit to crush the voices of Kashmiris.
What are the general cases where PSA has been slapped?
Mostly they detain persons under PSA on vague grounds. In early 90’s they detained innocents besides booking them under different provisions of Ranbir Panel Code (RPC) and also a ground where the activities of the detenues are prejudice to the security of the state without assigning any compelling reason or without having any material with the authorities. From year 2000 onwards, when two public agitations took place in 2008 and 2010, innocent Kashmiris were mostly arrested for stone pelting. Those stone pelters besides detaining them under PSA, number of criminal cases were registered against them in different police stations. Thousands, including minors were detained under public order by the detaining authorities posed a common allegation of stone pelting which is also not base on any cogent material.
Tell us the process of slapping PSA on anyone and what happens to him/her afterwards?
Whenever government detains any person under the provisions of the PSA, the parents of detenue challenge these detention orders before the Honorable High Court of the state. The Honorable High Court after hearing council for the detenues and council for the state decides the case on merits quashing their detention orders. Since 90’s, the court had quashed thousands of detention orders with the observation in maximum of the judgments that the detained authorities has not applied their proper mind. So there is total non application of mind on part of detaining authorities because every detention order is quashed by the court. After the detention stands quashed by the court it is served to the jail authorities in Jammu and Kashmir. The authorities never honor the court orders, they re-arrest the detenues from inside the jails and detain them at different Counter Intelligence Headquarters/JIC’s. The government has recently amended section 8 Act 6 of 1978. In Sub section 3 of section 8 of the act “(f)” person “shall not included a citizen who has not attained the age of 18 years for being detained under Clauses (a) and (a-1) thereof”. The government after this amendment detained two minor boys Umar Farooq Sheikh S/O Tariq Ahmad Sheikh R/O Mubarakh Mohalla Allochi bagh aged 15 years and Mohammed Rafique Sheikh S/O Abdul Rashid Sheikh R/O Mubarakh Molla Allochi Bagh aged 17 years. The government after amendment in PSA misused this PSA. Both these minors challenged their detention orders before the court and court quashed the detention orders on the ground of being minors.
Photo source: Internet