Use of campaign in PSA

Handcuffed Waqar Ahmed (right), in a police van in November 2011, with handcuffed minors who were arrested too..
Handcuffed Waqar Ahmed (right), in a police van in November 2011, with handcuffed minors who were arrested too..

By Adnan Majeed

After 277 days of serving illegal detention under Public Safety Act (PSA), Waqar Ahmad Moharkant was eventually released from jail, last month, after the Jammu and Kashmir High Court invalidated his PSA detention order, a draconian law which has been perverted upon by the government for years to quell the voices, raised against it.

Waqar, then a second year student at Islamia College of Science and Commerce, was taken into custody by Jammu and Kashmir police, MR Gunj police station on October 4, 2011, during a raid at his house on charges of being part of anti-government protests in downtown area of Srinagar.

Waqar’s family swiftly moved to the court, where his bail application was allowed on 23 October, 2011. Despite the court order Waqar was not released, instead he was rebooked by the same Police station and shifted to Central Jail under judicial remand in December and slapped with PSA. His lawyer, Mia Abdul Qayoom later stated that the youth was deliberately not handed a translated copy of the grounds of detention so that he would be unable to make an effective representation against the order of his detention. The police passed the PSA without informing Waqar’s family, who had the legal right to challenge the act.

It seemed Waqar’s fate had been sealed.  It was not new to the Valley; it had witnessed such cases before, individuals picked up by state forces and their families left to wander from police station to police station, from court to court, for years wretched and with no signs of their release. But that was not to be in Waqar’s case.  The generation he belonged to had found a new medium, a tool to make their voices heard and echo across the globe, a platform to fight for their rights on equal footing and they were not to be silent.

An unprecedented online campaign was launched for his release, a first of its kind in the valley. Organised by a group of individuals who call “themselves friends of Waqar”. These individuals launched a website called freewaqar.org and went to all social networking platforms to spread awareness and mobilise support from all corners of the globe to push for his release.

On visiting the website, a message displayed the duration of his imprisonment— with every second that ticked by being counted. And then details of Waqar’s period from various jails after his arrest, petitions, bail order, and PSA document formed the body of the web page. The campaign served reminder to Chief Minister Omar Abdullah of his promises of granting ‘amnesty’ to 1200 youth arrested during and after the 2010 mass protests.

The campaign reached to Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites, where it had already garnered support not only from the valley but all across the globe. It was being pushed forward through posting online petitions such as on ipetitions.com and change.org meant for Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW). The campaign faced several challenges, as it was pressurised by some unknown agencies to take down the petitions posted or face legal consequences, however the petition posted on change.org had crossed more than 1000 signatures. Even a few youth were arrested during the time and they were questioned about the administrators of that website.

The campaign won its first battle when Amnesty International avowed such laws is “not in line with international human rights standards” and that “We’ve repeatedly called on the J&K government to repeal the PSA and other similar administrative detention laws.” AI also termed Waqar’s detention as “yet another depressing reminder of the lack of rule of law in Indian Kashmir.”

The campaign came to a fruitful end on July 13, 2012, when Waqar was released and finally had his life back; 277 miserable days in jail were over. After his release Waqar told leading English daily that “I am stronger now.”

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