Four months since Sopore custodial death, inquiry ‘delayed by COVID-19’

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Even as more than four months have passed since the death in police custody of a 26-year-old youth in north Kashmir’s Sopore, the inquiry officer is yet to file the report which he was tasked to complete in twenty days.

Irfan Dar was picked up by the Sopore unit of Special Operations Group (SOG), the police’s anti-militancy wing, from his shop at 12:33 pm on 15 September last year. He was dead the next morning.

Soon after the allegation of custodial killing, the administration appointed Additional District Magistrate, Baramulla, Mohammad Ahsaan Mir to conduct a magisterial inquiry to “ascertain the causes and circumstances leading to the death” of Dar. The inquiry officer was asked to submit his report within a period of twenty days which ended in October.

Mir told The Kashmir Walla the inquiry got delayed till now due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “The inquiry report will go to the government. Due to COVID-19, there were a lot of restrictions so it was delayed. It will take us about a week to file the inquiry report,” the official said.

Mir didn’t share further detail, saying “it would hamper the process”.

In September 2020, Vijay Kumar, the Inspector General of Police, Kashmir, had said the youth had died in an accident as he was being taken for a raid. “I believe the youth died after falling on a stone. He may have died due to cardiac arrest when he fled during a raid amid darkness. Let the inquiry team and medical team come up with exact details about his death.”

The body of Dar was not handed over to the family by the police which cited COVID-19 protocols. He was buried in a discreet graveyard in central Kashmir’s Sonamarg resort.

According to a regional human rights organization, the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), most of the probes ordered to investigate 108 cases of human rights abuse since 2008 — including nine custodial killings — have failed to initiate prosecution.

The JKCCS’s data further notes that Jammu and Kashmir (J-K) saw 225 cases of custodial killings from 2002 to 2009. In 2008, the state police admitted that 330 people had died in custody in the last eighteen years.

In 2018, the Union Ministry of Defence told the Rajya Sabha that from 2001-2016, the J-K government had sought prosecution against the government forces’ personnel in fifty cases — forty-seven out of them were denied while in three cases, it was pending. These fifty cases reportedly involved custodial killings, murder, rape, and torture of civilians by the government forces.

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