Police questions Shopian lawyer over “criticism of judgement on social media”

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A south Kashmir based lawyer was summoned by the Srinagar Police as it intensified its “investigation” into Kashmiris expressing their views on a judgement by the Jammu and Kashmir High Court continuing the detention of senior advocate and Bar Association President, Mian Abdul Qayoom.

Habeel Iqbal, a resident of the Shopian district, was summoned by the Sub Divisional Police Officer Shaheed Gunj in Srinagar. “I was called for questioning in the open FIR and was asked why I had tweeted about the judgement,” Mr. Iqbal told The Kashmir Walla over phone after being released from the police station after six hours of questioning.

Mr. Iqbal is a lawyer who practices in the district court in Shopian. “Once I entered, I was asked to hand over my cell phone,” he said. “They also took my phone’s keypad pin, which was humiliating. I was at the police station for over six hours. First questions were asked about my life and career and then I was asked why I had tweeted against the judgement.”

On 28 May, Justice Ali Mohammad Magrey and Justice Vinod Chatterjee Koul of the High Court had dismissed a petition seeking release of Mr. Qayoom. The judgement had said that the detained person should decide whether he has shunned his separatist ideology.

Several Kashmiris had taken to social media to express their views regarding the judgement. The police have said that it has taken “cognizance of the reports and FIR has been lodged under the relevant sections of law and further investigation has been initiated in the case.” 

The Jammu and Kashmir Police filed an open FIR (No. 62 of 2020) against vocal Kashmiris, registering a case under Indian Penal Code’s sections 153A: punishment for persons who indulge in wanton vilification, and 505: statements conducive to public mischief.

Mr. Iqbal, who was a legislative fellow at the State Department of U. S. in Washington D.C., said that he defended his case by pointing out that there was nothing unlawful in his speech online. “I said my comments are a remark on the judgement and nowhere a person can be found guilty for anything like this,” he said.

He added that the police had further questioned him about his comments on the judgement given to the media. “I was asked what I had told journalists about the judgement,” he said. “I quoted the Supreme Court judgements and whatever I had spoken was nothing illegal.”

The police has recently intensified its crackdown on the use of social media, particularly by Kashmiris. The summoning of citizens for expressing their opinion online comes just a month after the police had targeted journalists in Kashmir for their reporting.

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