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Parole and politics

Published : Jun 20, 2003 00:00 IST

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IN the bad old days before Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed took office, people were shot dead for no good reason, bombs went off without warning, and speaking out against either terrorists or the government was a perilous enterprise. In the happy days since, people are still shot dead for no apparent reason, bombs still go off without warning, and villagers who dare oppose terrorist fiat even in conversation with indiscreet neighbours are still shot dead on whim.

A great blow for free speech has, however, been struck: you can now say what you wish about the Indian state. Here are some statements that are no longer officially "considered prejudicial to the security of the state" by the Jammu and Kashmir government:

* Foreign terrorists are "our guests who fight for our cause".

* We must "respect their martyrdom".

* Pakistan's decision to place curbs on the Hizbul Mujahideen is a "great blow to the freedom struggle".

* "What prompts a person from Afghanistan, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, or any other Islamic country to come when they are fated to die here? Obviously, they must be pained to hear about the suffering of Kashmir Muslims".

* Terrorist activity in Jammu and Kashmir is part of "a sacred and just struggle".

Unbelievable? On February 8 this year, the People's Democratic Party-led coalition government issued an order allowing Jamaat-e-Islami leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani three months' parole. Geelani was jailed last year under the Public Safety Act, on charges of handling money meant for terrorist groups in Jammu and Kashmir. The parole order followed his treatment for cancer, which was provided at State government expense at a premier cancer-care facility in Mumbai. He was flown in a State government aircraft to Mumbai from Ranchi, where he is jailed.

Geelani's parole order stipulated two conditions. The first was that he "not indulge in activities prejudicial to the state". The second was that he "surrender after the expiry of three months to undergo the remaining period of detention". Geelani did not surrender on May 8, since the State government on its own extended his parole for another three months. The Jammu and Kashmir government's action might, to reasonable minds, give the impression that he did not indulge in "activities prejudicial to the state". His views, however, had been made public well before the parole was renewed. One interview, for Indian Express, was conducted on the very day the renewal order was issued - and Geelani ought to have been wondering if he would be asked to go back to jail.

More signs of peculiar conduct are apparent from a detailed reading of Geelani's first parole order, which a Frontline investigation has obtained. Section 20(1) of the Public Safety Act, under which Geelani was held, mandates that parole conditions are subject to the acceptance of the person granted parole. No consent, or written consent at any rate, was obtained from Geelani. As important, Section 20(3) makes clear that any individual released on parole "shall surrender himself at the time and place and to the authority specified in the order directing his release". No time, place or authority was stipulated in the parole order. As things stand, evidently, Geelani can be granted parole indefinitely, making nonsense of the legal provision that the "period of release shall not count towards the total period of detention undergone by the person released" on parole.

EARLIER, Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front leader Yasin Malik, Geelani's sole ally in the secessionist All Parties Hurriyat Conference, obtained parole under similar, legally dubious circumstances. His conduct has been instructive. Although Malik was released because of his supposedly poor health, he has addressed at least five major rallies since being granted parole on November 12, 2002. At one rally in Sopore, held on December 13, Pakistani flags were hoisted, and pro-Pakistan slogans raised. Although Malik claims to oppose Pakistani territorial claims on Jammu and Kashmir, and to be committed to fighting for independence for the State, he did nothing to quieten the crowd. Incredibly enough, his first extension of bail was granted on the basis of an order which incorrectly made reference to a separate parole order granting relief to five other alleged terrorists, but not Malik himself!

Malik's most recent public appearance was at Yaripora, near Pulwama, to mourn the killing of hardline Hizbul Mujahideen commander Ghulam Rasool Khan by Indian security forces. In the meanwhile, his ill-health has been cited, along with visits abroad and the inability of the State government to provide as escort, as reason for his non-appearance for 13 successive hearings of the four criminal cases pending against him at a designated Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) court in New Delhi. The cases include those relating to the kidnapping of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed's daughter Rubiya Sayeed in December 1989 and the murder of four unarmed Air Force personnel in January 1990.

Odd? Not by Jammu and Kashmir standards. One of Hizbul Mujahideen leader Mohammad Yusuf Shah's sons, Wahid Yusuf Shah, was granted admission to the Government Medical College in Srinagar a few months before the National Conference left office. He had previously studied at an unrecognised institution in Jammu, and the grant of the seat was made in violation of all rules. Neither that government, nor this one, investigated the admission. Before that, the National Conference's Minister of State for Home, Mushtaq Lone, had arranged the release of top Hizbul Mujahideen commander `Master' Ahsan Dar. Dar, who had been arrested from the home of Lone's brother Mohiuddin Lone, returned the favour by skipping parole and returning to Pakistan. Lone himself was assassinated in the build-up to last year's elections, allegedly by a terrorist group outside the control of another one to which he was paying protection money.

Two possibilities exist. The first is that the Sayeed government genuinely believes that the Public Safety Act, an extraordinary and highly controversial preventive detention law, is not legitimised by the specific circumstances that exist in Jammu and Kashmir. In that event, it can move to scrap the provisions for detention for alleged threats to state security contained in the Act, and even repeal the Act itself. The other is that elements in the administration, like the administration that preceded it, are simply making their peace with terrorists by handing out largesse.

It is hard to believe that Jammu and Kashmir's Law Minister, Muzaffar Beig, one of India's most accomplished and well-respected lawyers, cannot see through the extraordinary farce to which law has been reduced on his watch. Sooner or later, he must answer the question ordinary people most frequently put to lawyers: is it really true that crime does not pay?

(This story was published in the print edition of Frontline magazine dated Jun 20, 2003.)

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