India sets free top Kashmiri politician Mehbooba Mufti after a year

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Indian authorities on Tuesday released a top Kashmiri politician from detention more than a year after New Delhi scrapped Indian-controlled Kashmir’s special status, a move that triggered widespread anger and economic ruin amid a harsh security clampdown.

Mehbooba Mufti had been held in detention since August 2019 alongside thousands of politicians and activists after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government passed legislation in Parliament that stripped Jammu and Kashmir’s statehood, annulled its separate constitution and removed inherited protections on land and jobs. The decision also split the region into two federal territories — Ladakh and Jammu-Kashmir.

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Mufti, 61, was set free late Tuesday, an official order said.

In an audio message posted Tuesday on Twitter, Mufti called India’s Aug. 5, 2019, action a “black decision on a black day.”

“None among us can ever forget the political heist and insult on that day,” Mufti said. “Now, we all will have to reiterate to take back what Delhi snatched from us unconstitutionally, illegally and undemocratically.”

Her release from detention comes just before the deadline set by India’s Supreme Court was set to expire.

Mufti was a coalition partner of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party in the region for nearly two years after the 2016 state elections. Mufti headed the coalition government. She is considered pro-India and has never supported Muslim-majority Kashmir’s independence from India or its merger with Pakistan.

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Kashmiri Shia Muslims are detained by Indian police while trying to participate in a Muharram procession, in Srinagar. (Reuters)
Kashmiri Shia Muslims are detained by Indian police while trying to participate in a Muharram procession, in Srinagar. (Reuters)

The Indian government imposed overarching restrictions, ranging from curfews to communication blackouts, and enacted new laws after last year’s decision, creating a climate of fear.

Politicians have started talks to chalk out their political strategy following the release of several pro-India leaders in recent months from detention. Some restrictions in the region have been removed.

In August, Mufti’s party along with three other Kashmiri and two Indian political parties, including the main opposition Congress Party, said in the first joint statement in a year that India’s constitutional changes “unrecognizably changed the relationship” between Kashmir and New Delhi.

The grouping called the changes “spitefully shortsighted and unconstitutional” and sought to “collectively fight” them.

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