Families of prisoners in Kashmir demand their release amid coronavirus outbreak

Indian paramilitary troopers patrol outside a central jail in downtown Srinagar on April 5, 2019. (AFP)

Family members of detainees and human rights activists are demanding the immediate release of prisoners held in the disputed region of Kashmir, as the coronavirus spreads across different states in India.

Since Kashmir’s special status was invalidated in August, 444 people have been detained under the Public Safety Act (PSA), according to a government report, with 389 still languishing behind bars.

Kashmiri youths are frequently taken into custody and put behind bars for stone-pelting and disturbing law and order under the PSA, which allows authorities to take an individual into custody for the maximum of 24 months. The detention can take place without any assessment or charge.

The outbreak of the coronavirus, technically known as COVID-19, has prompted families of the detainees to double down on their pleas for their children to return home.

A Kashmiri family awaits their turn to meet a relative in Agra Central Jail in Agra, India on Sept. 20, 2019. (AP)

A Kashmiri family awaits their turn to meet a relative in Agra Central Jail in Agra, India on Sept. 20, 2019. (AP)

The demands come as Iran recently released more than 85,000 inmates, including political prisoners, on a temporary basis due to the spread of the virus in the country.

Activists are urging the Indian government to release families’ kin on humanitarian grounds, while Human Rights Watch contends the epidemic could put the prisoners’ lives at stake.

A mother of a prisoner told Al Arabiya English that the Indian government should release her son amid the outbreak.

“Day in and day out we are living in fear following the coronavirus pandemic. Only a mother knows what separation from a child means to her,” said the mother, whose son has been booked in Uttar Pradesh’s Ambedkar Nagar jail.

“Amid the plague, we are having sleepless nights, please have mercy on us,” another mother of a Kashmir detainee said.

Families have expressed concerns that the jails are overcrowded and that their children are vulnerable to getting infected with the coronavirus due to unhealthy conditions in the jails.

Hundreds of youth, activists and political leaders were taken into custody when Kashmir’s autonomy was withdrawn by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Since then several leaders have been released including former chief minister Farooq Abdullah, who was released on March 13.

New Delhi stripped Indian-administered Kashmir of its autonomy on August 5, 2019 and imposed a security lockdown on the area. Protests against the decision to withdrawal Kashmir’s special status led to mass arrests and lockdowns.

Kashmir, split between Pakistan and India since 1947, has been the center of countless clashes between the two countries.

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Last Update: 14:58 KSA 17:58 - GMT 14:58
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