September 20, 2019
On September 12, Lateef Dar, a bank employee in North Kashmir’s Sopore area, made his way to the high court in Srinagar. He had not been able to contact his lawyer, Wajid Haseeb, on the phone since mobile and internet connections in Kashmir had been blocked since August 5. But he knew exactly where to go.
For the past five weeks, Haseeb has sat on the same bench, facing the entrance to the court, so that his clients know where to find him. Most are relatives of men detained by the security forces since August 5, when the Centre revoked the special status for Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 of the Constitution and split the state into two Union Territories. As the announcement was made, Kashmir went under lockdown and thousands were detained across the Valley.
Hundreds have been held under the Public Safety Act, a stringent preventive detention law – estimates handed out by government officials of the numbers taken into custody range from 290 to 4,000. Many booked under the law have reportedly been sent to jails outside the Valley.
At a time when they are needed most, lawyers have been in short supply. Angry notices posted by the High Court Bar Association of Kashmir at the high court in Srinagar to explain why. Among the first arrests was Mian Abdul Qayoom, president of the Bar Association of Kashmir, now being held in a prison in Agra, and Nazir Ahmad Ronga, former president of the High Court bar, who was taken to Moradaba prison.
Since then, the police have booked Fayad Sodagar, president of Anantnag District Bar Association, and Abdul Salam Rather, president of the Baramulla District Bar Association, under the Public Safety Act. Lawyers based in Srinagar said Sodagar was on the run and Rather was imprisoned in Uttar Pradesh.
At the Shopian district court, lawyers said the police have detained advocate Zubair Ahmad Bhat, and his father, Mohammad Yousuf Bhat, a senior advocate and a member of the legislative assembly from the People’s Democratic Party.