Former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti was released late Tuesday night after being detained by the government for nearly 14 months – since it scrapped Article 370 in August – and since being charged under the Public Safety Act (PSA) – a stringent law that allows detention and multiple extensions without trial for up to three months – in February.
“Ms Mehbooba Mufti being released,” Rohit Kansal, J&K Principal Secretary, tweeted at 9.17 pm.
In an audio message tweeted late Tuesday night from her official Twitter handle, Mehbooba Mufti is heard saying: “Today, I have been released after more than a year. All this while, the black day – August 5, 2019 – continued to assault my soul. I believe, all people in Jammu and Kashmir would be feeling the same way. None of us can forget the insult we were made to face that day.”
“Now, we all have to remember… what Delhi Durbar took from us with an illegal, undemocratic decision on August 5, we have to take it back. Thousands have lost lives because of (the) Kashmir issue… we have to continue the struggle for now. I agree, this won’t be easy on any of us. However, I am confident that our courage will help us sail through. I appeal that all the people who have been locked up in prisons should be released at the earliest,” she added.
The release comes just as a deadline set by the Supreme Court, which had been approached by her daughter Iltija Mufti with a habeas corpus petition challenging her “illegal” detention, was set to expire.
On September 29 the court had questioned the central and J&K governments, asking: “How long can Mehbooba Mufti be kept in custody?” The J&K administration was given two weeks – till October 14 – to explain how long they intended to do so.
Ms Mufti’s PSA detention, which was announced on the last day of her six-month detention without charges, had been extended by another three months in July.
Minutes after her release her daughter, Iltija Mufti, who took over her mother’s Twitter account after she was detained, tweeted: “As Ms Mufti’s illegal detention finally comes to an end, I’d like to thank everybody who supported me in these tough times. I owe a debt of gratitude to you all. This is Iltija signing off. May Allah protect you”.
“There is a sense of huge relief,” Iltija Mufti told NDTV when asked about relinquishing control of her mother’s social media account, “Twitter is a toxic place. Glad I will not be on it anymore. My mother will finally use her own Twitter handle. It felt abnormal to use hers.”
In February Iltija Mufti spoke of the pressure on her mother and her because of the detention and said they “furtively exchanged letters” to stay in touch.
“I’ll never forget the week she was arrested and jailed. I spent the next few days riddled with anxiety until I received a crumpled and tersely worded note, the first of many furtively exchanged letters. I found it in a tiffin box that contained home cooked food sent for her,” she said.
Hundreds of politicians, including Ms Mufti and two other former chief ministers – Farooq Abdullah and his son Omar – were detained or arrested as part of a massive clampdown by the centre to quell backlash over its Article 370 decision.
The Abdullahs, also charged under the draconian PSA, were released in March, within days of each other. Omar Abdullah tweeted today, saying he was pleased to hear of Ms Mufti’s release.
“I’m pleased to hear that Mehbooba Mufti sahiba has been released after more than a year in detention. Her continued detention was a travesty & was against the basic tenets of democracy. Welcome out Mehbooba,” he said.
Last year the centre placed political leaders under detention (or arrested them), flooded the Kashmir Valley with troops and enforced an internet blockade that lasted for several months.
Ms Mufti was earlier held at the Chashme Shahi guest house. She was shifted to a government bungalow in December, after her daughter said she was suffering from the cold. In April she was allowed to return to her Gupkaar Road residence in Srinagar, which was declared a “subsidiary jail”.
In November the security clampdown on J&K, which were fiercely criticised by opposition leaders, were justified before a parliamentary standing committee; they were a “necessary move” in anticipation of violence in the region, the government said.
Union Home Secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla said political leaders like Omar Abdullah and Ms Mufti were confined in view of past “incendiary statements made against the centre”.