Coronavirus: Kashmiris fear for safety of kin in ‘cramped’ jails

Bilquees Shah, 50, a doctor in Indian-administered Kashmir, starts her day early these days and works till late night as hospitals in the region battle the coronavirus pandemic.

But she remains troubled and restless about her husband, Shabir Ahmad Shah, 65, a senior separatist leader, who is lodged in New Delhi’s Tihar Jail hundreds of miles away for the last three years.
Shah was arrested on July 25, 2017, for money laundering allegedly committed in 2005. He claims he was falsely implicated, but was denied bail by a court in New Delhi.

“It is his 33rd year overall in imprisonment,” said Shah’s wife. “In the earlier times, we never begged the government to release him. But this time, there is a pandemic and it has no borders.”
PSA detainees outside Kashmir

Hundreds of Kashmiris – including politicians, lawyers and activists – were detained when the Indian government revoked Jammu and Kashmir state’s special status in August last year and moved to jails outside the disputed region.

Most of the detainees have been booked under the stringent Public Safety Act (PSA) – a law termed “lawless” by the Amnesty International rights group – for allowing detention without trial for a year.

Many of those detained under the PSA have been moved to New Delhi’s Tihar Jail and a jail in Agra city in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.

According to the official data, Tihar jail has an inmate population of 17,534 while its capacity is 10,026.

The National Crime Records Bureau data on Indian prisons last year revealed that Uttar Pradesh had the most overcrowded jails despite having the highest capacity to accommodate prisoners among all states in the country.

An official in Kashmir, on condition of anonymity, told Al Jazeera, that nearly 220 people detained during the August 5 lockdown are languishing in jails outside the Kashmir region.

“Most of the Kashmiris in Tihar Jail are diabetic like my husband or have other ailments. One Kashmiri detainee has brain tumour. They should be released this time or shifted to Kashmir on humanitarian grounds,” said Shah’s wife.

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