India arrests senior Kashmir leader under controversial law

National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah, former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, shows a victory sign after winning his Srinagar constituency parliament seat in Srinagar on May 23, 2019. (AFP file photo)
Updated 16 September 2019

India arrests senior Kashmir leader under controversial law

  • Farooq Abdullah, 81, who also was the former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, was arrested at his residence in Srinagar
  • ‘We have arrested him, and a committee will decide how long the arrest will be’

NEW DELHI: A Parliament member who is a senior pro-India politician in Indian-controlled Kashmir was arrested Monday under a controversial law that allows authorities to imprison someone for up to two years without charge or trial.
Farooq Abdullah, 81, who also was the former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, was arrested at his residence in Srinagar, the summer capital and main city of the disputed Himalayan region.
“We have arrested him, and a committee will decide how long the arrest will be,” said Muneer Khan, a top police official.
Abdullah is the first pro-India politician who has been arrested under the Public Safety Act, under which rights activists say more than 20,000 Kashmiris have been detained in the last two decades.
Amnesty International has called the PSA a “lawless law,” and rights groups say India has used the law to stifle dissent and circumvent the criminal justice system, undermining accountability, transparency, and respect for human rights.
The PSA came into effect in 1978, under the government of Abdullah’s father, who himself was a highly popular Kashmir leader.
The law, in its early days, was supposedly meant to target timber smugglers in Kashmir. After an armed rebellion started in the region in 1989, the law was used against rebels and anti-India protesters.
Abdullah’s residence was declared a subsidiary jail and he was put under house arrest on Aug. 5 when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist-led government in New Delhi stripped Jammu and Kashmir of semi-autonomy and statehood, creating two federal territories.
Thousands of additional Indian troops were sent to the Kashmir Valley, already one of the world’s most militarized regions. Telephone communications, cellphone coverage, broadband Internet and cable TV services were cut for the valley’s 7 million people, although some communications have been gradually restored.
On Aug. 6, Indian Home Minister Amit Shah denied to the lower house of Parliament that Abdullah had been detained or arrested.
“If he (Abdullah) does not want to come out of his house, he cannot be brought out at gunpoint,” Shah said, when other parliamentarians expressed concern over Abdullah’s absence during the debate on Kashmir’s status.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court sought a response from the central government and the Jammu and Kashmir administration on a plea seeking to produce Abdullah before the court.
Many anti-India protesters as well as pro-India Kashmiri leaders have been held in jails and other makeshift facilities to contain protests against India’s decisions, according to police officials.
Kashmir’s special status was instituted shortly after India achieved independence from Britain in 1947. Both India and Pakistan claim Kashmir in its entirety, but each control only part of it.
India has often tried to suppress uprisings in the region, including a bloody armed rebellion in 1989. About 70,000 people have been killed since that uprising and a subsequent Indian military crackdown.


Pope Francis begins visit to Thailand as faithful jostle for selfies

Updated 20 November 2019

Pope Francis begins visit to Thailand as faithful jostle for selfies

  • Catholics are a tiny minority in mostly Buddhist Thailand, accounting for less than 2 percent of the population
  • Among those welcoming him was his cousin and childhood friend from Argentina, 77-year-old nun Sister Ana Rosa Sivori
BANGKOK: Pope Francis arrived in Thailand on Wednesday to meet with its small but devoted Catholic minority on a seven-day Asian trip that will include a family reunion in Bangkok and take his anti-nuclear message to Japan.
Waiting for a glimpse of the pontiff, excited Catholics thronged around the Vatican’s Bangkok embassy and St. Louis Hospital to take selfies.
“Once in a lifetime, I want to see him and be able receive prayer from him,” said 60-year-old Orawan Thongjamroon outside the Vatican embassy, where she had been waiting since early morning for the papal motorcade.
Catholics are a tiny minority in mostly Buddhist Thailand, accounting for less than 2 percent of the population.
The pope’s plane touched down outside Bangkok around midday and he descended to a red-carpet airport welcome from church leaders for a visit that coincides with the 350th anniversary of the first papal mission in Siam, the former name of Thailand.
Among those welcoming him was his cousin and childhood friend from Argentina, 77-year-old nun Sister Ana Rosa Sivori, who has worked in Thai schools for more than 50 years and will be the pope’s personal translator in Thailand.
The pair, whose grandfathers were brothers, beamed as they made their way over the tarmac through crowds of clergy, children and government officials to a waiting motorcade.
“Dear friends in Thailand and Japan, before we meet, let us pray together that these days may be rich in grace and joy,” read a message on the pontiff’s official Twitter account before he left the Vatican.
At Bangkok’s St. Louis Church, a Thai Catholic woman proudly showed photographs of her and Pope Francis from a visit she made to the Vatican with her husband.
“I never thought that I would have another chance to see him again,” said Nuchnaree Praresri, 49.
But when she was invited to be a cleaner at St. Louis Church for the papal visit, she seized the opportunity.
“This might not be an important role for others, but I’m very proud,” she said.
Catholicism first arrived in Thailand in the mid-1500s with Portuguese missionaries and traders, and Catholics have over the years built respected schools and hospitals.
Pope Francis begins his official program on Thursday when he is scheduled to meet King Maha Vajiralongkorn as well as the supreme Buddhist patriarch before offering mass at the National Stadium.
He will hold another mass at Bangkok’s Assumption Cathedral before leaving on Saturday for Japan, where he will visit the nuclear ground zeros of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.