Srinagar, India, May 25 (EFE).- An Indian court on Wednesday sent a top Kashmiri rebel leader to jail for life in a terror-related case, sparking protests in the disputed Himalayan region.
Yasin Malik, a former guerrilla fighter in jail for the last three years, had pleaded guilty and refused to contest the charges in protest against the controversial judicial process. He also declined to accept a court-appointed defense lawyer.
“Two life imprisonments have been given to Yasin Malik, besides 10 years of rigorous imprisonment in 10 offenses and one million Indian rupees penalty. All the punishments will run concurrently,” advocate Umesh Sharma, who was present in the courtroom when the judge pronounced the verdict, told reporters.
The prosecution had sought death penalty from the court in New Delhi for the militant-turned-politician, known as one of the pioneers of an armed rebellion in Kashmir – the idyllic Himalayan region at the heat of a territorial dispute between nuclear powered India and Pakistan,
Malik, 56, one of the founding members of the Kashmir “independence movement,” had been charged and convicted for illegally raising funds, being a member of a terrorist organization, and criminal conspiracy and sedition against the Indian state.
He heads the former militant organization Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), which gave up the armed rebellion in 1994 for political negotiations with the Indian government to solve the Kashmir issue.
Malik and many other separatist leaders are lodged in Delhi’s Tihar jail facing terrorism-related charges.
The JKLF was the first armed rebel group in Indian-administered Kashmir. It supports the unification of the divided Kashmir territory independent of Pakistani or Indian rule.
“I am fighting for the freedom of my nation Jammu Kashmir and our peaceful movement is legitimate as in accordance with the local as well as the international law,” his organization, the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), cited him as telling the court.
“If asking for freedom is a crime then I confess to having committed this crime. I will accept its consequences too. I will strive for this cause till my last breath,” Malik pleaded before the court.
The charges carried a maximum sentence of the death penalty.
The government had deployed extra security forces across the Kashmir Valley to thwart protests against Malik’s sentencing.
Many parts of the Kashmir Valley observed a spontaneous shutdown in protest against the conviction of the separatist leader as shops and businesses closed down for the day to express solidarity with Malik.
Amid a tense situation in the valley, Indian police said they gunned down three suspected Pakistani militants in a brief shootout with security forces in the Kreeri area of Baramulla district, some 50 km north of Srinagar, the main city.
A policeman was also killed in the gunfight, Kashmir Valley police chief Vijay Kumar said in a statement.
Indian police have, since the beginning of this year, intensified their offensive against militants in the Muslim-majority region that has been battling an armed rebellion since 1989 for a free state or Kashmir’s merger with neighboring Pakistan.
Police records show 62 militants died in the first four months of 2022. These include 15 foreign insurgents, mostly from Pakistan.
Some 37 militants were killed during the same period last year in what is considered one of the most militarized zones in the world.
According to the rights activists, more than half a million Indian soldiers, in addition to regional police and paramilitary forces, are deployed in Indian Kashmir to fight insurgency.
Kashmir is claimed in full by both Pakistan and India since 1947 when it got partitioned between the two countries after their independence with a ceasefire demarcation known as the Line of Control – that acts as a de facto border separating the divided region. EFE