Kashmiris protest after separatist leader barred from offering Friday prayers
Srinagar, India, Mar 5 (efe-epa).- Hundreds of Muslim worshipers broke into spontaneous anti-India protests inside a grand mosque in Kashmir after the government barred its head priest from offering Friday prayers, a day after ending his 20-month house detention.
Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, a popular Kashmiri separatist leader, was set free on Thursday, a week after India and Pakistan pledged to make peace and stop cross-border skirmishes in the disputed Kashmir region.
However, the chairman of the so-called moderate faction of All Parties Hurriyat (Freedom) Conference (APHC) was not allowed to move out from his residence in Srinagar, Kashmir’s biggest city.
“Police officers visited the Mirwaiz to convey to him that he continues to be under the house arrest, and will not be allowed to go to Jamia Masjid for Friday prayers,” said a statement by the conglomerate of separatists group that he heads.
“Additional forces were deployed outside his house and in the area, converting the neighborhood it into a garrison,” the statement said.
It said the “imperious decision has hurt the sentiments of people and further aggrieved them.”
As the news of his continuous detention reached the Jamia Masjid area in the old city of Srinagar, hundreds of people waiting for him there raised anti-India and pro-freedom slogans, according to witnesses.
Dozens of protesters hurled stones at the security forces personnel, deployed in large numbers around the historic mosque.
A police officer told EFE that the situation was under control.
“There was some sloganeering and minor protests but no untoward incident took place,” the officer said on condition of anonymity.
The Mirwaiz, 47, was put under house detention on Aug. 4, 2019, a day before India’s Hindu nationalist government suddenly ended the semi-autonomous status of the Muslim majority Himalayan region, ostensibly to bring peace and development to the troubled state.
The government detained thousands of political activists, leaders, and young men before and after scrapping the special status as a pre-emptive move to curb anti-India protests against the unilateral decision that has been challenged in court.
The decision also followed a strict imposition of restrictions on people’s movement, communication blockade, and the imposition of controversial laws that many in the region say will change the demography of Kashmir.
The move led to further deterioration of ties between India and Pakistan, the two neighbors that claim the region in full but rule only in parts.
However, the two countries moved a step closer to better relations on Feb. 25 when their armies renewed their pledge to a ceasefire along the disputed boundary in Kashmir.
The ceasefire comes after months of intermittent firing along the Line of Control, the de-facto border, which divides Kashmir between the two nuclear-armed neighbors. EFE-EPA