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Kashmiri pro-freedom leader dies in detention while battling cancer

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Srinagar, Oct 11: Kashmiri pro-freedom leader Altaf Ahmad Shah, who had been jailed by Indian authorities for the past five years, died Monday night, just days after he was diagnosed with late stage renal cancer that had spread to other parts of his body, his family said.

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Along with six top pro-freedom leaders, Shah, 66, was arrested in a “terror-funding case” in 2017. He was the son-in-law of the deceased patriarch of the Kashmiri freedom movement, 91-year-old Syed Ali Geelani, who passed away at his residence in Srinagar last year after nearly 10 years of house arrest.

Shah was diabetic. On Sept. 30, his daughter Ruwa Shah tweeted that he had been diagnosed with renal cancer, which had spread to his vital organs.

“It is my whole family’s request to please allow us to see him and consider his bail application on health grounds,” Ruwa wrote. She also wrote that he had been shifted from New Delhi’s Tihar Jail, where he was incarcerated, to Ram Manohar Lohia (RML) Hospital, which didn’t have an oncology department.

“The PET scan that is needed to be done is not available at RML, where he is currently under custody treatment. Doctors refuse to speak to us. The police are not letting us see him. He needs treatment ASAP,” she said.

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After six days of her fervent appeals, including a letter to Indian Home Minister Amit Shah, and an order by the Delhi High Court on Oct. 3, Shah was shifted to the premier All India Institute of Medical Sciences for treatment.

Shah was a key member of the separatist group Tehreek-e-Hurriyat (TeH), founded in 2004, and worked closely with the late Geelani.

Geelani passed away from a number of illnesses. Mohammad Ashraf Sehrai, another Hurriyat leader, who replaced Geelani as Hurriyat chairman, also passed away in custody, with his family accusing the authorities of failing to provide him with adequate medical care.

*Political Prisoners*

The All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), an alliance of pro-freedom parties, had appealed to the Indian government to release Shah on bail on humanitarian grounds and let his family take care of him.

In a statement, Hurriyat had said that political prisoners including Hurriyat leaders and activists lodged in various prisons across India since 2017 and even before have developed serious health problems due to long-term incarceration. Often, pre-existing health issues have worsened due to neglect and a lack of medical treatment in jails.

“It is against the fundamental human and democratic principles to incarcerate by use of power those who have a divergent political outlook and an ideology at variance from the one espoused by the rulers,” the statement said.

Shah is the third political prisoner to die during incarceration.

Muhammad Ashraf Sehrai, 77, who was a close aide of Geelani and expected to succeed him, died on May 5 last year in a prison in Jammu, the winter capital of Jammu and Kashmir. He was jailed under a law that allows incarceration for up to two years without bail. Battling multiple illnesses while in prison, Sehrai had apparently died of respiratory distress caused by the coronavirus.

In September last year, four UN rapporteurs expressed concern over his death.

“His family filed three requests before the court for ensuring his vital medical treatment. The court delayed the hearing of the petitions – which in turn delayed essential medical care and exacerbated the health condition of Mr. Sehrai while in detention,” they said in a letter to the Indian government.

Before Sehrai, Ghulam Mohammad Bhat, 65, a former member of the banned religious-political organization Jamaat-e-Islami, became the first political prisoner to die in an Indian prison after Aug 5, 2019, when India scrapped the region’s autonomy. Tens of hundreds of people were detained before and after the event.

Bhat, who had been arrested on July 17, 2019, died in December 2019 in Naini jail in India’s Uttar Pradesh state about 16,000 kilometers (9,942 miles) from his home. (Anadolu Agency)

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