Kashmir city erupts in protest over death penalty

Police fired teargas shells in Indian Kashmir on Wednesday to quell violent protests over the planned execution of a Kashmiri man for his role in a 2001 militant attack on India’s Parliament.

Hundreds of Kashmiri men took to the streets of Srinagar, the region’s main city, hurling stones at police and vehicles, burning tyres and blocking roads, a day after a New Delhi court set October 20 as the date to hang Mohammed Afzal.

“Afzal is innocent ... we want freedom,” the protesters shouted.

Afzal had been sentenced to death for his role in the conspiracy to attack the Parliament complex and the Supreme Court upheld the conviction last year.

However, he can appeal to the Indian president for clemency, and lawyers fighting for prisoners’ rights said they would decide on filing a plea after consulting Afzal.

Five gunmen stormed the heavily guarded Parliament complex on December 13 2001 but were killed by security forces before they could enter the building housing the chambers.

The attack, blamed by India on Pakistan but denied by Islamabad, brought the nuclear-armed rivals dangerously close to their fourth war.

In fresh violence on Wednesday, suspected separatist militants shot dead one police officer and wounded another in Srinagar. Later, rebels threw a grenade at a security bunker in the city, wounding five policemen and two civilians.

Earlier, police detained Mohammad Yasin Malik, a senior separatist leader who led the protests in Srinagar, along with a dozen supporters.

“By hanging innocent Kashmiris India can’t suppress our freedom struggle,” Malik, head of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), said before launching Wednesday’s protests.

Protesters held placards that read “Don’t repeat Maqbool Bhat, don’t hang Afzal”.

Mohammad Maqbool Bhat, the founder of JKLF, was hanged in 1984 for killing an Indian intelligence officer.
Bhat is buried at New Delhi’s Tihar jail where Afzal is due to be executed.

Afzal’s execution would be the first in 17 years at Tihar.

More than 45 000 people have been killed in the 17-year-old separatist revolt in Jammu and Kashmir, the only Muslim-majority state in mainly Hindu India.—Reuters

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