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Indian court sentences top Kashmiri pro-freedom leader to life imprisonment

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Police and security personnel escort Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) chairman Yasin Malik (C) to Patiala House court in New Delhi on May 25, 2022. (Photo by AFP)

A court in New Delhi on Wednesday sentenced the leading Kashmiri pro-freedom leader Yasin Malik to life imprisonment after convicting him of funding terrorism, sparking fresh tensions in the Himalayan region.

Malik, 56, was last week convicted of illegally raising funds for and membership in a “terrorist” organization, as well as criminal conspiracy and sedition. 

As one of Indian-controlled Kashmir’s prominent pro-freedom leaders, he is the chairman of now-outlawed Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), which renounced violence in 1994.

On Wednesday, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) court gave Malik two life sentences and five 10-year jail terms, all to be served concurrently. The court prosecutor had sought capital punishment for the pro-freedom leader.

Malik, who was arrested shortly after the JKLF was banned in 2019 by New Delhi, did not contest the charges brought against him.

However, a statement released by the JKLF after he was convicted last week called the denounced the charges as "fabricated and politically motivated.” 

It quoted Malik as telling the judge that “If seeking freedom is a crime, then I am ready to accept this crime and its consequences.”

Malik's wife, Mushaal Hussein, condemned the verdict, stressing that her husband would never surrender.

The People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), a coalition of pro-India parties in the Himalayan region, described Malik’s life imprisonment as “unfortunate.”

“Life imprisonment given to Yasin Malik is unfortunate and a setback to the efforts for peace. We are afraid that this will further compound the uncertainties in the region and will only fuel more alienation and separatist feelings,” the group said in a statement on Wednesday.

Shops in some areas of Srinagar, the main city in Indian-controlled Kashmir, were closed and police fired tear gas canisters to break up stone-throwing protesters outside Malik’s residence.

Disputed Kashmir has been split between India and Pakistan since partition in 1947. Both countries claim all of Kashmir and have fought three wars over the territory.

Seeking independence for Kashmir from India and its neighboring Muslim-majority Pakistan, the JKLF was established in 1977 with Amanullah Khan as its head.

The arrest of the JKLF chief came shortly after he began a hunger strike against the government to protest New Delhi’s plan to build separate townships for Hindu migrants in the disputed Muslim majority region in 2015.

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