Kashmiris Seek Release of Prisoners Amidst Mounting Concern Over Coronavirus Pandemic

Human rights activists have time and again raised the alarm over the condition of Kashmiri prisoners in jails who struggle to get justice and languish in jails for years.

Advertise on TMV

Human rights activists have time and again raised the alarm over the condition of Kashmiri prisoners in jails who struggle to get justice and languish in jails for years.

NEW DELHI – People in Kashmir, a disputed region in Himalayas, have launched an online campaign appealing to the Indian government to release political prisoners languishing in jails over health concerns as South Asia gears up for extraordinary measures to arrest the spread of COVID-19 – which has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation.

They have taken to Twitter, urging world human rights bodies to press the Indian government to release Kashmir’s political prisoners as the Coronavirus pandemic shows exponential growth. The hashtag #ReleaseKashmiriprisoners has been trending in local Twitter and Facebook circles, as activists say that the motivation behind trending the hashtag is expressing concern about Kashmiri prisoners amidst the Coronavirus scare.

 S Mariam, an activist based in New Delhi and part of this campaign, stated:

We felt that a campaign around Kashmiri prisoners and detainees was more urgent than before because the coronavirus pandemic has left all of us worried for our health and well-being.”

In August 2019, the Indian government revoked Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status and enforced an unprecedented military lockdown. The region was put under digital siege by blocking all telecom and internet services, denying the people their ability to communicate for months. Access to proper internet continues to remain crippled, thereby restricting people from getting timely and reliable information on the Coronavirus pandemic.

Besides this, the state detained thousands including politicians, civil society members, and business leaders – many under a draconian law called the Public Safety Act – and sent them to jails in Indian towns and cities far away from their homes. All this was to prevent people from rising up against the historical yet unpopular decision the Indian government had taken.

Amidst the Coronavirus pandemic, authorities in Kashmir have once again enforced a lockdown on cities and towns to tackle the spread of the virus as Srinagar, the region’s capital, reported its first positive case on Thursday. The families of the detained prisoners are now also worrying about their health, saying that the jails are crowded places and access to health care is abysmal.

Mudasir, a student from southern Kashmir, explained that he knows many people personally who are in jails now:

I have seen how their families are suffering, especially those who are lodged outside Kashmir. God forbid if the pandemic breaks out there and they don’t provide them any proper medical facilities for minor ailments, how will they deal with the pandemic there?”


Every time Adil Dar, who lives in a village in Pulwama district, watches the news about the spread of Coronavirus on TV, his stress grows because his father is in jail in Agra, the city of Taj Mahal in north India: “Last night when we saw the news of jail inmates clashing with police over rumours of one Coronavirus case, no one in the family could sleep the entire night.”


Dar said he is appealing to the authorities to release the prisoners or at least bring them to jails in Kashmir so that the families could visit them frequently. He explained that the family has not been in a position to pay a visit to Agra since October 2019. “We don’t know what is the situation of his health,” Dar said.

Several countries across the world are releasing or swapping their prisoners amidst the Coronavirus pandemic, but activists say they are unable to understand why India is not taking such measures. “What makes India’s response to this medical emergency so obtuse and laidback, particularly in Occupied Kashmir?” Mariam asked:


Media reports on Monday suggested that the Supreme Court of India issued an order asking authorities to release prisoners involved in “lesser” crimes. It was not revealed whether Kashmir’s political prisoners will receive any relief, even as a Kashmiri parliamentarian urged the Indian government to revoke detention orders of political prisoners in wake of the pandemic.


Human rights activists have time and again raised the alarm over the condition of Kashmiri prisoners in jails who struggle to get justice and languish in jails for years. In December, a Kashmiri civil society member who was in jail since August fell critically ill – but the authorities informed the family only after he passed away.


From last couple of months activists have raised concern over the health of a head of Kashmir’s lawyers association who suffered a heart attack in January and despite that was not released. Similarly, Yaseen Malik, a leader of a pro-independence group, is also in news these days after it was reported that he will begin fast-unto death citing unfair trials. “It is important to ask why the Indian state continues to incarcerate tens of thousands of Kashmiris in its prisons,” Mariam said.

It remains to be seen exactly what the Indian government will do amidst the Coronavirus outbreak. The Kashmiris in jails, however, continue to await their fate as the pandemic seems only to worsen.

Advertise on TMV