A Kashmiri separatist leader has been arrested in Indian-administered Kashmir while leading a peaceful demonstration.
Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, from All Parties Hurriyet Conference (APHC), was initially held in the Nigeen Police Station after being arrested in front of his residence on Thursday, before he was transferred to Chashma Shahi Sub-Jail on Friday, the APHC said in a statement.
Local media reported that Farooq was taken into custody for violating the terms of his house arrest by trying to participate in a march to the Martyrs’ Graveyard along with his supporters to pay tribute and protest against the recent killings of civilian Kashmiris.
Mirwaiz Umar has been under house arrest for nearly two months for speaking out against “the continuing violence and oppression by the Indian Security Forces,” APHC spokesman Shahidul Islam said in a statement.
“Speaking out against the Indian state’s violations of basic human rights is not a crime, it’s heroism,” Islam said.
“Especially when India demonises people on the basis of their faith and ethnicity.”
APHC spokesman added that they demand Mirwaiz Umar to be released immediately.
“We appeal to the International Community to condemn the political detention of Mirwaiz Umar and we demand his immediate release,” he said.
“Currently, there is a siege going on in Kashmir,” said Muzzammil Thakur, executive director of the Kashmir Institute of International Affairs.
“Mirwaiz Umar Farooq has been detained unnecessarily and illegally,” he told Al Jazeera. “He is a popular leader who is working for Kashmir’s prosperity.”
“We want him to be released immediately.”
Mirwaiz Umar’s arrest also caused uproar on social media, with hundreds of people sharing their anger about the incident under the hashtag #freemirwaiz.
— Eyüp Gökhan Özekin (@eyupgokhan) August 26, 2016
While emphasising that they view Mirwaiz Umar’s arrest as “illegal”, social media users demanded his immediate release and called for India to respect Kashmiri people’s human rights.
Stop persecution in Kashmir, we ask immediate release of Mirwaiz Umar Farooq #FreeMirwaiz
— Nour Isler (@ColetteWang) August 26, 2016
Almost daily anti-India protests are taking place in Indian-administered Kashmir after a popular rebel commander, Burhan Wani, was killed in a gun battle with security forces on July 8.
In the backlash over Wani’s shooting, 66 civilians have so far been killed, many while defying a sweeping curfew to join banned protests.
Two members of the Indian security forces have also been killed, making it the deadliest chapter in Kashmir’s troubled history since a similar spike in 2010.
Schools, shops and most banks remain shut, and normal economic activity has been paralysed.
Residents say the region feels more like a prison than the “paradise” that Prime Minister Narendra Modi evoked recently.
Since Modi’s Hindu nationalist government came to power in 2014, there had only been sporadic violence, but tensions have never been far from the surface in India’s only Muslim-majority state.
Modi has spoken of his “pain” at the violence and on Thursday, he dispatched one of his top lieutenants to Kashmir’s capital.
“Do not question our understanding of the situation … We know what the problem is, and we’ll find a solution,” Home Minister Rajnath Singh told reporters in Srinagar.
Modi has laid much of the blame for the unrest on Pakistan, which has a history of supporting Kashmiri separatists and, like India, lays claim to the whole of the region which was split between the two countries after independence in 1947.
While the Indian-controlled part has guarantees of autonomy, Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is officially committed to scrapping that section of the constitution, and critics say its stance is exacerbating tensions.
The BJP is now part of a coalition government in Kashmir, performing strongly in last year’s state elections in areas where the state’s Hindus are concentrated.
“New Delhi has reneged on its commitments by whittling down the autonomy,” former chief minister Omar Abdullah told an AFP reporter.
Despite the government’s talk of wanting to restore peace, thousands of security reinforcements have been sent to the region in the last few days, some setting up camp in schools that have been closed.
“Without any political initiatives, it’s all coming down to us. And what we do has its own consequences,” a senior army officer told AFP on condition of anonymity.
A top police officer, who was not authorised to speak to the media, said a “brutal suppression” was likely.
“For the first time, the militants and the public are on the same page. It is a deadly mix.”
There is already deep anger about the security forces’ routine use of crude pump-action pellet guns, which spray blinding metal shards to break up protests.
The guns are meant to minimise fatalities in protests, although the law gives the armed forces a relatively free hand to use lethal force, especially against suspected “militants”.
Hospital authorities say they have treated at least 500 patients with eye injuries caused by pellet guns, many of whom will never recover their full vision.