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India frees top Kashmiri politician from detention after a year

People's Democratic Party leader Mehbooba Mufti in Srinagar, India, in June 2018
Mehbooba Mufti addresses the media in Srinagar, India, after resigning as chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir in Indian-controlled Kashmir in June 2018.
(Dar Yasin / Associated Press)

Indian authorities have released a top Kashmiri politician from detention more than a year after New Delhi scrapped Indian-controlled Kashmir’s special status, a move that triggered widespread anger and economic ruin amid a harsh security clampdown.

Mehbooba Mufti had been held in detention since August 2019 alongside thousands of politicians and activists after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government passed legislation stripping Jammu and Kashmir’s statehood, annulling its separate constitution and removing inherited protections on land and jobs. The decision also split the region into two federal territories: Ladakh and Jammu-Kashmir.

Mufti, 61, was set free late Tuesday, an official order said.

In an audio message posted Tuesday on Twitter, Mufti called India’s Aug. 5, 2019, action a “black decision on a black day.”

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“None among us can ever forget the political heist and insult on that day,” Mufti said. “Now, we all will have to reiterate to take back what Delhi snatched from us unconstitutionally, illegally and undemocratically.”

Her release comes just before the deadline set by India’s Supreme Court for her detention was set to expire.

Mufti was a coalition partner of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party in the region for nearly two years after the 2016 state elections. Mufti headed the coalition government. She is considered pro-India and has never supported Muslim-majority Kashmir’s independence from India or its merger with Pakistan.

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But the central government in New Delhi imposed harsh restrictions on the region, including curfews and communication blackouts, and enacted new laws after last year’s decision, creating a climate of fear.

Politicians have started talks to sketch out their political strategy following the release of several pro-India leaders from detention in recent months. Some restrictions in the region have been lifted.

In August, Mufti’s party, along with three other Kashmiri and two national political parties, including the main opposition Congress Party, said in their first joint statement in a year that India’s constitutional changes “unrecognizably changed the relationship” between Kashmir and New Delhi.

The grouping called the changes “spitefully shortsighted and unconstitutional” and vowed to fight them.


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