Kashmir sees rise in violence after Yasin Malik sentenced to life

At least 10 rebels have been killed in Indian-administered Kashmir since an Indian court sentenced prominent Kashmiri pro-independence leader Yasin Malik to life in prison earlier this week, officials say.

The region’s police told Al Jazeera that four suspected rebels were killed in two separate gunfights in the disputed region on Friday.

A day before, officials said the security forces killed six rebels in the region in the past 24 hours while the rebels shot dead a 35-year-old female TV performer and a police officer.

“Three militants each of Jaish-e-Muhammad and Lashkar-e-Taiba were killed in two separate gun battles,” Kashmir police chief Vijay Kumar said, referring to two rebel groups fighting in the region. “We have also lost a cop in one of the operations.”

Police on Thursday also arrested at least 10 people following anti-India protests over Wednesday’s sentencing of 56-year-old Malik, the region’s best-known separatist.

Malik led the banned Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), one of the first armed rebel groups in Indian-administered Kashmir. He later shifted to peaceful means in seeking an end to Indian rule.

Malik was arrested in 2019 and was convicted last week on charges of committing “terrorist” acts, illegally raising funds, belonging to a terrorist organisation, and criminal conspiracy and sedition.

Before Wednesday’s sentencing, dozens of Kashmiris gathered at Malik’s home in Srinagar, the largest city in Indian-administered Kashmir. Some marched through the streets, chanting “We want freedom” and “Go back India”.

Kashmiri pro-freedom leader Yasin Malik is escorted by police officers to a court in New Delhi
Yasin Malik is escorted by police officers to a court in New Delhi on Wednesday [File: Dinesh Joshi/AP]

Police on Thursday tweeted that the 10 youths were arrested for “anti-national sloganeering & stone pelting outside home of Yasin Malik”.

Among the tweets by the police was a picture of the arrested standing in a row holding their ears with both hands, in an act that is seen as a form of public humiliation and a way of expressing remorse. Dressed in casual wear and sandals, the suspects are shown looking at the ground, as two policemen with automatic rifles stand guard.

Making Kashmiri residents hold their earlobes or do sit-ups on the roadside was common in the 1990s, when government forces sought to humiliate people and dissuade them from supporting armed rebels fighting Indian rule in the Himalayan territory. However, in recent years such practices have largely stopped as a form of punishment.

“The main instigators of this hooliganism will be booked under PSA,” the police tweet said, referring to the Public Safety Act, a harsh law that allows officials to imprison anyone for up to two years without trial. “Such anti-national activities & provocative posture will be always dealt strictly & with full force of law.”

No Friday prayers in main mosque

Meanwhile, the management of Srinagar’s main mosque, a 600-year-old structure which is also a popular site of anti-India protests, alleged the authorities did not allow Friday prayers there.

In a statement sent to Al Jazeera, the Jamia Masjid management said the authorities “locked it down, turning away men and women who had come to offer Friday prayers”.

“People, especially elders, women, and youths from far and wide come to this historic mosque, and finding it repeatedly locked down causes them a lot of grief,” it said.

The historic mosque had remained shut for nearly two years after India scrapped the special status of the region in 2019. The administration said it feared large congregations at the mosque could morph into a protest. Later, the closure was a part of the COVID-19 restrictions.

Kashmir mosque
The Jamia Masjid seen through its gate that remained locked for nearly two years [File: Mukhtar Khan/AP]

Indian-administered Kashmir, the country’s only Muslim-majority region, is divided between India and Pakistan since British colonialists granted it independence in 1947. Both countries claim the region in its entirety and have fought two wars over its control.

Armed rebels in Indian-administered Kashmir have been fighting New Delhi’s rule since 1989. Most Muslim Kashmiris support the rebel goal of uniting the territory, either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country.

India insists the Kashmir rebellion is sponsored by Pakistan, which denies the charge. Most Kashmiris consider it a legitimate freedom struggle.

Tens of thousands of civilians, rebels and government forces have been killed in the conflict.

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