PUCL Bulletin, June 2001

Mohammad Yousuf Sofi arrested
-- Amnesty International

Police arrested political activist Mohammad Yousuf Sofi on 16 March. He is believed to be held at a police facility where detainees are frequently tortured and sometimes killed, the Special Operations Group (SOG) headquarters at the Airport Cargo Complex in Srinagar. Mohammad Yousuf Sofi is a member of the political party Jamat Islami, which campaigns for Jammu and Kashmir to secede to Pakistan. He was arrested with a number of other political leaders when they attempted to join a protest march in Srinagar, organised after Hindu extremists publicly burned the Qur'an in New Delhi. Among the others arrested was Syed Ali Shah Geelani, a senior leader of Jamat Islami and the Huriyat Conference, an umbrella organisation of parties opposed to the Indian presence in Kashmir. On 17 March police took the detainees in a van to the home of Mr. Geelani in Hyderpora. There a police officer ordered all of them to get out, except for Mohammad Yousuf Sofi, whom he said was involved in another case.

Mr. Geelani protested and demanded that Mohammad Yousuf Sofi also be released. Journalists present say a police officer pushed Mr. Geelani, who suffers from heart disease, out of the van, and he fell onto the road.

Other police officers then beat him unconscious, some using rifle butts. The police then drove off in the van, with Mohammad Yousuf Sofi still inside. Mr. Geelani has since made a full recovery. That evening a senior Jamat Islami lawyer, Mr. Abdullah, asked police to let him see Mr. Sofi, but was refused. On 18 March Mr. Sofi's family tried to see him but were also refused. Mr. Sofi, who was formerly involved in the armed opposition to the Indian presence in Kashmir, was imprisoned between 1994 and 1996, and tortured. He has been working as a political activist for three years, and spent several months in preventive detention, with other political leaders from Jammu and Kashmir, after they called for a boycott of the September 1999 general election. In response to public demonstrations against the beating of Mr. Geelani and the detention of Mr. Sofi, police released a statement on 19 March alleging that Mohammad Yousuf Sofi is involved in coordinating the activities of a militant group, Hizbul Mujahideen.

There are consistent and frequent reports of SOG involvement in human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir, including rape, torture, deaths in custody, "disappearances" and extra judicial executions. Between January and June 2000, Amnesty International documented 150 deaths in custody and extra judicial executions, allegedly committed by the police, including the SOG, and the army. Many of the alleged deaths in custody reportedly took place after severe torture, but despite this the authorities often say that these deaths take place in encounters with militants or during escape bids. Members of the police and security forces who perpetrate human rights violations operate with virtual impunity.

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