-- 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.