In a significant judgment, Kashmir's high court on Friday said that separatist group Muslim League's chief Ashiq Hussain Faktoo alias Dr Qasim, accused of killing a Kashmiri Pandit, "will serve life imprisonment till death".
"Life imprisonment cannot be equivalent to imprisonment
for 14 years or 20 years, rather it always meant as the whole natural life," said justice Mansoor Ahmad Mir.
Justice Mir pronounced the judgment while Faktoo's lawyer Mian Abdul Qayoom was seeking directions for early release of the incarcerated separatist leader, who completed 20 years of detention in 2012.
"Faktoo on May 31, 2012 completed 20 years in prison as per the Jail Manual and Prison's Act (of the state) amounts to life imprisonment," said Qayoom.
Senior additional advocate general AM Magray, however, argued that "remission earned does not mean remission granted and 20 years does not mean life imprisonment."
Referring to several judgments made by the Supreme Court to interpret life imprisonment, justice Mansoor said, "The orders have been passed considering the gravity of the offences in those cases that the accused would not be entitled to be considered for premature release… The petition (of Faktoo) is, therefore, dismissed."
The judgment is significant because Kashmir has its own constitution and CrPC and own definition of life imprisonment.
"According to state law, life imprisonment means 14 years of jail. This judgment is significant because the new interpretation, made in case of a life-term convict, is coming for the first time. It's to be seen how the judge has dealt with the local interpretation, which is a controversial point," said senior lawyer Zaffar Shah.
In 2003, 45-year-old Faktoo, who is husband of radical Islamic group Dukhtaran-e-Millat chief Asiya Andrabi, was sentenced to life imprisonment on charges of involvement in murder of noted Kashmiri Pandit human rights activist Hriday Nath Wanchoo in 1992.
Qasim, who completed his doctorate degree in Islamic studies in the jail, denies the charges and accuse the government of persecution for his political views.
On Friday, the court was packed with relatives and supporters of the Muslim League patron, one of the main constituents of the Hurriyat led by Syed Ali Shah Geelani.
Geelani has called for a press conference on Saturday that is likely to react to the fresh judgment.
Friday's judgment has brought an end to a long drawn legal battle for the Faktoo's family.
A hardcore Islamist, Faktoo is pursuing second Ph.D in Islamic studies at present, after finishing one in 2006.
Faktoo's lawyer was seeking remission on the basis that the separatist leader delivered lectures to the students of IGNOU, especially in social science.
The family claims more than 125 students completed their graduation, post-graduation under his guidance.
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