Protesters fought pitched battles with security forces in the Kashmir Valley, injuring more than 24 people, on Friday following the arrest of hardline separatist Masarat Alam, charged with sedition and waging war against state.
Separatist leader Masarat Alam Bhat, arrested over raising of pro-Pakistan slogans and hoisting Pakistan flags at a rally in Srinagar, was sent to seven-day police custody by a court in Budgam. A court late on Friday remanded Alam to seven-day police custody. Alam was produced before a concerned judge who sent him to police custody till April 23.
Even as security forces were battling stone-pelting and slogan-shouting protestors, Union home minister Rajnath Singh said in Kanpur that the Centre will come down hard on those accused of sedition.
The 45-year-old hardliner was arrested from his home in Habbakadal area of the city early this morning , a day after he -- and another separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani – was placed under house arrest for allegedly raising anti-national slogans during a rally in Srinagar where Pakistan flags were also displayed on Wednesday.
On Thursday, police had filed a case under Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act against them.
Alam’s arrest came just weeks after he was released from five years’ imprisonment for organising anti-India protests in 2010.
“It’s not a preventive detention. Alam has been arrested for unlawful activities,” inspector general of police Javed Geelani said after the separatist leader was taken into custody.
“Videos of the rally have been reviewed by the police. Masarat has been seen shouting slogans in favour of Pakistan and terror outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Saeed,” a security official said in Srinagar, requesting anonymity.
Alam could be held in jail for six months without trial, Syed Riyaz Khawar, a Kashmir-based senior lawyer, said. The period can also be extended. If found guilty, he could face a maximum of life imprisonment, Khawar said.
The historic Jamia Masjid in the old city turned into a battleground when moderate Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq tried to lead a procession over the killing of the youth in an army operation in Tral on Monday.
The army claimed the slain youth, also a brother of an active Hizbul Mujahideen commander, had links with the militants. The family refutes the army claims saying “he was killed in custody”.
“(Chief Minister) Mufti Muhammad Sayeed has kneeled before New Delhi and BJP. We demand an inquiry into the Tral killing and culprits be punished. The time has come to revoke the Armed Special Powers Act (AFSPA),” Mirwaiz told the gathering after the prayers.
Violent clashes erupted immediately after Farooq’s speech and the security forces set up barricades to prevent protesters from marching outside the Jamia Masjid premises.
Dozens of smoke shells were fired in response to a rain of stones by protesters. The battle continued for the whole day, leaving more than 24, including policemen, injured. Several police vehicles were also damaged by the stones.
Friday’s violent protests came after a long lull in the old city.
Masarat Alam is the chairman of Muslim League, a constituent of hardline Hurriyat Conference led by Geelani and is widely seen as the latter's heir apparent.
Alam was earlier convicted for organising anti-India protests, resulting in the death of 112 people in stone pelting across the Valley in 2010. Geelani called for a shutdown on Saturday over Alam’s arrest.
Watch: Protest erupts in Srinagar over Masarat Alam’s arrest
“It’s not our pastime to call for shutdowns but we believe we can defeat our opponents peacefully. We will protest against cold-blooded murder of (the) Tral youth, unjustified arrests of Hurriyat leaders and biased and provoking New Delhi-based news outlets reportage,” said the 84-year-old Geelani.
In south Kashmir’s Pulwama district, the Tral area remained the epicentre of protests for fourth consecutive day on Friday.
Despite a clampdown by authorities, several Hurriyat leaders addressed a Friday congregation at Khankah-i-Faiz Panah and led a procession march towards the house of slain Khalid Muzaffar Wani.
The protesters clashed with security personnel manning nearby Gole Masjid in the town. Aerial firing and tear gas shells were used to bring situation under control. Several people were said to have been injured in the clashes.
In Kanpur, home minister Rajnath Singh said Alam will be sent to jail again and those charged with sedition will not be forgiven.
“I want to assure the country that the government will not compromise on the unity and integrity of the country. Sedition will not be forgiven,” said the home minister.
According to sources, it was after two phone calls from the Centre that the Mufti Sayeed government arrested Alam. The BJP, the junior partner in the government, is reported to have made it clear that “such activities were unacceptable”.
The BJP said Alam’s arrest was “no surprise” as the party was clear over not permitting any anti-India activity.
Congress general secretary Shakeel Ahmad in New Delhi criticised the state government for delayed action on the issue.
“The BJP-PDP coalition government took action against Masarat Alam, who participated in an anti-India rally in the state, only after media made a hue and cry about it,” Ahmad said.
Conspiracy to stall resettlement of Pandits: BJP
The BJP said the violence was part of a "conspiracy" aimed at stalling plans for resettlement of Kashmiri Pandits.
"The protests are part of a conspiracy to prevent the resettlement of Kashmiri Pandits in the Valley. We will not allow this process to be stalled," BJP national secretary Shrikant Sharma said, adding that "unity and integrity of the nation is more important than being in power".
BJP also sought to take credit for the arrest of separatist leader Masarat Alam, saying Centre had made it clear that no anti-India activity will be allowed in the Valley.
Sharma said there have been 27 FIRs against Alam, but no charge-sheet was filed against him by the previous regime and that is how he was released and is now leading protests there.
Read: Masarat Alam's politics: Corner Mufti Sayeed, lead separatist charge