SRINAGAR: Relatives of an alleged militant from Indian Kashmir said Monday they would appeal a death sentence and verdict handed to him last month by a court in West Bengal state.
Muzaffar Ahmad Rather – a 27-year-old from Kulgam district in south Kashmir – was convicted on Jan. 21 along with Pakistani nationals Mohammad Abdullah and Mohammed Yunus on charges related to waging war against India as alleged members of militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT).
The three were arrested in 2007 while trying to enter India from Bangladesh. The accused had received weapons training in Pakistan and planned to carry out terror attacks in Indian-administered Kashmir, police said.
But Rather’s family refuted police claims, saying authorities had falsely implicated him.
“The verdict has shocked us. We are in the process of arranging funds so we can appeal the verdict in the High Court. We are hoping the High Court will not only overturn the verdict but also order his release,” Rather’s brother Mohammad Shafi, a daily wage laborer, told .
“Even the police concede that they found no arms or ammunition on him. So how can they claim he was planning terror strikes?” he said.
Rather went missing in 2002, his father Abdul Majid, also a laborer, said, adding they found out about his 2007 arrest through the media.
Last month, Rather’s family saw him for the first time since he disappeared 14 years ago, when they visited him in prison. His relatives said they didn’t know what led to his disappearence when he was around 15 years old.
“For nearly 10 years he has been locked up in prison and now they want to hang him. This isn’t right. I don’t believe that my son is a terrorist,” Majid told .
Rather’s defense counsel said their appeal against the verdict, which evoked protests across Kashmir, would likely come up for hearing later this month.
“I argued desperately before the judge that the prosecution had failed to prove their charges against Rather and he should be released. But I was shocked that the court still handed him capital punishment,” Sabroata Basu, Rather’s lawyer, told over phone from Kolkata.
“The prosecution admitted in court that they did not find any incriminating material from the client and that charges of waging war were levelled on the basis of suspicion. I am quite confident the High Court will overturn the verdict and release him unconditionally,” Basu said.
The three accused were booked under Indian Penal Code Sections 120B (criminal conspiracy), 121 (waging, or attempting to wage war) and 122 (collecting arms with intention of waging war against the government of India), according to Nishad Pervej, West Bengal police’s deputy inspector general.
“They are members of Lashkar-e-Taiba and were planning attacks on army camps in Jammu and Kashmir,” Pervej told a news conference.
The Himalayan region of Kashmir, claimed in its entirety by both India and Pakistan, has been in the midst of a separatist insurgency that has claimed over 70,000 lives since the late 1980s.
Over the weekend, two suspected militants were killed in a firefight that broke out when government forces intercepted a vehicle the suspects were riding in, police said.
“We intercepted their vehicle near Sopore on the main highway. They lobbed grenades at the forces and were killed in retaliatory fire,” Superintendent of Police Imtiyaz Hussain told Agence France-Presse.
Two police officers, including member of a special anti-militancy group, were injured in Saturday’s incident, Hussain said.
Following a shutdown call by separatists in response to the verdict in Rather’s case, several thousand anti-India protesters took to the streets to accuse the Indian government of falsely implicating Kashmiri youths in criminal cases.
“The verdict is against the internationally accepted norms of justice,” senior separatist leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq told BenarNews.
“It is unfortunate that the Indian judiciary has once against demonstrated miscarriage of justice. We reiterate our demand of the unconditional release of Muzaffar Ahmad Rather and all political prisoners languishing in Indian prisons,” Farooq said.