Kashmir City On Strike To Protest Death Sentence
8 August 2005
Srinagar: Streets in Kashmir's main city were deserted on Monday after separatists called a strike to protest against a death sentence handed out to a Kashmiri Muslim for an attack on India's parliament four years ago. The Supreme Court last week upheld a lower court's death sentence on Mohammed Afzal who was found guilty of involvement in the December 2001 raid by five gunmen on the parliament building in New Delhi. The gunmen killed nine people before being shot dead. Afzal was convicted on charges that he helped with the logistics for the attack. 'We appeal to people to observe a strike on August 8 and express solidarity with Mohammed Afzal,' the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) said in a statement. 'Hanging of Kashmiris will not stop our freedom struggle.' Monday's strike closed most shops, businesses and schools in Srinagar, Kashmir's summer capital. The strike was supported by the region's separatist alliance, the All Parties Hurriyat (Freedom) Conference, and the Kashmir High Court Bar Association. New Delhi blamed Pakistan for the attack on parliament, which brought the two nuclear-armed rivals close to a fourth war. Islamabad denied any involvement in the attack. Relations between India and Pakistan have thawed since 2003 and the neighbours have relaunched a peace process that has led to better transport, sporting and commercial links. The Supreme Court commuted the death sentence given to another man involved in the raid to a 10- year jail term. The court also upheld the acquittal of a third Kashmiri, a college lecturer. A prominent Kashmiri separatist leader and founder of the JKLF, Mohammad Maqbool Bhat, was hanged in a New Delhi jail in February 1984 on the charge of killing an intelligence officer. Five years after Bhat's hanging, JKLF launched an armed struggle in the Himalayan region. Later a dozen other rebel groups joined the rebellion, which has so far killed more than 45,000. Separatists put the toll at about 90,000. The JKLF declared a ceasefire in 1994 and says it is waging a political battle for Kashmir's complete independence both from India and Pakistan. Violence involving separatists and soldiers continues in the Himalayan region despite the 19-month peace process between India and Pakistan who have fought two wars over Kashmir.