Unrest over, Mehbooba announces amnesty to jailed youth to regain goodwill

The move is designed to generate some goodwill for Mehbooba following the excessive use of force during the current unrest.

J&K Government has decided to grant amnesty to the Kashmiri youth charged for their involvement in the protests and the stone-throwing over the past five months.

Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has given directions to this effect at a meeting in South Kashmir, an official spokesman said. Her government will study these cases and grant amnesty to those willing to shun the path of violence and lead normal lives.  Apart from her Cabinet colleagues, many senior officers from police and civil administration were present in the meeting.

“Not many youths are in custody now but the government will take a lenient view of youth who were either not involved in any serious offence, or were too young,” the government spokesman said quoting Mehbooba’s direction to the officials in the meeting.

Interestingly, earlier Mehbooba had talked about the amnesty to the “misguided youth” during an Assembly speech two weeks before the eruption of the unrest following the killing of the popular militant commander Burhan Wani on July 8.

“Unlike the previous government, it is not our hobby to jail people,” she told Assembly in June.  “But sometimes certain harsh steps are necessitated to prevent law and order problems”.

Even earlier, Mehbooba had also proposed general amnesty to the militants if they submit to the constitution and the rule of law. Little did she know that soon she will be facing the unprecedented mass eruption requiring her to arrested thousands more.

The move is designed to generate some goodwill for Mehbooba following the excessive use of force  during the current unrest. However, the issue of the jailed youth, many of them regarded as minors has been a cause of much bitter political wrangling in the state.

Separatist and civil society groups have accused Mehbooba of arresting youth, many of them minors, and framing them under Public Safety Act which sanctions their unrest for six months without trial extendable endlessly.

At the peak of the strife, the government resorted to mass sweeps to pre-empt or control the frequent Azadi protests. According to an estimate, the government arrested more than 10,000  protesters, many of them were subsequently let off. More than 500 were slapped with PSA, among them political workers, youth and even employees.

J&K runs a network of 14 jails across the state with a capacity to hold 5600 persons. Last year, the state government spent Rs 18.34 crore on the prisoners.

However, Mehbooba  is not alone in granting amnesty to the protesters once the unrest is over, as a means to regain some goodwill. Earlier in 2011, then Chief Minister Omar Abdullah  granted general amnesty to around 1200 youth  involved in stone throwing. The government said it would withdraw cases against all the youth arrested on charges of pelting stones during 2011 unrest except those charged for arson and other heinous crimes. During  extended 2010 unrest,  according to a J&K police statement, around 5000 persons had been arrested, with 258 of them being slapped with PSA.