Protests in Sopore over alleged custodial death of youth

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Protests erupted in north Kashmir’s Sopore town after a 23-year-old youth allegedly died in police custody on Tuesday. While the police say the youth escaped from custody and his body was found later, the youth’s family claims it was a “murder in custody”.

The state political parties also accused the police of “inventing a stories” and called it a “cold blooded murder”.

In a statement, the police have claimed that Irfan Ahmad Dar, a resident of Sidiq Colony in Sopore, was a militant over ground worker (OGW), who was arrested on Tuesday afternoon. Two hand grenades were recovered from his possession, the police said

An over ground worker is someone who helps militants or terrorists with logistical support, cash, shelter, and other infrastructure.

“During the course of investigation, a police team visited Chairdaji area of Tujjar-Sharief (village) for affecting some more recovery on the disclosure of the OGW,” police said in a statement. “In the meanwhile, the OGW managed to escape taking advantage of darkness and terrain … and during search, his body was found near a stone quarry of Tujjar-Sharief.”

The police said Irfan’s body was taken to the primary health centre in the area from where it was shifted to the Police Control Room (PCR) hospital in Srinagar for post mortem. His body was later buried in Sonamarg, more than 130 kilometers from his home.

The family, however, has rejected the police claims. “The police are lying,” Irfan’s uncle Mohammad Ramzan said. ‘He was a shopkeeper. He was picked up from his shop on Tuesday at around 1 pm.”

Irfan’s elder brother Javed Ahmad Dar, who was also picked up on Tuesday and released later in the evening, termed his brother’s death as a “cold blooded murder”. “The police are lying. They didn’t recover anything from him. He would be with me the whole day — from 7 in the morning to 9 in the evening,” Javed said.

“He was picked up yesterday (Tuesday) at around 1 pm. At around 3.30 pm, police raided our houses. They told me they have information that militants were hiding in the house 10 days ago. I told them our entire house has CCTVs installed and I can provide them the footage of one-and-a-half months. But they didn’t listen,” he added.

After the raid, the police party took Javed as well. “We were kept separately,” he said. “I was not feeling well and they called my family at around 11 in the night and asked them to take me home,” he said.

The neighbours of Dars at Sidiq Colony in Sopore also vouched for Irfan’s innocence. “He was one of the most gentle youth of our colony,” said a neighbour. “How could they kill him?”

Even as the Dars and the local mosque committee sought Irfan’s body, the police denied it to them and buried him at the Sonamarg health resort.

“This has been done to bury all the evidence against police,” a relative said. “First, they killed him and claim to have conducted his autopsy at police hospital and then denied the body. How can anybody trust the police autopsy when they themselves are accused.”

Political parties call for action

The mainstream political parties also condemned the incident. “The cold blooded murder of 23-year-old Irfan Ahmed Dar, a shopkeeper by profession wrongfully accused of being an OGW is a grim reminder of how truth is mangled & stories are fabricated to justify killing innocent civilians in J&K,” Iltija Mufti tweeted from her mother Mehbooba Mufti’s Twitter handle.

People’s Conference president Sajad Lone accused the police of inventing a story. “Sopore incident just doesn’t add up. They have done a bad job even at inventing a story. The guilty need to be punished,” Lone said in a tweet. “It is imperative that the sanctity of human life is restored in Kashmir. Move beyond statistics. Stop treating bodies as statistics. These are human lives”.

“The administration can’t possibly win back the confidence of the people if ‘encounters’ like Shopian or suspicious deaths like Sopore are allowed to pass without the facts being established & guilt, when determined, fully punished. @manojsinha_ must intervene in both these cases,” tweeted former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah.

 

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The Dispatch Staff

The Dispatch Staff

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