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  • Writer's pictureDahlia Foundation

Kashmir’s top pro-freedom cleric leads Friday prayers after four years

Authorities in Indian-administered Kashmir have released a top cleric and pro-freedom leader and allowed him to lead the congregational Friday prayers after more than four years of house detention.

An emotional Mirwaiz Umar Farooq on Friday led the prayers at the disputed region’s main mosque in Srinagar city amid heavy security and a warm welcome by the community.

“My dear people, I am meeting you after four-and-a-half years. Since August 4, 2019, the authorities did not allow me to go out of my home,” said Mirwaiz, or the chief sermoniser, as he is known in the region.

Mirwaiz, who is also the chairman of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), the region’s main separatist group that advocates for dialogue between India and Pakistan on the Kashmir issue, had been under house arrest since August 4, 2019 – a day before India’s Hindu nationalist government stripped Indian-administered Kashmir of its limited autonomy and divided the region into two federally-governed territories.

The August 5, 2019 move was followed by an unprecedented security clampdown and arrest of thousands of people, including pro-India politicians, top separatist leaders, lawyers and common Kashmiris to preempt popular demonstrations against New Delhi’s move.

“All my rights and liberties were curtailed,” Farooq said on the years under detention.

The Himalayan region of Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan since their independence from British rule in 1947.

Both the South Asian nuclear powers claim the region in its entirety but control parts of it. They have fought two of their three full-scale wars over the Kashmir issue as bilateral ties remain frozen since 2019.

After the 2019 move, the Jamia Masjid in Srinagar was also barred from holding Friday prayers for months.

There were teary eyes in the congregation on Friday as Mirwaiz ascended the mosque’s pulpit. The 50-year-old also cried as he greeted the people, including dozens of women.

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