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Indian court convicts Kashmiri pro-independence leader in 'terrorism' case


"If seeking Azadi (freedom) is a crime, then I am ready to accept this crime and its consequences," popular Kashmiri leader Mohammed Yasin Malik tells the judge, according to his party.

An Indian court has convicted a top Kashmiri pro-independence leader in a "terrorism"-related case that carries a maximum sentence of the death penalty or life imprisonment – charges dubbed "fabricated" by Pakistan, which also summoned the Indian Charge d’Affaires in protest. 

Judge Praveen Singh directed Mohammed Yasin Malik to provide an affidavit regarding his financial assets and set May 25 for hearing arguments from both sides on sentencing, the Press Trust of India news agency reported on Thursday. 

During the trial, Malik protested the charges and said he was a freedom fighter.

"Terrorism-related charges levelled against me are concocted, fabricated and politically motivated," his organisation, the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), cited him as telling the court.

"If seeking Azadi (freedom) is a crime, then I am ready to accept this crime and its consequences," he told the judge.

The Indian government banned JKLF in March 2019 for "promoting secessionist activities" in the disputed region and arrested Malik along with many of his supporters.

Pakistan summons Indian diplomat 

Pakistan said it conveyed its "grave concern" to the Indian diplomat in Islamabad over New Delhi's "bid to suppress the voice of the indigenous Kashmiri leadership ... and to implicating them in fictitious and motivated cases".

"The brutal treatment meted out to Mr Malik despite his chronic ailments and denial of decent health care facilities had resulted in a steep decline of his health," Dawn news site reported, citing the government statement.

In Pakistan-administered Kashmir, demonstrators held a rally in main Muzaffarabad city, raising anti-India slogans and calling for Malik's immediate release. 

US involvement in 90s

JKLF was one of the first armed rebel groups to come into existence in India-administered Kashmir. It supported an independent and united Kashmir. Led by Malik, the group gave up armed rebellion in 1994.

Malik has previously said it was US mediation that led JKLF to decide to renounce armed struggle and adopt a peaceful Gandhian way to achieve independence.

In 1995, then US president Bill Clinton had appointed Robin Raphel as the first Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia who in an event described Kashmir as a dispute and suggested a referendum, angering India. 

India has held several rounds of talks with Malik and several Kashmiri leaders. But under the PM Narendra Modi's nationalist government, New Delhi has imposed a sweeping security clampdown after annexing the region nearly three years ago. 

India nullified the area's limited autonomy and annexed it in August 2019, when authorities arrested thousands along with almost all pro-resistance leaders and imposed the world's longest internet shut down, seeking to forestall local opposition to the move.

Since then, India has allowed non-Kashmiris to settle in the region, take jobs and purchase land – measures Muslim Kashmiris say are aimed to effect a demographic change in the region. 

One of the most militarised regions 

Modi's government has long said its decision to annex Kashmir was aimed at fostering lasting peace in the troubled region, where tens of thousands of people have been killed over the years.  

Today, it is one of the most militarised regions of the world, with more than 500,000 Indian soldiers and paramilitaries deployed across the fractious territory.

An insurgency broke out in India-administered Kashmir in 1989 with fighters demanding an independent Kashmir or its merger with Pakistan. India accuses Pakistan of arming and training rebel groups to fight Indian forces, a charge Pakistan denies. Islamabad says it provides only moral and diplomatic support to insurgents.

Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan since British colonialists granted them independence in 1947. The UN has passed several resolutions on the dispute calling for a plebiscite in the region. Both India and Pakistan claim the region in its entirety and have fought two of their three wars over control of Kashmir.