Four United Nations’ human right experts have expressed “grave concern” over the arrest, alleged torture and death in Indian custody of Kashmiri leader Muhammad Ashraf Sehrai, and called India to investigate the case. Sehrai died in May this year, battling multiple illnesses at the Government Medical College in Jammu while serving detention under India’s notorious Public Safety Act (PSA), 1978.
The experts called for a “prompt, thorough, independent and impartial investigation into the death in custody of Mr. Sehrai so as to determine and document the reason for his arrest, its factual and legal basis, his treatment in detention, including any indication that he may have been tortured or otherwise mistreated, and the cause of his death”.
“We are also concerned by the reported lack of access to adequate medical care while he was in prison, given his fragility and known physical conditions,” a communication sent by the experts to the Indian government said.
This was 9th communication by UN Special Procedures Mandate Holders to India since 5 August 2019, the year India annex the disputed region. India has not responded to most of them, according to sources here.
The communication, undersigned by four experts, was dispatched in July, 2021 but because the Indian government had failed to respond to it within the stipulated time frame, it was made public on Friday.
They are: Morris Tidball-Binz, special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Tae-Ung Baik, chair-rapporteur of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances; Tlaleng Mofokeng, special rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health and Nils Melzer, special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
In their communication, the experts sought from the Indian government clarifications on various cases provided to them by the Human Rights Council regarding Sehrai’s death. They have asked the government to provide detailed information concerning the legal grounds for the arrest and detention of Sehrai “and for his alleged subjection to solitary confinement and secret (incommunicado) Detention”. It also sought information about the “conditions of his detention, his treatment, and the measures taken to take care of his health while in detention, given his old age (he was 77 years old) and his declared ailments he was suffering from, including medical treatment and medication.” It has also sought the detailed information on the reasons why Sehrai was “needed to be admitted into Government Medical College and why he died there, while in detention”. The experts have asked for any document related to “medical diagnosis, death certificate as well as post-mortem report undertaken after the death to determine its cause(s); and whether such documents were shared with the family”. “Please indicate the current status of his two sons, Mujahid Ashraf Khan and Rashed Ashraf Khan, as well as detailed information on the factual and legal grounds for their arrest, their continued detention, and the measures taken to ensure that they are treated humanely while detained, have access to their family and their lawyers, and are ensured due process of law in the respect of the international human rights norms for fair trial that are binding on India by virtue of the treaties it has ratified,” the communication reads.
According to the letter, Sehrai was arrested on 12 July 2020 by armed men “in plain clothes, without an arrest warrant”. Sehrai was booked under Public Safety Act (PSA) and was taken to Saddar Police Station. “His family was later informed that he was at Udhampur District Jail, in Jammu,” the letter said.
The family had later, in October 2020, travelled to the Udhampur District Jail to inquire about his whereabouts. “However, they did not get any information about his whereabouts, were threatened by security officers at the jail and by an Indian Army officer, and told to not return,” the experts said, asking for a reply in 60 days.
Meanwhile, India did not participate in a meeting convened last week by civil society organizations to discuss its human rights record. Such an interaction is held with states seeking membership of the UN Human Rights Council. India is contesting elections to the Geneva-based body this year for 2022-2024 period.
“This goes to show how the largest democracy of the world is sacred of defending its human rights track record,” a civil society representative said. “Obviously,” he added, “India’s refusal to participate demonstrates its desperation to keep a lid on its atrocities in Jammu and Kashmir.”