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Kashmiri lawyer challenging separatists’ monopoly over Bar shot dead

Kashmiri lawyer challenging separatists’ monopoly over Bar shot dead

Forty-year-old Babar Qadri is Kashmir’s seventh legal practitioner who has fallen to the bullets of the so-called unidentified gunmen in the last 31 years of militancy in Jammu and Kashmir. While an advocate and human rights activist Jaleel Andrabi was found dead in river Jhelum three weeks after his alleged kidnapping by a unit of the security forces in March 1996, the finger of suspicion in all other assassinations and attacks was raised on ‘unidentified gunmen,’ the Kashmiris’ safest euphemism for the separatist militants.

Neelkanth Ganjoo, the judge who had awarded death sentence to JKLF’s Maqbool Bhat in a murder case, was the first lawyer attacked and killed by the Kashmiri militants. After his retirement in the judicial service, Ganjoo had started practice as an advocate. He was shot dead after coming out of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court complex in Srinagar in November 1989. Prem Nath Bhat was the second Kashmiri Pandit advocate, gunned down at his home in Anantnag in December 1989.

Years later, a Kashmiri Muslim lawyer and a mainstream political activist was also shot dead by suspected militants in Anantnag. Two more advocates, Hissamuddin and Ghulam Qadir Sailani, were shot dead in Srinagar.

Advocate Bilal Nazki, who was later inducted as a judge of the Jammu and Kashmir, Zahoor Ahmad Shah, Pervez Imroz and the separatist ideologue, Mian Abdul Qayoom, who has served multiple terms as the President of the High Court Bar Association (HCBA), are among the prominent Kashmiri advocates who have survived armed attacks after the outbreak of militancy in 1990.

<img class="wp-image-15119 " src="https://indianarrative.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/d081e800defac2d927561cc0430a9d86-1022×1024.jpg" alt="" width="794" height="796" /> Babar Qadri, an advocate who also appeared in TV debates, was shot by gunmen from close range at his residence at Hawal in downtown Srinagar. (File Photo: IANS)

Two unidentified gunmen, widely believed to be militants, appeared as clients at advocate Babar Qadri’s residence in Hawal area of the downtown Srinagar in the evening on Thursday, September 24, and shot him dead. His assassination came hours after he broadcast a 30-minute video on Facebook, fearing threats to his life but making frontal attacks and leveling allegations on the former HCBA president Mian Abdul Qayoom and his associates.

Qadri’s assassination has deferred the HCBA elections scheduled to be held on 28 September. While Qadri was among the candidates, Qayoom, after his release from a year-long detention under the Public Safety Act in August this year, has decided against contesting. He has been the Bar president for over 20 years. The HCBA being a General Council constituent of the undivided separatist amalgam, All-Party Hurriyat Conference, Qayoom was its designated representative from 1993 to 2003.

The HCBA allows the Kashmiri lawyers to practice in different courts but it does not accept the Constitution of India or India’s sovereignty over Jammu and Kashmir. It does not attend even the oath-taking ceremonies of the Chief Justice and other judges of the J&amp;K High Court.

Inspector General of Police, Kashmir, Vijay Kumar, said at a news conference in Srinagar yesterday that the police had constituted a special investigation team (SIT) under Superintendent of Police, Hazratbal, which would identify Qadri’s assassins and bring them to justice. He said the CCTV footage outside the lawyer’s house had been seized. Asked why police had failed to save Qadri’s life even as he had conveyed perceived threats through social media, Kumar said that the slain attorney had, inadvertently or deliberately, tagged his tweets to IGP Jammu instead of IGP Kashmir.

IGP Kashmir said that one of his Deputy SPs was Qadri’s brother-in-law. “Our Dy SP had requested Qadri to shift to a safe place or accept security from the government. He did neither. A number of our SHOs had repeatedly requested Mr Qadri to shift to some safe place in the last one week. Unfortunately, he declined to move,” the IGP said.

Apart from his legal practice, Qadri, since 2010, had been appearing in prime time debates of several Indian news TV channels on Kashmir. He had invariably taken a pro-separatist, pro-autonomy stance and locked horns with the Rightwing participants. Republic TV anchor Arnab Goswami had kicked him off the air at least on two occasions over his anti-India rant.

Unprecedented in Kashmir since 1990, Qadri had, of late, taken a tough stand on the traditional Bar leadership and fielded a number of candidates to defeat Qayoom’s lobby. On account of his tirade, a number of people on Facebook and Twitter had either launched counter-attacks on Qadri or accused him of working for the “Indian agencies.” Several of them had called him a traitor.

“…I have a strong feeling that you are being projected by agencies that is why you are given chance on TV debates otherwise you know nothing of Kashmir history so be cautious next time while maligning the image of anybody,” one Shah Nazir, reportedly a contractor, had warned Qadri against assailing Qayoom, on Facebook.

“I urge the state police administration to register FIR against this Shah Nazir who has spread wrong campaign that I work for agencies. This untrue statement can lead to threat to my life,” Qadri had posted at 4.21 p.m. on Sunday, September 20, while tagging Zonal Police Headquarters Jammu. “And for accusing me that I work for agencies, I will send this screen shot to cyber cell (of J&amp;K Police) for lodging FIR”, Qadri had retorted to Nazir on Facebook.

On Thursday, September 24, Qadri, according to his colleagues, called a meeting of his lawyer friends at his home. Later, he put out a 30-minute video on Facebook, while complaining that some of Qayoom’s coterie had threatened and abused him. He alleged that Qayoom’s lobby had used militants twice to eliminate him. IGP Kashmir confirmed that according to one complaint an unidentified person had fired a shot on Qadri’s vehicle when he was returning to home once in 2018. However, Qadri had refused to accept police protection.

Lawyers close to Qayoom dismissed Qadri’s allegations and outburst as “unfounded,” asserting that the senior advocate had a high profile in Kashmir’s separatist politics and no person of his stature could be either “dragged into cheap controversies” or expected to send threats or goons to silence his detractors.

At least once, the formidable militant outfit Lashkar-e-Tayyiba had purportedly issued a statement over a decade back, warning Qayoom’s rivals and forcing them to withdraw their nominations from the HCBA elections. In his video on Thursday, Qadri had alleged that Qayoom had used militant threats and forced his rivals to withdraw from the contest. He had named senior advocate Zaffar Ahmad Shah and Nazir Ahmad Ronga, who have not so far reacted.

Challenging his rivals for a public debate on the issues, Qadri said in his explosive video: “Since 1990, you have been terrorizing and eliminating anyone who dared to speak in dissent. This won’t be acceptable any longer.” He alleged that Qayoom had become a self-styled spokesperson of Hizbul Mujahideen and exploited not only Kashmir’s youths at large but also the lawyers’ community. “Who do you use militants to suppress your opponents to run your politics of exploitation? Why have you reared goons in the Bar Association? I don’t care even if I am shot dead,” he had said.

Making audacious political statements, Qadri had alleged in the same Facebook video that Qayoom had instigated thousands of Kashmir’s youths to pick up stones and arms against India.

“You have never done anything for the lawyers’ welfare. You always said you would speak only Aazadi and your only passion was for martyrdom. For years, you taught others’ children Jehad and Aazadi. You called the young boys Islamic commandos. You told them that fighting India should be part of their faith (Iman). They attained martyrdom over your statements. Contrarily you guys’ own children enjoyed in America et al. Now suddenly you have disappeared from the scene and resigned from politics after your release”, Qadri thundered..