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Kashmiri Political Activist Sajad Sofi Held for Comments That Upset Deputy Commissioner

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A political activist has been jailed after he told an advisor of the Lt governor that he has hopes from a Kashmiri official like him rather than bureaucrats from outside, remarks which offended the Ganderbal deputy commissioner who is an IAS officer from Uttar Pradesh. After being arrested under Section 153 (promoting enmity between different groups) of the Indian Penal Code, Sajad Sofi (50), a resident of Wani Mohalla in Safapora area of Ganderbal district, was granted bail by a court. However, he was kept under preventive detention for allegedly being a “threat to peace”.

CPI(M) leader Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami on Tuesday termed Sofi’s arrest “unwarranted” and “a brazen violation of fundamental rights”. National Conference vice president and former chief minister Omar Abdullah said Sofi’s is the result of “unbridled” bureaucratic powers. It’s unacceptable that a person should be jailed for expressing a “totally harmless” opinion, Abdullah said.

Sofi made the remarks at a ‘Janta Darbar’ of LG advisor Baseer Khan at Mansbal on June 10. Speaking about the problems faced by the people of his area, Sofi told Khan that he can understand the issues better as compared to officers from outside the union territory because he is a local, according to the police report. He said, “I can have expectations from you because you are a Kashmiri and you can understand us. I can grab you by the collar and seek answers. But what expectations can I have from officers who are outsiders?” This comment did not go down well with Ganderbal Deputy Commissioner Krittika Jyotsna, a 2014 IAS officer and wife of Rahul Pandey, who is posted with the Raj Bhavan as the director of information. Jyotsna and Pandey came to Jammu and Kashmir in February this year on inter-cadre deputation.

The police report said that Jyotsna stood up from her seat and “strongly objected” to Sofi’s comments. Sofi was summoned and booked by the police under Section 153 of the IPC on the same night.

“The circumstances of the incident and from the statements, a crime under 153A of the IPC is made,” the police report said. Sofi was granted bail by a local court here on Saturday, saying “bail is a rule and its rejection is an exception”.

“Bail in non-bailable crime cannot be refused without assigning a strong reason although bail is a discretion of the court and discretion of bail cannot be exercised arbitrarily. “The allegedly committed crime attributed to the applicant does not carry life imprisonment or death penalty debarring this court to exercise discretion of bail in favour of the applicant. As such, this court has a sufficient reason to exercise discretion of bail in favour of the applicant,” the court said.

However, even after this, the police did not release Sofi and instead booked him under Section 107 of the IPC which entitles them to keep a person under “preventive custody” for being a “threat to peace”. “Sofi is under preventive custody under sections 107 and 151 (of IPC),” Senior Superintendent of Police, Ganderbal, Suhail Munawar told PTI.

He said there were apprehensions of “breach of peace, so he (Sofi) was taken into custody”. The SSP, however, said the “small-level political worker” had no previous criminal record.

CPI(M) leader Mohamad Yousuf Tarigami criticised the police action against Sofi. “The incident in which a resident from central Kashmir’s Ganderbal district was jailed for just saying that he had more expectations from local officers, is unwarranted, uncalled for and brazen violation of the fundamental rights of people,” he said in a statement.

Tarigami also targeted Jyotsna, saying, “Such an attitude of the officer is highly authoritarian and detrimental to the larger interests of not only people but to the administration itself. It damages and dents the credibility of the institution the officer represents.” He urged Lt Governor Manoj Sinha to intervene in the matter and ensure that Sofi is not only released immediately but action is taken under law against the “erring officer” for misuse of power and authority.

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