Firm of Liberty

As the situation crowded the jails across the state, not many could afford to arrange their court battles. It was then a legal firm chipped in aiding hundreds of incarcerated—especially youth booked under stone-pelting and foreigners awaiting justice for years, reports Tabish Khan


Far from the political din of Srinagar, the firm of an advocate Shafqat Hussain seems busy as the battery of seven lawyer volunteers are enrolling the cases of under trial foreign militants and native Public Safety Act (PSA) booked boys. For the last 25 years, Hussain has been handling the cases of under-trials without making much of it.

Hussain’s firm works on cases of young stone pelters of valley and foreigners booked under “lawless law” PSA. Some of the cases he handles involve prolonged detentions. But what sets Hussain and his battery apart—is the legal help, they provide, free of cost.

“We do it for humanity’s sake, as it is our job,” says advocate Hussain. “We do it on our own without getting help from any government agency or NGO.”

Since 2008, the firm claims to have pleaded the cases of more than 800 young boys involved in stone-pelting. Hussain says the boys mostly belonged to underprivileged families who didn’t afford court charges. “We did our bit to provide some sort of relief to such families,” he says.

Hussain while recounting the cases he handled especially after the 2008 Amarnath Land Agitation talks about several cases wherein mostly educated boys were booked under the draconian act. “This has been done only to prolong their trial and keep them under custody for long,” he says.

When he started pleading the cases of those young boys, he found an undue delay in them before reaching the courtroom. This was happening as, within 60 mandatory days, police wouldn’t produce challan in the court, he says. “Besides prolonging the trail, the FIR would be kept pending.” The treatment was making boys’ and their parents’ lives a tormenting affair, Hussain says.

This is where the firm intervened. The idea was to provide maximum legal aid to the boys of all districts of Kashmir. But the battery of the lawyers didn’t stop there only. The next move was to help in repatriating many foreign prisoners who were languishing in jails under PSA for many years.

For Hussain, the foray into foreign cases wasn’t new—as, since the 1990s, he has been handling such cases. But now, it was the matter of rising above the individual’s level to make it his firm’s legal mission. His legal acumen greatly aided his battery of lawyers—some of whom were still fresh pass-outs from universities.

As the firm acted, hundreds could return to their homes. Last year, three Bangladeshis and three Pakistanis facing illegal detentions were sent home by the firm. “Many ask us, why are you doing it without charging a penny from your clients,” says a lawyer in the firm. “But then, it is not always the question of money. We do it, as we know those persons don’t have any other to look after.”

Among the wrongfully implicated cases, Hussain recalls the case of Saleem Rehman of Pakistan. Rehman was detained under Arms Act and was facing six years of detention. “We took his case on humanitarian grounds,” Hussain says. With the result, Rehman walked out of the jail innocent.

There was another case of Zubair Mughal from Pakistan. He was facing trial in three cases—out of which, one was related to Hyderpora Highway attack on the army. But once the firm pursued his case, it was found that at the time of the attack, Mughal was already in custody facing trial in another two cases. “How was it possible for him to be the part of an attack when he was already in custody,” asks Hussain. With the result, the third case slapped on Mughal was dropped. “His case is a blunt misuse of PSA,” Hussain says. “Even his FIR was pending—only to deny his deportation.”

The rate of these false implications is high in Jammu and Kashmir, says advocate Wajid, a firm member. “Cases which we have pleaded were proven falsely implicated,” he says. “Whosoever is foreigner faces pathetic situation here. The course correction is needed to re-impose faith in the judiciary.”

Advocate Hussain says during all these years, the firm came across certain strange cases like that of Rubina—arrested in Jammu in 2014 along with month old baby girl.

“She is illiterate and does not even know the place in Pakistan she hails from,” Hussain says. “Pakistan Embassy is also failing in tracing her locality. We filed a petition on her behalf in High Court and it was ordered she should be deported within three weeks, but even Pakistan is denying her nationality.”

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