Muslim League chief Masarat Alam Bhat was on Tuesday named the new chairperson of All Parties Hurriyat Conference, reported the Hindustan Times. Bhat is currently serving a sentence at Tihar jail in a terror funding case filed by the National Investigation Agency.

The decision came days after separatist leader and alliance’s former chairperson Syed Ali Shah Geelani died on September 1 at the age of 92. In 2003, Geelani was elected the lifetime chairperson of the Hurriyat Conference, an alliance of 26 political, social and religious organisations formed in March 1993.

However, Geelani parted ways from the alliance and created his own faction in June 2020 following which no one was elected to the chairperson’s post of the Hurriyat Conference.

While Geelani had not mentioned the specific reasons for his resignation, he had written a letter to the members of the Hurriyat Conference, accusing them of inaction after the government scrapped Jammu and Kashmir’s special status under Article 370 of the Constitution in August 2019.

On Tuesday, the Hurriyat Conference said in a statement that separatist leaders Shabir Ahmad Shah and Ghulam Ahmad Gulzar have been elected the vice chairpersons of the alliance. Shah is also in jail in the same terror funding case for which Bhat is incarcerated.

The statement said that Gulzar will run the affairs of the Conference with “regular guidelines” from Bhat.

Who is Masarat Alam Bhat?

Bhat is a 49-year-old separatist leader and an alumnus of Kashmir’s missionary school Tyndale Biscoe.

He was first arrested in 1990 and released over a year later, reported Kashmir Observor. He was booked under the Public Safety Act.

Bhat was again detained in 1993 for the second time and remained in custody for more than four years before his release in February 1997.

Bhat also played pivotal roles in organising street agitations in Kashmir in 2008 and 2009, according to The Hindu. In 2010, Bhat had spearheaded the protest in Srinagar against the death of a teenager in an alleged fake encounter.

In April 2015, Bhat was again arrested on charges of sedition and “waging a war” against the country after he allegedly shouted pro-Pakistan slogans at a rally organised to welcome Geelani in Srinagar. He was again booked under the Public Safety Act.

The terror funding case for which Bhat is in jail was registered on May 30, 2017. The NIA made the first arrests on July 24 that year. The agency alleged that the accused were orchestrating violence in Jammu and Kashmir as a part of their “well-planned” criminal conspiracy, backed and funded by groups operating from Pakistan.