Political parties in Jammu and Kashmir have criticised the administration’s appointment of Aseem Sawhney, a counsel representing the accused in the Kathua murder case, as additional advocate general. The parties described the appointment as abhorrent and worrisome.

Former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti said the decision will encourage rape culture. “Ironic that a day after celebrating World Day for International Justice, the defence counsel in the horrific [alleged] rape and murder Kathua case has been appointed additional advocate general,” the Peoples Democratic Party chief tweeted.

Mufti said rewarding those who defend alleged rapists is “abhorrent and a shocking violation of the spirit of justice”.

PDP spokesperson Rafi Ahmad Mir urged the governor to review the appointment. “Since the inception of trial, the accused counsel indulged in unethical conduct by stalling the filing of chargesheet,” Mir said, according to Rising Kashmir. “This appointment stands in conflict with justice, bearing social consequences on the already intimidated tribal population of the Kathua region.”

National Conference leader and former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah said the decision was inexplicable and worrisome. “But if the victim’s lawyer is not unduly concerned by this development the rest of us should just let her get on with the job of ensuring justice for the young victim.”

Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader and MLA of Kulgam Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami said the appointment would set a wrong precedent. “The decision is being seen as a reward for those who defended the indefensible and would set a wrong precedence,” Kashmir Life quoted Tarigami as saying. He urged the governor to “revisit the order”.

Eight people, including a minor, are accused of murdering an eight-year-old girl after allegedly raping her over several days in Kathua district in January. In the chargesheet, the police said that the accused had kidnapped, drugged, gangraped and then killed the girl.

The state is under Governor’s Rule and the Assembly is in suspended animation after the Bharatiya Janata Party withdrew from the ruling coalition in the state on June 19. The government was led by the Peoples Democratic Party, which has 28 seats. The BJP has 25 seats, the National Conference has 15, and the Congress has 12 seats in the state Assembly.