The Supreme Court on Wednesday dismissed a petition seeking action against former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah for his remarks against the scrapping of the erstwhile state’s special status under Article 370, Bar and Bench reported. The court noted that disagreeing with the government’s views was not sedition.
The petitioner had accused Abdullah of seeking help from Pakistan and China to criticise the Indian government’s decision to strip Jammu and Kashmir of its special status, according to NDTV. The Supreme Court bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Hemant Gupta said that the petitioner had failed to substantiate his allegations, and fined him Rs 50,000.
“Expression of views which are dissent and different from government opinion cannot be termed as seditious,” the Supreme Court bench said.
Abdullah had told India Today in an interview last year that he hoped Jammu and Kashmir’s special status would be restored with China’s help. “Whatever they [China] are doing at LAC [Line of Actual Control] in Ladakh is all because of the abrogation of Article 370, which they never accepted,” Abdullah was quoted as saying by the news channel. “I am hopeful that with their support, Article 370 will be restored in J&K.”
A controversy erupted over Abdullah’s comments. The National Conference denied accusations that he had justified Chinese action along the border. “Our President articulated the people’s anger over the abrogation of Article 370 and 35-A by Parliament on August 5 last year as he has consistently done in recent months,” the party had said. “He emphasised that no one in Jammu and Kashmir was willing to accept these changes.”
The Centre had abrogated the erstwhile state’s special status on August 5, 2019, and split it into two Union Territories – Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh. The move was accompanied by a crackdown, including deployment of thousands of additional troops, a sweeping curfew, thousands of arrests, and a virtual communications blackout.
Almost all of the Kashmir Valley’s political leadership, including Abdullah and other former Chief Ministers Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah were put under detention. Farooq Abdullah was released from detention on March 13, 2020. His son Omar Abdullah’s detention was also revoked over a week later. People’s Conference chief Sajjad Lone was released in July, while Mufti’s detention ended on October 13.
The authorities in Jammu and Kashmir have since eased several restrictions, including the restoration of landlines and internet services.
However, the Forum for Human Rights in Jammu and Kashmir, an independent body co-chaired by former Supreme Court judge Madan B Lokur, said in a report released last month that rights violation continued in the erstwhile state – 18 months after the abrogation of its special status.
The organisation noted that the counter-insurgency concerns were being prioritised over civilian and human security, “leading to vitiation of protections such as habeas corpus, prevention of illegal detention and strict restrictions on arrest and detention of children”.
In February, a delegation of envoys led by European Union Ambassador Ugo Astuto had visited Jammu and Kashmir to make an assessment of the ground situation there. Political leaders in Kashmir, however, criticised their “guided visit”.