SC seeks response from Centre, J&K in plea on detention of J&K leader Saifuddin...

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The Supreme Court on Monday sought responses from the Central government and the Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir to a petition challenging the detention of Congress leader and former union minister Saifuddin Soz.

The habeas corpus petition filed by Soz’s wife, Mumtazunnisa Soz, was heard by a bench of justices Arun Mishra and Indira Banerjee, which declined a request by Soz’s counsel, Abhishek Manu Singhvi, for an early hearing of the case. The bench posted the matter to be taken up in the second week of July.

The term habeas corpus literally translates as “produce the body”, and is a plea seeking a directive to the government to produce a detainee in court and to release her or him if the detention is found to be illegal.

Soz, an octogenarian, is a former member of Parliament who represented Baramulla constituency in 1983. Since then, he has been re-elected to Parliament numerous times and served as Union minister for environment and forests during 1997-99, and as Union minister for water resources during 2006-2009. He has also been president of the Jammu and Kashmir Pradesh Congress committee.

Soz has been detained since August 5, 2019, when the Central government nullified Article 370 of the Constitution that conferred special status on Jammu and Kashmir and bifurcated the state into two union territories. Numerous mainstream and separatist leaders were detained and the Kashmir Valley was placed in a state of lockdown.

Similar petitions were filed in the Supreme Court in February, challenging the detention of People’s Democratic Party (PDP) leader Mehbooba Mufti and National Conference leader Omar Abdullah, both former chief ministers.

While Mufti’s detention was challenged by her daughter Iltija Mufti, Abdullah’s detention was challenged by his sister Sara Abdullah Pilot.

The plea by Mumtazusinna said Soz had emerged from his house on August 5 last year with the intention to visit an ailing neighbour. The guards of his property informed him that he could not go out as he had been placed under house arrest.

“The guards further informed him that in the intervening night, the concerned Station House Officer had visited the premises and had passed on the instructions for keeping the detenu (Soz) under house arrest, purportedly under the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act, 1978,” the petition said.

It was alleged Soz had not been provided a copy of his detention order. He asked authorities and the guards at his residence to provide the order but to no avail.

“The Jammu and Kashmir Police, refusing the request, intimated the detenu that written orders have been received by the concerned officers for implementation of the order, but a copy cannot be provided to the detenu,” the petition said.

It said the non-supply of material which is the basis of detention makes the order unconstitutional and liable to be quashed.

“Since August 5, the detenu has been wrongfully detained and kept in house arrest for an indefinite period, grounds of which have neither been communicated to him, nor has a copy of the impugned detention order been furnished to him despite several requests over the course of ten months, which is in violation of the exercise of his fundamental rights,” the petition said.

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