India’s top court to examine change in Kashmir’s status

International News

FILE – In this Friday, Aug. 23, 2019, file photo, a Kashmiri family waits for a lift to take their sick child to hospital as Indian paramilitary soldiers stand guard near a checkpoint during lockdown in Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir. India’s top court takes up a legal challenge to the government’s decision to scrap the special status of the Indian-controlled Kashmir and says five judges will start a regular hearing in October. The Supreme Court gave no immediate ruling after a preliminary hearing on the petitions on Wednesday, Aug. 28. (AP Photo/Dar Yasin, File)

NEW DELHI (AP) — India’s top court on Wednesday took up legal challenges to the government’s decision to revoke Indian-controlled Kashmir’s special status and asked it to explain its stance to the court.

The Supreme Court ordered the federal government to file its replies to 14 petitions and inform the court about media restrictions imposed in Kashmir. It said five judges will start a regular hearing on the matter in October.

India’s government, led by the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, imposed a security lockdown and communications blackout in Muslim-majority Kashmir to avoid a violent reaction to the Aug. 5 decision to downgrade the region’s autonomy. The restrictions have been eased slowly, with some businesses reopening, some landline phone service restored and some grade schools holding classes again, though student and teacher attendance has been sparse.

On Wednesday, the court allowed an Indian opposition leader to visit Kashmir to meet a party colleague who he said was under detention, but told him not use the visit for political purposes.

The court’s directive was in response to a petition filed by Sitaram Yechury, general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), who wanted his party’s detained leader in the region to be produced before a court.

Indian authorities have turned back opposition leaders at the airport and not allowed them to visit Srinagar, the main city in Indian-controlled Kashmir, and other parts of the region since they launched a clampdown there on Aug. 5.

The revoked special status has touched off anger in the region, where local police and administrators now work under federal control and where residents fear their culture and demographic identity is under threat.

The Himalayan region is also claimed by India’s archrival, Pakistan, and is divided between them. Pakistan shut train service with India, stopped bilateral trade and expelled the Indian ambassador in response to New Delhi’s decision.

At the court’s preliminary hearing Wednesday, Chief Justice Ranjan Gogi and two other judges rejected the government’s opposition to a notice — a written response from the government setting out its stand on the issue — because it might be cited by Pakistan at the United Nations.

Attorney-General K.K. Venugopal said he and another law officer were present in court and there was no need for the notice.

“We know what to do, we have passed the order, we are not going to change,” the Press Trust of India news agency quoted the judges as saying.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan plans to address the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 27 to highlight what he calls “Indian atrocities” in its portion of Kashmir.

In Islamabad, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on Wednesday asked the Indian government to immediately release all detained Kashmiri leaders and “innocent people” and lift the curfew. He also demanded that India should allow U.N. observers and human rights organizations to examine the situation in Indian-controlled Kashmir.

Talking to reporters, he said India’s Supreme Court was “under immense pressure from (Indian Prime Minister Narendra) Modi’s government” and “let us see whether the judiciary does justice on 14 petitions.”

The court also sought a government reply within seven days to a petition filed by Kashmir Times Executive Editor Anuradha Bhasin seeking restoration of all modes of communication, including mobile internet and landline phone services, to help the media work in Kashmir.

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Associated Press Writer Munir Ahmed in Islamabad, Pakistan, contributed to this report.

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