Many political leaders in India-administered Kashmir, including a former chief minister of the disputed Himalayan region have blasted Indian National Investigation Agency's [NIA] move to seek death sentence for jailed Kashmiri pro-independence leader Mohammed Yasin Malik.
Mehbooba Mufti, the last elected chief minister of the region and the leader of a regional party, said on Saturday that in a democracy like India, where even the assassins of a prime minister were pardoned, the case of a political prisoner like Yasin Malik must be "reviewed and reconsidered."
She wrote on Twitter that "those gleefully supporting his [Malik's] hanging" are a "grave threat to our collective rights."
Sarah Hayat Shah, a spokesperson of another regional pro-India party National Conference, said that Malik deserves a "fair trial," adding that the death penalty will benefit no one.
In a long note, Sajad Lone, head of the People's Conference regional party, said that seeking a death sentence for Malik is "dangerous."
He implored the Indian government to "let Kashmiris live in peace."
"We need oxygen from the rest of the country, as we are gasping for political breath. We cannot afford Kashmir being the oxygen for political landscape in the rest of the country," he said, also decrying what he called the "hurry to execute" Malik.
Last year, Malik, 57, chief of Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front [or JKLF], refused to accept a government-appointed lawyer or to defend himself against the charges.
During the trial, he protested the charges and said he was a freedom fighter.
"Terrorism-related charges levelled against me are concocted, fabricated and politically motivated," his organisation, the JKLF, cited him as telling the court in May last year.
"If seeking Azadi [independence] is a crime, then I am ready to accept this crime and its consequences," he told the judge.
Malik told the court that he had been issued a passport on the orders of former Indian PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee because he "was not a criminal." Vajpayee was at the helm when India and Pakistan launched a peace initiative in the late 1990s, a thaw that was seen as a precursor to a possible breakthrough in the Kashmir dispute.
Malik reportedly told the court that he had worked with seven Indian prime ministers, asserting that he would "retire from politics and accept the death penalty" if Indian intelligence agencies could prove his involvement in any terrorist activity or violence in the past 28 years.
The court had turned down a plea by the NIA for a death sentence, saying capital punishment was for a crime that "shocks the collective consciousness" of society.
On Friday, the NIA petitioned the High Court in New Delhi again, seeking a death sentence for Malik. The petition is due for hearing on Monday.
The Muslim-majority Kashmir region has long been the source of tensions between nuclear-armed neighbours India and Pakistan, leading them to fight three wars since winning independence from the British Empire in 1947.
Both countries claim the territory in full but rule it in part.
Malik's JKLF spearheaded an armed revolt in 1989 in the India-administered portion of Kashmir, seeking independence for the entire former Muslim-majority kingdom from both countries.
More rebel groups joined the fighting as India responded with a massive military campaign, with the conflict leaving tens of thousands of civilians, soldiers and rebels dead.
Most Muslim Kashmiris support the rebel goal of uniting the territory, either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country. India insists the Kashmir rebellion is sponsored by Pakistan. Pakistan denies the charge, and most Kashmiris consider it a legitimate freedom struggle.
India has deployed more than 500,000 troops in the region since 1989, tuning Kashmir into one of planet's most militarised regions.
Malik renounced armed struggle in 1994 to campaign peacefully for independence, saying he will follow the non-violent principles of India's founding leader Mahatma Gandhi.
He was repeatedly jailed, spending 14 years in prison where he claimed he was tortured, and was finally arrested in 2018, months before New Delhi cancelled the restive region's semi-autonomy, annexing it and imposing an unprecedented lockdown and communications blockade lasting months.
On Saturday, Mushaal Mullick, Pakistan-based wife of Malik, accused the Indian government of trying to commit a "judicial murder" of her husband, Geo News reported.
"I want to convey a message to Modi [Indian prime minister] that the Kashmiri nation is not afraid of death," she said, warning world would react if anything happened to her husband.