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Author Arundhati Roy defends Kashmir statements

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NEW DELHI – Indian author Arundhati Roy, facing possible sedition charges over remarks she made about disputed Indian Kashmir, said on Tuesday she had only been calling for “justice” for the region.

The Booker prize winning Indian author, Arundhathi Roy

Roy’s statement came after police in New Delhi said they were weighing whether to bring sedition charges against the Booker prize-winning author over comments she made about Kashmir in recent days.

The author of the novel “The God of Small Things” issued a statement Tuesday saying her remarks urging “azadi” or freedom for Kashmir were “fundamentally a call for justice.”

The region has been beset by anti-India violence, curfews and strikes since early June, when a 17-year-old student was killed by a police teargas shell. Since then, a total of 111 protesters and bystanders have died.

“What I say comes from love and pride. It comes from not wanting people to be killed, raped, imprisoned or have their fingernails pulled out in order to force them to say they are Indians,” she said in an emailed statement.

Arundhati, who has emerged in recent years as a prominent social activist, has spoken out on two occasions in recent days on Kashmir, in one instance sharing a stage with hardline separatist Kashmiri leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani.

The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party has objected strongly to Roy’s remarks, calling them “seditious” and accusing the Congress-led government of “looking the other way” by not taking any legal action against Roy.

Law Minister Veerappa Moily said the comments were “most unfortunate”. While there is freedom of speech, “it can’t violate the patriotic sentiments of the people,” Moily said, according to the Press Trust of India.

Nuclear-armed India and Pakistan each hold part of Kashmir but claim it in full. India insists that Kashmir is an “integral part” of the country.

The Himalayan region, which has triggered two wars between the nuclear-armed neighbours, has been wracked by a militant insurgency against Indian rule since 1989.

Rebel violence has declined sharply since the start of a peace process between India and Pakistan.

Roy said in her statement that she had read in Indian newspapers that she might be arrested on charges of sedition for her remarks supporting freedom for Kashmir.

“I said what millions of people here (in Kashmir) say every day. I said what I as well as other commentators have written and said for years,” she said.

“Anybody who cares to read the transcripts of my speeches will see that they were fundamentally a call for justice,” she said.

Geelani also faces the threat of sedition charges for comments he made while sharing the podium with Roy, according to the Indian media.

When told of the possible charges, the elderly separatist leader said 90 such cases had already been filed against him.

“Let this be the 91st,” he declared.

Thousands rally in Azad Kashmir against India

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MUZAFFARABAD: Thousands of people rallied in Azad Kashmir on Wednesday at the behest of a new movement campaigning for independence for the mountain region and condemning Indian “brutalities”.

Pakistani Kashmiri activists shout slogans during a protest rally in Islamabad.

It was the first rally organised by Tehreek-e-Azadi-e-Kashmir (TAK) and was attended by activists from jihad groups including Hizb-ul-Mujahidin and Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD).

The new coalition has been organising two days of rallies in Azad Kashmir and planned to hold a rally in Islamabad later on Wednesday.

A crowd of around 2,500 people shouted “Al-Jihad”, “Allahu Akbar” and “We want Freedom”, as they arrived in Muzaffarabad.

Indian Kashmir has been hit by a surge in protests since June 11, when a 17-year old student was killed by a police teargas shell.

Since then Indian security forces have been accused of killing a total of 107 people, mostly teenagers and students.

“The ongoing freedom movement will transcend beyond the boundaries of Kashmir if the international community fails to take notice of Indian brutalities against this peaceful struggle,” JuD leader Abdur Rehman Makki said.

He criticised both Islamabad and New Delhi over stalled efforts to resolve the fate of Kashmir.

“There should be only one-point agenda of any talks between the two countries … the Kashmir issue.”

TAK spokesman Shafqat Hussain told a news agency that the new movement wanted to provide a platform to all political and religious parties campaigning for freedom in Kashmir, but stressed it would remain an unarmed organisation.

JuD is blacklisted as a terror group by the UN and considered a front for the armed Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) group that Washington and New Delhi blamed for the 2008 attacks on Mumbai.