Seeking the release of its alumnus and ex-IAS officer-turned-politician Shah Faesal, the world-renowned Harvard University has started a campaign.
The Harvard University is a champion of the basic principles of democracy such as “freedom of expression” and “due process of law”, the varsity’s paper further says, “We as a community, should not tolerate suppression of civil and political rights through arbitrary detentions of voices of dissent, especially that of our students and alumni.”
“As members of the Harvard community, we should defend, support and empower young leaders who wage battles against unfair systems,” the paper says. It has called for support to the release of the Harvard student, Shah Faesal, and asked people to join social media campaign #FreeShahFaesal. The renowned institution has asked students to write to the Prime Minister of India and ask for the release of Faesal. It has also asked students to talk to State Representatives and Senators about raising the issue of arbitrary detentions of non-violent dissenters in India.
A report in The Citizen, official newspaper of the Harvard Kennedy School, published on Monday, says, “HKS student Shah Faesal was detained in India in August 2019 from Delhi airport on his way to resume his studies here. His life has been remarkable in many ways. Hailing from Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) in India, he witnessed his father, a teacher, killed by gunmen. Yet, he resorted to peace rather than violence. He was the first Kashmiri to top the prestigious All India Civil Services exam. As a government servant, he was the pride of Kashmir and a symbol of hope to youth across the state – inspiring young people to believe that there are nonviolent, legal channels to bring peace into their lives.”
In 2018, Faesal was enrolled in the Mid-Career MPA program at HKS as a Fulbright Scholar. Simultaneously, he set up a political party - the Jammu Kashmir People’s Movement - in Jan 2019 and quit the civil services.
The report, commenting on the Kashmir situation in the wake of Faesal’s arrest, says, “In August 2019, BJP government, revoked the semi-autonomous status of J&K without any deliberations with the state government or citizens of J&K. All communications via the internet, phone lines and mobile services were immediately shut down without notice. All people of J&K were cut off from the rest of the world overnight. All political leaders of Kashmir, including the former Chief Ministers, leaders of the opposition parties, Presidents of bar associations of the J&K High Court and District Courts, and even youth perceived as potential threats were all detained under the J&K Public Safety Act and other laws in the name of “public safety”.”
“In the days before the revocation, Shah Faesal was vocal on social media trying to reassure people amidst increasing unease, as pilgrimages were cancelled and army deployment increased. Not only was the unease warranted, but he too was also targeted. After sharing his concerns about the undemocratic nature of the laws imposed on J&K in his last interview with the BBC, he was on his way to HKS to complete the last semester of his MPA program. He was arrested from Delhi airport and detained in J&K under the Public Safety Law (PSA),” the report says.
The report says the J&K PSA allows the State to detain a person without trial for 2 years, which is in itself a violation of Article 11 of the universal declaration of human rights (UDHR) where a person needs to be perceived as innocent until proven guilty. “He has been detained since August 2019. Nine months have passed now. On May 13, 2020, his detention was extended again for another 3 months,” the report added.