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DAWN, 16 July, 2001

India's BSF ensure Briton's tortured legacy in Kashmir

By Nick Paton Walsh

LONDON: It was the long hot nights in the dirty interrogation centre in Pappatot, on the border between Kashmir and Pakistan, that broke 18-year-old Chaudhary Aurangzeb.

Thousands of miles from his home in Manchester, Aurangzeb endured relentless beatings and electric-shock treatment at the hands of the Indian secret police. Now 25, the Briton was held without trial in an Indian jail for seven years. On April 19, 1994, he was caught walking over the Kashmiri hills with three friends - one British and two from Pakistan, where he had been staying with friends.

The Indian authorities, under emergency laws passed because of fighting with Pakistani forces in Kashmir, arrested the three after they accidentally strayed over the border. His friends were soon freed, but he was not. Despite a campaign by his family, India denied him a trial and left him in a series of cramped jails until two months ago, when judges were forced to admit they had no further case and ruled that he should be freed.

Last week Aurangzeb arrived back in London. Speaking for the first time about his ordeal, he said he had almost given up hope of freedom. "I didn't believe I was going to be released and thought I would never see my family again. I am angry at the eight years of my life they have taken away from me." He is now barely recognizable to his friends. He has lost weight, and a thick beard hides his boyish features. The memory of his arrest is still vivid. Denied vital medication by his captors during the first 17 months in Pappatot, Aurangzeb's chronic asthma worsened.

"The attacks came at night. During the day they would torture me with a telephone: they tied the wires to different parts of my body and used a battery to run volts through me. The police kept asking me the same two questions - how did you come to Kashmir? Who sent you? They kept asking me to say I was militant. They took a bucket of water, tied my arms behind my back, and thrust my head into it."

Memories of his arrest are still vivid. "I was walking along the mountains when I was arrested by the Border Security Force and they took me to a detention centre. I said I was a civilian, but they wrote in my file that I was a militant and that was the end of it in their eyes. I then spent 17 months in the centre."

Aurangzeb broke down as he described the horror of the detention centre and the conditions inside. "The sort of torture I experienced was happening to many people in the jail. We were all put in separate rooms, in solitary confinement. I was given two to three chapatis a day and a little rice to eat, with some dirty water. There were hundreds of boys there said to be involved in militancy. Some were as young as 10 years old. The officials killed many people, some right in front of my eyes. They tortured many and left them for dead. Bodies were dumped in the lake outside the centre."

For the first 17 months, his family thought he was dead until he was moved to another jail and allowed to write home, telling his family that he was alive but in poor health. After a while he was granted treatment for his asthma. His family hired a solicitor to pursue his case and began writing to Foreign Office officials to put pressure on the Indian government.

In October 1998, police walked into his cell and said he was to go on trial. Less than two weeks later he appeared in court for the first time. But his case was never completed as he was moved to another prison, hundreds of miles from the court.

Aurangzeb had to suffer another three years in prison before his case came to court again. On May 28 this year, he was brought before the Indian High Court to answer the original charges of entering Kashmir without proper documents. But the case against him was pitiful and, despite police objections, the judge ordered his release within 15 days.

Last week, his ordeal came to an end when he was transferred to Delhi and into the custody of the British High Commission. "The first thing I did was call my family and tell them I was coming home," he said.

Stephen Jakobi of the UK organization Fair Trials Abroad, who campaigned for his release, said: "The issue here is not what he was doing on the border, but why he was held for seven years without charge. If we are to believe the Indian government's allegations that he is a "terrorist" or spy, then a Yorkshire-born teenage asthmatic seems an odd operative. -Dawn/The Observer News Service.

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