March 19, 2019 / 11:16 AM / a month ago

Death of man in custody in Indian Kashmir sparks protests

SRINAGAR (Reuters) - Protests flared in parts of Indian Kashmir on Tuesday after police said a man being questioned in connection with a security investigation had died in custody, the latest disturbances in one of the world’s most militarized regions.

The dead man, Rizwan Asad Pandit, a chemistry graduate who taught at a private school, according to his family, had been arrested as part of a “terror case investigation”, a police spokesman said.

Inquiries were being carried out into the cause of his death, the spokesman said.

Pandit’s brother, Zulkarnain Asad Pandit, was skeptical that any investigation would reveal the truth.

“We want an investigation of it but we know nothing is going to happen,” the brother told Reuters.

“We’ve all seen investigations for the last 20 years.”

Protesters threw stones at police in several parts of the Muslim-majority region following news of Pandit’s death, with shops shutting in parts of the main city of Srinagar. Police responded with tear gas.

Tension between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan, which both claim Kashmir in full but rule it in part, escalated dramatically after a suicide car bomb killed at least 40 Indian paramilitary police on Feb. 14.

A Pakistan-based militant group claimed responsibility for the bomb. Muslim Pakistan denied any involvement but India has long accused its western neighbor of backing separatist militants fighting security forces in its part of Kashmir.

In response to the bomb, Indian jet fighters attacked what it said was a militant camp in Pakistan. Pakistan denied any militant camp was in the area and said the Indian bombs exploded on an unoccupied hillside.

The next day, Indian and Pakistani warplanes engaged in a dogfight over Kashmir. Pakistan downed an Indian plane and captured its pilot after he ejected over Pakistani-controlled Kashmir.

India and Pakistan have gone to war three times since 1947, twice over the divided Himalayan region.

The dead man came from a family with links to the Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI), his brother said, a political group that wants independence from India for Kashmir.

The Indian government recently banned the group which it accuses of having links to militant organizations.

The security forces have arrested hundreds of JeI members since the Feb. 14 bomb attack. The group denies it is linked to militants.

“He was totally innocent and he had no affiliation with any militant outfit,” Pandit’s brother said.

Several prominent political figures in Kashmir condemned he death of the man.

“Punishment must be handed out to the killers of this young man,” said Omar Abdullah, a former chief minister of the state said on Twitter.

Reporting by Fayaz Bukhari in Srinagar, writing by Alasdair Pal; Editing by Robert Birsel

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