Arrested Kashmiri teen, Faizan Rafiq, freed after protests

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Jammu:  Faizan Rafiq, a 14-year-old detained under Jammu and Kashmir's controversial Public Safety Act was released today after spending over two months in jail.

Faizan was allegedly involved in violence and stone pelting during last summer's unrest in the Kashmir valley.

The state government had come under severe criticism from human rights groups for arresting a minor and lodging him in jail with hardened criminals.

For Faizan, it was an emotional reunion with his parents.

"I met with my parents, I am feeling very happy," said the teenager. "I am meeting with my mother after one and half months," he said.

Faizan's mother Naseema said in his absence, she couldn't eat or sleep well.

Faizan's arrest without a trial led to outrage among human rights groups, who pointed out that the minimum age of arrest is 16.

'Free Faizan' campaigns were launched on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. The Amnesty International also published a report on the minor's arrest.

Under attack, the police conducted an age determination test. That test had found Faizan's age to be between 17 and 18 years, which meant he was not a minor as the J&K juvenile law defines a minor as under 16 years of age. However, school records show Faizan's date of birth as May 18, 1996, a fact corroborated by his father.

"I got married 16 years ago, can even show my nikahnama as proof, Faizan was born on 18th May, 1996. He is 14-and-a-half-years-old," says Faizan's father, Rafiq Ahmad Hakeem.

Orders for Faizan Rafiq's release were given after the Chief Minister intervened, and had the boy released on 'humanitarian grounds'.

"Everybody deserves a second chance. The government took a considered view that we would like his parents, and society as a whole that has made such a sort  of campaign around his release, to now take responsibility and ensure that he doesn't do what he was arrested for doing. There can be no denying that he was a very serious stone-pelter in South Kashmir and we hope that he will not go back to his previous activities," said Chief Minister Omar Abdullah.

While Faizan Rafiq and his family want to forget this ordeal as a 'bad dream',  this  arrest,  and the controversy surrounding Faizan's age, has raised the larger issue of misuse of Public Safety Act  and absence of any juvenile home in Jammu and Kashmir.


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