Hundreds of angry demonstrators clashed with government forces Wednesday in Indian-administered Kashmir after soldiers shot dead a young man at a checkpoint, officials and locals said.
The man’s death came amid heightened tensions in the restive Muslim-majority Himalayan region after New Delhi scrapped its semi-autonomous status and imposed a curfew to quell unrest.
Mehrajuddin Peer Shah, 25, was driving his car when paramilitary soldiers shot him near a checkpoint in the outskirts of Srinagar, the disputed region’s main city.
Police said Shah ignored signals to stop at two checkpoints “in suspicious conditions” before troops fired at the vehicle.
Shah was taken to hospital but died from his injuries, police added in a statement. But Shah’s father, Ghulam Nabi, refuted the police’s claims and said his son was shot and killed in cold blood.
Read more: A pressure cooker situation in Kashmir
“Had soldiers fired at his vehicle while fleeing any checkpoint, his car would have got bullet marks,” he told reporters in Srinagar.
Witnesses told AFP the young man had come out of his car to answer questions from soldiers at the checkpoint before he was shot as he got back into the vehicle.
We want freedom!
Civilians in Kashmir have been shot at checkpoints in the past, but this was the first incident in several months.
It took place under a nationwide lockdown in India to combat the spread of the coronavirus, with thousands of soldiers and police deployed at checkpoints across the restive territory to limit public movement.
An inquiry has been launched into the shooting, Kashmir’s civil administration said.
— Free Malaysia Today (@fmtoday) May 13, 2020
As news of Shah’s death spread in the local area, hundreds of residents took to the streets to hold anti-India protests, shouting “Go India go back!” and “We want freedom!”
Masked demonstrators threw stones and government forces fired tear gas and shotgun pellets to disperse the crowd.
Mobile phone services were also cut in the area as the clashes escalated.
At least two young women sustained eye injuries from metal pellets, a doctor at the city’s main hospital speaking on condition of anonymity told AFP. Officials have barred doctors from speaking to media.
The protest came a week after soldiers killed a top rebel commander in the southern Kashmir valley.
Authorities cut mobile internet services then, but it was restored in most areas four days later.
Rebel groups, which enjoy popular support, have fought for decades for the region’s independence or its merger with Pakistan.
The fighting has left tens of thousands dead since 1989, mostly civilians. India has more than 500,000 troops in Kashmir.
India kills another freedom fighter
After the brutal killing of Burhan Wani in 2016, the Indian forces killed another mathematician-turned-fighter Ryaz Naikoo.
Riyaz Naikoo, 35, the head of Hizbul Mujahideen in Indian-administered Kashmir, died when soldiers blew up two houses in Beighpora in the valley’s south, Kashmir police chief Vijay Kumar told local news agency Global News Service.
His death was confirmed by Indian national government ministers in New Delhi.
Former Kashmir police chief Shesh Paul Vaid said Naikoo’s killing was a “big success” for Indian forces.
Soldiers and counterinsurgency police were conducting house-to-house searches late Tuesday and Wednesday when they zeroed in on two homes where the top rebel leader was thought to be hiding, triggering an exchange of fire early Wednesday.
Fearing protests and an outbreak of violence as news spread that Naikoo was trapped, authorities on Wednesday cut mobile internet and messaging services in Kashmir.
All private mobile networks except the state-run cell operator were suspended.
Hundreds of locals clashed with police and threw stones after they were stopped from marching towards his home village.
Fifteen people were injured in the clashes that continued well into the late evening. One of the protesters, who sustained a bullet wound, was taken to hospital, a police officer told AFP.
AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk