In depth: protests, clashes, strike in Kashmir over Prophet’s caricatures

Kashmir region Friday observed a complete shutdown amid protest demonstrations and violent clashes against publishing of blasphemous caricatures of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in French magazine, Charlie Hebdo. 

The call for shutdown was given by Muttahida Ulema-e-Ahle Sunnat (MUAS) and Hurriyat Conference headed by Syed Ali Geelani. The pro-independence Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) had extended support to the call while Employees Joint Action Committee (EJAC) and Bar Association had also called for shutdown and protests.  The MUAS had said the shutdown is also against New Delhi’s move to settle West Pakistan immigrants in the disputed region.

In summer capital Srinagar, all the shops, commercial establishments, government offices, banks and petrol pumps were closed while schools and colleges were already shut on the account of winter vacation holidays. The public transport was also off the roads while less number of private vehicles were plying.

In almost all the mosques of Kashmir, the prayer leaders condemned publishing of Prophet’s sketches.

The authorities, fearing violence, had imposed restrictions in Maisuma and its adjoining areas of the upper city here. Police had laid concertina wires around Maisuma locality to contain protest demonstrations. 

Witnesses said that soon after Friday prayers, hundreds of people took out protest demonstrations from various mosques here including in Old City.

The JKLF chairman Muhammad Yasin Malik was scheduled to take out a protest march from Khankhah-e-Moulla in Old City of Srinagar but police had detained him during a morning raid.

To foil JKLF protest, the police had additionally deployed its men as well as paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) troopers in Khankhah.

However, witnesses said, scores of JKLF workers led by Vice-president Bashir Ahmad Bhat appeared in the area and took out a march. The protesters were holding banners and placards which read ‘Our Prophet Our Honour’.

As the protesters reached Zaina Kadal, they were intercepted by police and CRPF. “The forces dozens of teargas shells to disperse the protesters. In retaliation, the protesters pelted stones. The clashes continued for almost an hour in the area which then spread to Shamaswari and Fateh Kadal,” witnesses said.

Earlier, while addressing the protesters, the JKLF Vice-president, said a Muslim can tolerate everything but can never tolerate any attack on the honor and dignity of beloved prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

“Our prophet (PBUH) is a glorious personality who throughout history has been praised not only by Muslims but non Muslims too. Attack on such personalities is actually worst kind of terrorism,” he said.

On Central Government’s move to grant citizenship to West Pakistan refugees, he said: “Every Kashmiri will defend the special status of Jammu Kashmir even at the cost of their lives .Any attack on special status of Jammu Kashmir and its Muslim character is direct attack on our existence.”

At Sekiddafar area of Old City, hundreds of youth took out a rally from two mosques and staged anti-Charle Hebdo protests. The protesters torched an effigy of a Charle Hebdo cartoonist, who was shot dead by Al Qaeda linked Jihadists, some weeks ago in a raid on magazine’s office in Paris which left 12 people including 10 journalists and two policemen dead.

The protesters hailed the Qaeda militants and also raised slogans in favour of freedom from India and against America and Israel.

“A Muslim can tolerate everything but not any attack on our Prophet (PBUH). We are ready to sacrifice our lives for Prophet (PBUH),” a protester told reporters amid ‘Hell to Charle Hebdo’ chants. The protesters hailed Charle Hebdo attackers and called them ‘Mujahideen’ or soldiers of Islam.

The protesters later resorted to massive anti-India sloganeering and, according to reports, and were chased away by police.

At Central Jamia Masjid in Nowhatta, a large demonstration led by Awami Action Committee leader, Ghulam Nabi Zaki, against the publishing of blasphemous caricatures. The protesters raised pro-Islam, pro-freedom and anti-Charle Hebdo protests. According to eyewitnesses, scores of youth joined the demonstration in Nowhatta Chowk and started marching towards Khanyar.

“Amid anti-India, anti-Israel slogans, the protesters continued their march but as they reached near Khwaja Bazar, the protesters were intercepted by a large contingent of police and CRPF. The forces started intense teargas shelling on protesters who responded with stones,” witnesses said.

Amid intense clashes, the police started chasing hundreds of protesters and the resorted to heavy teargas shelling. The clashes, witnesses said, spread to Nowhatta Chowk, Gojwara and Rajouri Kadal. “Police lobbed countless shells in these areas to disperse hundreds of youth. The groups of youth re-grouped themselves and started heavy stone-pelting on police,” the witnesses said.

The clashes in the area continued till evening as more police and CRPF personal were brought in maintain law and order.

Intense clashes also broke out at Chinkral Mohalla in Habba Kadal where youth and CRPF clashed with each other after anti-Charle Hebdo protest.

The patron of MUAS, Maulana Riyaz Noorabadi took out a protest march from Syed Mansoor Shrine in Zaldagar area of downtown and marched upto Karan Nagar Chowk in Civil Lines.

At many places in City as well as downtown, police didn’t intercept demonstrators and allowed them to protest, witnesses and police officers said.

Several processions were held in other parts of Srinagar including at Qamarwari, Nawab Bazar, Karaffali Mohalla, Rainawari, Alesteng, Ishbar Nishat and Soura. The processions marched through various areas and ended on peaceful note.

In Kafalli Mohalla locality of downtown, protesters torched an Israeli Flag.

Violence erupted in south Kashmir’s Anantnag town after anti-Charle Hebdo protesters and police clashed with each other.

Witnesses said that soon after Friday congregational prayers were over, a large procession held jointly by Ummat-e-Islami and JKLF was carried out from Jama Masjid to Lal Chowk in the town. The protest was led by Mirwaiz South Kashmir Qazi Yasir and JKLF leaders. The protesters raised pro-Islam and pro-freedom slogans and condemned the blasphemous sketches.

“We will not sit silent over the insult to our Prophet by these cartoonists. We are protesting because it is matter of our faith and religion,” a protester, Syed Waseem, said.

The protesters alleged that police provoked them firing teargas shells. “Policemen lobbed tear-smoke shells on protesters triggering clashes,” witnesses said, adding, two persons were injured in the clashes at Reshi Bazar.

Earlier, Qazi Yasir addressed the protesters and condemned the blasphemous sketches. 

A procession led by Jamaat-e-Islami activists was also carried out from a mosque in main town which ended peacefully. Protests against Charle Hebdo magazine were also staged at Bijbehara town of the district Anantnag after Friday prayers.

Thousands of people staged peaceful protests against blasphemous sketches at dozens of places in Pulwama district, soon after Friday prayers, scores of people took out an anti-Charle Hebdo protest march from Jamia Masjid Pulwama and marched upto Rajpora Chowk.

The protest march was organized by Auqaf Committee and Traders Federation. The protesters condemned the West for insulting religious sentiments of Muslims ‘time and again’.

At Tral and Pampore areas of Pulwama district, hundreds of people held separate protest demonstrations against Charle Hebdo magazine. Protests also erupted in Muran, Rajpora, Tahab, Kareemabad, Ratnipopora, Parigam and Rahmoo areas of Pulwama district. All the protest demonstrations in the district ended peacefully, witnesses said.

Hundreds of people in Shopian district of south Kashmir took out a protest rally from Jama Masjid after Friday prayers and held staged massive protests against the French Weekly. The protesters condemned the magazine for playing with the sentiments of Muslims and asked Western countries to refrain from backing those who insult Prophet of Islam (PBUH). The protest concluded peacefully after massive sloganeering in favour of Islam.

Parts of neighboring Kulgam district also witnessed anti-Charle Hebdo protests, the MUAS cleric Maulana Sarfaraz led a protest at Yaaripora while Muslim League organized a protest at Damhal Hanjipora. A JKLF spokesman said the group also held a protest in district.

The protests also broke out in Budgam and Ganderbal districts of the central Kashmir against the Charle Hebdo magazine.

In Budgam, the protests were held at Nagam, Nasrullah pora and Chadoora while in Ganderbal the protests were held at Gund, Beehama Main Chowk, protesters torched an Israeli Flag at hospital road dadurhamma .

In Baramulla district, clashes broke out between protesters and forces at Palhallan soon after Friday prayers. The protesters were shouting anti-Charle Hebdo and anti-India slogans. The police fired several teargas shells to disperse the agitating youths.

A spokesman of MUAS said that Maulana Ajaz led a protest from Janbazpora in the district which concluded at Main Chowk. Muslim League spokesman said the group held a protest in Sopore against the Charle Hebdo magazine.

Protests against the Charle Hebdo magazine for drawing blasphemous caricatures also erupted in Bandipora district including in Main Town and Naidkhai.

The border district of Kupwara also witnessed protests against blasphemous caricatures. The protests broke out at Langate, Handwara and in the Main Town. The protests concluded peacefully.

A complete shutdown was observed in all the districts of Kashmir including Srinagar.

Meanwhile, police have detained two youths over pelting stones on vehicles defying shutdown at Karan Nagar, official sources said. They said two youths were detained near National School.

Earlier in the day, youth at several places in Srinagar including at Baba Demb, Khayam and Lawaypora.

A police officer said that the day, apart from stray incidents of stone pelting, passed off peacefully.