The 11-year-old daughter of a Kashmiri pro-independence leader serving a life sentence in India has issued an emotional appeal urging New Delhi to allow her to meet her ailing father.
Razia Sultan, the daughter of Yasin Malik, 57, a former militant commander-turned-politician from Kashmir, spoke during an address to the regional legislative assembly in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-administered Kashmir.
Malik was arrested in April 2019 by India's National Investigation Agency under anti-terrorism laws and waging war against India. He was sentenced to life in prison in 2022. He is in the high-risk Tihar jail in New Delhi.
The Kashmir region is ruled by India and Pakistan but is claimed by both in its entirety since British colonisers left the subcontinent in 1947.
“My father is a beacon of light for the cause of Kashmir. I am hopeful that my father will be released from this fake case and will be amongst us soon,” Ms Sultan said in a televised speech.
“I would love to meet my father and spend quality time with him … I was only two years old when I met my father. I have now turned 11. I miss my father like anything. I crave to hear his voice,” she said.
Malik is regarded as one of the top anti-India politicians in the disputed Kashmir region, where an armed rebellion against New Delhi began in the late 1980s, demanding an independent country or a merger with Pakistan.
He was a political activist in the mid-1980s, but turned away from mainstream politics after the mass rigging of local elections by the ruling party and subsequent police violence against political opponents in 1987.
He became one of the first Kashmiris to take up arms against New Delhi’s rule after crossing over to Pakistan-administered Kashmir in 1988.
Malik briefly headed the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front, the oldest Kashmiri armed group, but in 1990 was arrested and sentenced to four years in jail.
After his release, he denounced the armed campaign and joined pro-freedom politics in 1994.
He was instrumental in launching a mass campaign in the disputed Himalayan valley, collecting 1.5 million signatures to press India for a UN-mandated plebiscite in the region.
He was also sentenced to a year in prison in 2002 over his anti-India activities.
In 2006 Malik joined peace talks with the Indian government for the settlement of the Kashmir dispute and held an in-person meeting with Manmohan Singh, who was prime minister at the time.
He travelled to Pakistan in 2009 where he married Mushaal Hussein. The couple has one daughter – Ms Sultan.
He became a figurehead of the protests that rocked the region between 2008 and 2016 when hundreds of demonstrators were killed during months of street rallies as hundreds of thousands of people demanded Kashmir’s freedom from India.