Indian authorities released a key Muslim cleric after four years of house arrest and allowed him to lead Friday prayers in Srinagar, the main city of India-administered Kashmir.
The 50-year-old Mirwaiz sobbed as he greeted the people from the pulpit of the historical mosque in Srinagar. Dozens of people also broke down when the pro-freedom leader delivered his first Friday sermon as a free man after four years of house detention.
Mirwaiz has been spearheading protests against Indian rule in the disputed region.
He was detained ahead of India revoking Kashmir's special status in 2019 and throwing the Himalayan territory into political uncertainty.
The 2019 decision stripped the region of statehood, its separate constitution and inherited protections on land and jobs.
“Senior police officials visited the residence of Mirwaiz on Thursday to inform him that the authorities have decided to release him from house detention and allow him to go to Jamia Masjid for Friday prayers,” the mosque management committee said in a statement.
Mirwaiz’s release came days after the government released Moulana Mushtaq Veeri and Moulana Dawoodi, two prominent religious leaders, from detention under the draconian Public Safety Act, which allows for detention without trial for up to six months.
Kashmiri separatist leaders, many of them either under house arrest or in police detention, have vowed to continue their struggle.
They want New Delhi to accept Kashmir as a disputed region, release political prisoners, revoke harsh emergency laws and announce a plan for Kashmir's demilitarisation.
Kashmir, a Muslim-majority region, is administered by India and Pakistan in parts and claimed by both in full. A small sliver of Kashmir is also under Chinese administration.
Since they were partitioned in 1947, the two South Asian countries have fought three wars – in 1948, 1965 and 1971.
Some Kashmiri groups in have been fighting against Indian rule for independence or unification with neighbouring Pakistan.
Although Mirwaiz was spared jail, he has been under house detention for the most extended period, only behind the deceased Syed Ali Geelani, the 89-year-old Hurriyat leader who died in house detention in Sept. 2021.