This is a summarised account of my imprisonment in the UK for a crime I did not commit. I was imprisoned for 22 long years as a prisoner of conscience. I first wrote about my experiences in 2009, in a book entitled ‘Dastan-e-Azam‘ (A Story of Determination). It was originally published in Urdu. It is my story of self-belief, patience, persistence and a constant struggle for justice in the hope that Allah would eventually grant me victory in his own mysterious ways, and He did.
At the request of a young German researcher Eva Tanz and her Turkish colleague Idil, both of whom were working for the ‘Civil Society’ funded by the European Union to reform prisons and the wider society in general, I translated my book into English. They were keen to learn how I had survived my ordeal of an unspecified sentence for 22 years (passed in secret); how I had eventually secured my release, and if there were any lessons for reformers and prisoners?
Dastan-e-Azam had 300 pages, which İ had initially summarized only into 16 pages, but now extended to 32 pages at the request of our British born Kashmiri youths, who could not read my other books in Urdu. They are bewildered about the way their government behaved, where the judiciary is said to be independent of Executive, but İ was held extra-judicially and the legal battle went to European Court of Human Rights, which eventually ordered my release. İ lost 22 years of my life, while the British Interior Minister lost the power for ever he used to keep me in prison. Some of the British born youths belong to my own extended family, who are interested both in our family and national history. The irony is that since the occupation of Jammu Kashmir in 1947, neither İndia nor Pakistan teach Jammu Kashmir history in schools. İn 2010, İ took the so called Azad Kashmir government to the High Court for depriving the Kashmiri children of their right to study their history. İ won the case, but later, İ found out that the Jammu Kashmir Textbook Board which İ get approved had been reduced to Azad Kashmir Textbook Board and only selective and insignificant part of history was added to the national curriculum. İ am, however, delighted that some of our overseas Kashmiri activists have assured me to finance another writ in the High Court to get the initial ruling implemented. İt is unfortunate that our own government is committing an educational vandalism against our own children. İ pay tribute to our overseas Kashmiris whose future lies abroad, but still making contribution to a peaceful and lasting solution to Jammu Kashmir conflict.
Although İ believe in a national rather than a tribal character, many people aware of the Solhan Rajput’s shining past, ask me how and why most of Solhan Rajput have become from leaders to followers of the leadership that has become an instrument of a status quo. All bradhrıs (clans) describe Solhan Rajput as a ‘peaceful and noble people’, but this does not mean you don’t stand for your rights. İf good people don’t play a leading role, the society will be taken over by corrupt people. İ will answer the said questions respectively. Briefly, it is all due to the political culture that has developed following the occupation of Jammu Kashmir and its forced division between İndia, Pakistan and China. The occupiers have projected opportunistic and incompetent politicians on both sides of Jammu Kashmir. All expansionists have used the same method to exploit smaller nations and vulnerable people in the history of humankind. Yet, it is always the visionary and revolutionary characters who eventually rise to emancipate their fellow human beings and that’s what is happening in Jammu Kashmir as well.
BEFORE MY ARREST
I was neither militarily nor politically a trained freedom-fighter, but there was something natural within me that would never accept bullying and oppression either on myself or fellow human beings. İ was also conscious of the fact that İ was a Muslim and a Rajput, who have certain values. As a Muslim, İ believe that Allah helps those who help themselves and does not allow personal gain at the expense of fellow human beings, while the idea was instilled in my mind during my upbringing that a real Rajput should not oppress, but protect those who can not stand for themselves for one reason or the other. Although the idea was reinforced through my experiences, at times, İ was also let down by some of the people who slipped away when İ stood for them. This taught me not to stand for those who don’t stand for themselves, but it has also increased my interest in nature-nurture debate in the process of character building so that we can teach people how to stand for themselves.
İ was aware of the fact that I was a scion of Solhan Rajput, whose Kıng Porus fiercely resisted to Alexander the Great in 326 BC (visit google to see the Battle of Hydapes) at a town divided between Pakistan and Azad Kashmir now known as Jhelum and Khari Sharif. On many occasions, İ was offered money and political projection, but İ thought İ would never do anything that may damage our claim to revive Kashmiriyat and discredit and degrade me both as a Muslim and a Rajput with immaculate past. The strongest recent character of our family was Raja Burhan Khan, who was an uncle of my grand-father Raja Atta Muhammad Khan. Raja Burhan Khan was a natural revolutionary, reformist, yet compassionate and a humanistic personality, who campaigned for everyone’s right to property, which was not allowed under the Dogra Rule. He was offered a ‘Jageer’ (estate) on the outskirts of Khuiratta city by the Mahraja, but the great man responded that he was campaigning for people’s rights, not a jageer. My grand-father had only one sister, while his three sons including my father died at the age of 18, 27 and 48 years. He was highly respected by his extended family and the village, where all of his dozens of cousins used to refer the difficulties issues to him. He would either get consensus or declare his decisions and nobody would challenge. This would lead to peace. The lost honourable thing done by my grand-father was his decision to transfer all of his properties to his grand-sons, including myself. On my release, İ sold some of the properties to build a house.
My grand-father had well-known cousins named Raja Muhammad Ashraf Khan, and Raja Farman Ali Khan and a nephew Raja Muhammad Khan was District Council Chairman. They played a positive role in the resettlement and rehabilitation of displaced Kashmiris in 1947, while former’s sons retired Deputy Commissioner Raja Abdul Rauf Khan and Professor Raja Abdul Hameed Khan were both government officials and therefore remained a part of status quo. My maternal uncles senior Police Officer Raja Saidullah Khan and his younger brothers Raja İnayatullah Khan and Raja Karamdad Khan were notable personalities in the regions. The family of my mother are more educated among the Solhan Rajputs. They are doctors, lawyers and educationists. The credit goes to a scince professor Javed Qamar for the recent progress in the field of education. Raja Saidullah Khan was, however, a national personality. He participated in Azad Kashmir’s national election under the leadership of Khawaja Khursheed Ahmed Khursheed, who was personal assistant to the founder of Pakistan Muhammad Ali Jinnah, but he did not participate in Pakistani politics after the death of the founder of Pakistan, because he believed in the reunification of Jammu Kashmir. K. H. Khursheed was the first democratic president of Azad Jammu Kashmir, but the Pakistani establishment undermined him with the help of Kashmiri opportunists, because Pakistan did not like his political demand to get Azad Jammu Kashmir recognized internationally so that the Kashmiris could raise the Kashmir İssue themselves at international forums.
Although the İndian and Pakistani establishment never said it openly, their plan is to divide Jammu Kashmir on the basis of religion. Division on the basis of religion is the only vision known to the İndian and Pakistani politicians. Now, let us describe how İ became involved in the Independence Movement of Jammu Kashmir, my political vision, my arrest in the United Kingdom and my legal and political fight for my release in which our British Kashmiri Community as well as many British parliamentarians, press and human rights groups played a decisive role of which İ remain indebted to them all.
I was born and brought up in Khajorullah, Khuiratta in Pakistani controlled part of Jammu Kashmir and joined my eldest brother in Holland just after metric. İ continued my studies in Europe. I was in my mid 20s when arrested in the United Kingdom back in 1984 and ended up serving EXTRA-JUDICIALLY the next 22 years as a top security political prisoner in a far off land. I spent most of my time with İrish political prisoners as we were all in the same category. Their compassion alleviated the effect of my isolation to a large extent. My 22 years long experiences, in prison may not be described fully even if I write 22 books, but my observations suggest that the Crime rate is not going to be reduced only by harsh conditions and long sentences, but by making the society better in which we all are born and brought up.
I was a student in Paris when in early 1984, the then Indian government decided to hang the most popular and respected Kashmiri leader Maqbool Butt, who is now considered as the Father of the Movement for the reunification of Jammu Kashmir. My involvement in the movement also began on humanitarian grounds. The 16 years old daughter of Maqbool Butt named Lubna, appealed to help protect her father from hanging. I talked to some of my friends in Germany. Some of them were Europeans and we set up a campaign to save Butt on humanitarian grounds. Later, the second most active leader of Kashmir Independence Movement and the co-founder of Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front, Amanullah Khan, visited me in Germany and persuaded me to join the Liberation Front to campaign together both politically and diplomatically. A year or so later, a group of young Kashmiris, who disagreed with JKLF’s what they called, a passive policy, kidnapped an Indian diplomat and threatened that if India hanged Maqbool Butt, they would kill the Indian diplomat. India decided to go ahead with Butt’s hanging, but the group killed the diplomat before India executed Butt, which infuriated me to such an extent that I fell out with senior leadership of Liberation Front when it refused to investigate as to why the diplomat was killed. The killer and kidnappers left Britain soon after the killing of the diplomat before the British Police could have any idea of their involvement. As Britain failed to find these men, they charged me and Rıaz with conspiracy and murder which I never accepted despite all sorts of pressures. Although I was young, I was part of the central leadership of Liberation Front and my relationship did not restore to the same level for the next 30 years when the leadership of the Liberation Front including Amanullah Khan, the Supreme Head, visited me in September 2015.
Back to my arrest, I had no idea whatsoever what the prison life was like. I learnt everything through experiences, which will be shared selectively. So, let us start with day one.
It was first of March 1984 when I was transferred from the Birmingham Police Station into Winson Green jail’s High Risk Unit. I was a simple and straightforward easy going student, but within minutes, I was classified as one of the most dangerous young men in the world. I could not believe my new identity. A top security van dropped me inside Winson Green jail Birmingham. A group of reception officers stared at me as if they got a personal enemy. They removed my handcuffs and ordered me to take my clothes off just in front of them. When I asked why, one of them stamped on the floor and shouted: “Listen you con; rule no one. You never ask a question. Just follow the order. Rule no two. You are always wrong and officer is always right!” Another one threw the prison uniform at me and only then I realized they wanted me to change my dress. I asked them if there was a private room where I could change my dress. One of them laughed and said, “Oh I see, you want privacy here. You left it behind you my boy. Just told you to follow the order’, an officer warned me. I said I am afraid I will follow only the right order. They laughed together and one of them said, “in this place, every order is the right order!” I retorted, it would not happen now. An officer laughed and shouted to his colleague, “John, we have got a rebel here.” John came with another few officers and they tried to force me to take my clothes off. I looked around. There was a cupboard. I stood behind it and changed my dress. I was then taken to what they called a “Landing” specified for prisoners considered to be dangerous for the government. Shortly after that, another two Kashmiris Riaz and Siddique were locked up on the same landing, but each one of us was in a separate cell.
My watch had been confiscated and I had no idea of the time. I was given a bucket to use as a toilet. I could take drinking water only once in the morning and once at lunch and dinner time. This routine was the only source to guess what time it was. The prison language and manners were quite different from the outside world. For instance, when they opened my cell for the very first meal I had in prison, a few officers with a big dog stood in front of my cell door. One of the officers said, “Tea up.” So, I took an empty plastic cup of tea and went to a table a few meters away where they were serving meal. One of the officers shouted at me: ‘ where the hell is your plate? I asked him if they would give tea on the plate. “Don’t ask questions. Just bring a bloody plate”, shouted another officer. I went back into my cell and brought a plate. He took a pie with a big spoon and smashed it on my plate. The plate fell on the floor and the officers began to swear at me. Every time they approached me, they used abusive language. As a result, I decided not to speak to them any more, which followed G.O. D.
G. O. D. stood for good order and discipline. I was told I broke the good order and discipline by not speaking to the office. The Governor by the name of Goodwin entered my cell with the Security Chief and told me of the complaint his officers made against me. Most of the prisoners called the prison staff as “screws”, who called the prisoners as “con.” I said to the Governor that I was supposed to be the one complaining against his officers rather than the other ways round. He looked at me with amazement and asked why? I said his officers looked very smart in her Majesty’s Uniform. The governor smiled a bit, but his smile soon dropped when I said as soon your officers open their mouths, they lose their smartness. The governor said he did not know what I was talking about? This was my chance to smile and I added his officers were too abusive and that was why I decided not to talk to them unless inevitable. They all looked at each other and as the governor turned back, all the staff followed him shutting my door behind them with a big bang. Two days later, an Asian gentleman visited me. He introduced himself as a Headmaster from the Indian Sikh Community. The governor was a wise man. He did not choose a Hindu and English person, because he thought they would be biased against me, while a Muslim might support me. In comparison, the Sikh was considered to be unbiased. The Sikh headmaster said to me he had been requested to interview me on my background. When asked why, he said it was for my own benefit, but he did not explain. I agreed to the interview thinking I would terminate the interview if he asked me wrong questions. The headmaster asked me mainly about my qualification and family background. He asked if Raja was my caste or a chosen name. I told him I believed in equality, but Raja was indeed my family name. After two hours interview, he told me he would submit the report to the governor, who would visit me afterwards. He shoke my hand and left, but came back from the corridor and asked me to follow him. He took me to the wing in charge and said: “Mr. Raja is an educated man with no criminal background.” The officers noded, but the purpose of the report unraveled only after the visit by the Governor Goodwin the next morning. He said “there was a misunderstanding between you and my officers.” I don’t know what exactly he wrote in my file, but no officer ever used an abusive language against me after that. I felt rewarded for being patient and principled. Had I reacted to the abuses and incitement negatively, I would have become just another number in prison. So, my advice to the prisoners and anyone going through trial in life is to remain patient, positive and do not lose self-respect and self-confidence.
OPEN TRIAL BUT SECRET SENTENCE
My trial in Birmingham Crown Court was held openly, but I was sentenced secretly. A year after my arrest, the trial judge, Sir Peter Bristow while sympathizing with the plight of the people of Kashmir, said, he had been telephoned by the Interior Minister not to declare the sentence. Some people thought this might go in my favor since there was no forensic evidence against me and therefore the Minister might release me, but it happened otherwise. The Interior minister refused that I had any right to know how long fellow Kashmiri Muhammad Riaz and I would serve. I had been denied of my right to have access to solicitor after the secret sentence. My supporters were told by everyone they asked that we were guilty and nothing could be done. My mother wrote to me that although Britain was a powerful country, God was more powerful. I wrote directly to the Lord Chief Justice that Britain claimed to have an independent judiciary and if that was the case, then, why my sentence was kept secret at the order of the Interior Minister. The Chief Justice gracefully advised me to write a summary of my case and promised that if he saw a legal weight in my statement, he would grant me unlimited legal aid. I did write a summary and the Chief Justice advised me to file a petition to the High Court, which ruled on 16th of December 1994 that the Home Secretary acted unlawfully in my case. The High Court ordered to release the secret documents. Only then, we learnt that the British Government decided to keep my file closed until after I had served 25 years intending to keep me in prison for the rest of my life. As the High Court quashed this decision, people from all social and political backgrounds joined my campaign and I respect those people more than my own Community, who joined my campaign only on humanitarian grounds thinking that I was being held by Britain for vested political interests. Several British members of parliament visited me in prison. I wrote to the British press. The daily Guardian published my letter titled: “TRIED BY JUDGES AND SENTENCED BY POLITICIANS.” This line became a base of my campaign supported by Human Rights Groups, Media, politicians and even some diplomats.
In order to reduce the pressure on himself, the Home Secretary announced that he would review my case and probably release me, but when he ran out of his delaying tactics, he shamelessly reinstated my sentence. My supporters were further provoked. I filed a petition to the European Court of Human Rights. Expressing my confidence in the court, I said t I would accept any term by the court, but not a single day by a politician. The European Court of Human Rights removed British Home Secretary’s discretionary power and released me.
The British Home Office still tried to please itself that it was firing the final shot. It held a Parole Board meeting in prison headed by a judge. I was not getting parole. I was rather being released after serving an extra-judicial sentence. The judge, however, was very courteous. He said he was very sorry that I was still in prison, but since I wanted to leave Britain, my transfer had to be arranged by British and Pakistani governments.
LEADING ROLE IN CAMPAIGN
Although countless people from various backgrounds campaigned for my release, Lord Eric Avebury, Dr. Brian İddon MP, Max Madden MP, Roger Godsiff MP, Fiona Mactaggart MP, Lord Nazir Ahmed, Gerry Sutcliff MP, Councillor Shafiq Mir, Muhammad Younis Taryabi, Azmat Khan, Aslam Lone, Muhammad Ghalib, Haji Aftab Ahmed Ansari, Changaze Raja, Professor Abdul Hassan Asim, The Khawaja Family, Raja Muhammad Ayub, Maroof Mirza, Muhammad Riaz, İshtiaq Ahmed, Munir Mughal and Muhammad Rafiq played a leading role.
Lord Gifford, Mark Phillips and Samia Chandraker of Tyndallwood and Simon Creighton of Bhatth Murphy.
MY TIME IN PRISON
For the first seventeen months, I remained locked up 24 hours. When I was transferred to a dispersal jail Frankland from Winson Green Birmingham, I had a chance to meet with other prisoners during half an hour daily exercise, an hour in the gym and an hour or so on the landing in the evening. I could not settle down properly in prison, because I was constantly moved from cell to cell on security grounds. I knew nobody could help until I helped myself. I also knew that I was not the only person suffering injustice in the world. Somehow I thought that people with victim mentality could never change things for the better. I tried to minimize my painful suffering by maintaining three main activities:
STUDY, EXERCISE AND PRAYERS
There were from basic to degree level education facilities. As I was a student at the time of my arrest, motivation was not a problem for me, but when I applied to continue my degree, I was amazed that the unmotivated prisoners were being persuaded to study in prison, while the deputy education officer Ann Morrell said to me: “Don’t try to run before you can walk.” She thought every prisoner was either uneducated or had a wrong education. Otherwise, he would not have been in prison. So, I did not have a good start with my education officer. She seemed to have pledged with herself never giving me a chance to resume studies and I decided not to give in. The fight between the deputy education officer and me took us to High Court, where I pleaded that according to the prison rule, every prisoner had the right to educate himself/herself and it was the duty of the prison staff to strengthen relationships between prisoners and the outside world where prisoners had to readjust themselves after release becoming good members of society. Whereas, I was neither being allowed to resume studies nor receiving letters, phone calls and open visits. As the Home Office realized that I was going to win another legal battle, the head of education Mr. Case invited me into his office. He gave me his English smile, putting his finger into his right ear as if something was bothering him, he said: “Mr. Raja, I appreciate your persistence. You are certainly a serious student and you are going to be our favorite candidate in the next term.” Now it was my turn to smile and I said, “Ok Mr. Case. The fight is over. No hard feelings.” I did not know that the deputy education officer was listening to our conversation until she came out from the back room, giggling, “Well Mr. Raja, I am pleased you have put the past behind you. I will see you shortly and plan your studies.” I thought good lord; she has jumped to another extreme!” I remained about six years in Frankland jail after that and never had any complaint against her. In fact, when somebody planted a small amount of drugs in my cell in order to malign my F75 annual Report in which I was always described as a “Model Prisoner”, she made a statement that I was a characterful person. She also tried to persuade me to stay in Frankland when I requested the Home Secretary to move me to Long Lartin jail where my mother could be escorted to visit me when she came from Kashmir. Several other officers had become helpful for me in that prison, but I had to give priority to my mother’s visits.
It is said that healthy body and healthy mind go hand in hand. Physical exercise is necessary everywhere for everyone, but in prison, people soon put weights on if they stop exercises. The sensible prison staff should try to keep prisoners busy anyway, because if young prisoners are bored, they only cause everyone problems. I used to participate in local games since the age of twelve, but that sort of games were no longer available in prison. I could only have a limited access to gym. So, I would do physical and mental exercises in my cell. Religious prayers and meditation helped me to maintain patience and hope. I studied both course books and spiritual ones. I was surprised that staff prevented prisoners having some useful books about sciences, law and politics, but they happily delivered unhealthy materials. İ wanted to read not just to kill time, but to get useful knowledge.
BEHAVIOUR OF PRISON OFFICERS
Firstly conscience does exist everywhere. If we stand firmly by our principles, some people will see and appreciate it. Secondly, nobody wants trouble makers around them and this is more so in prisons, where, sensible officers know they have to work in prison and if they have bad attitude, it would only make their job difficult.
Secondly, if and when a High Risk prisoner was transferred, he had to be replaced by another High Risk Prisoner. Therefore, they would not like to transfer a peaceful prisoner. This policy had some negative impact on well-behaved prisoners. For instance, my main interest in my cell was reading and writing, which required quietness. Therefore, I used to tell other prisoners to keep their music down late at night. The staff would put noisy prisoners around my cells so that I could control them. On one occasion, too many disruptive prisoners came on my landing. I requested my Principal Officer to move me to another wing. He acted tactfully and moved me when the governor was not on duty. When the governor came back, I heard he was annoyed with the principal officer and remarked that “Raja was a calming effect.” This annoyed me, because instead of rewarding my positive role and controlling the badly behaved prisoners himself, he was just using me and trying to keep me with noisy prisoners. Thirdly, an Urdu speaking Sikh Officer used to translate my letters from abroad. He told the prison governor that Mr. Raja has a political belief, but no connection with professional criminals.
THE “US” AND “THEM” MENTALITY
In the so called free society in general and in prison life in particular, individuals are categorized and labeled. Why? Because it is easier to deal with them. Fairness is not a priority in this concept. “Us and them” theory dictates the behavior of most of the people, but a person with a sense of individuality and justice would and should see fellow human beings without preconceived ideas. All whites are imperialistic and blacks are victims or all Muslims are pious and non-Muslims filthy is as much false as all prisoners are criminals and prison staffs are rehabilitators. I was told by many prisoners that officers were oppressors and similarly many officers tried to tell me that if a prisoner wanted to prove that he has changed, he must disassociate himself from the rest. The question is how anyone can ssurvive and learn a better behavior by isolating himself from the rest of the group. In every group, whether in or outside, there are different types of people and an individual can be identified if he/she is left with a choice of association, but in prison, the first task of the staff is to try to control the mind of the prisoners. The idea does not work all the time. I was first classified as a dangerous man. When I did not act like a dangerous man, they said I was naïve and must have been used or manipulated by someone. When they failed to push me around, they started asking each other “who the hell is he?” A Libyan prisoner liked to grow vegetables in prison. The staff allowed farming in prisons, because it was beneficial. A Security Chief approached him one day and said that he was very confused about me. The Libyan guy advised the Security Chief to leave me alone since I bothered no-one. According to the Libyan, the SC said, “but I want to understand Raja and I can’t.” The Libyan asked the reason and the SC said, “when I look at Raja, I think if slap him, he will never respond, but when anything happens, he gives us the hardest time. He makes one phone call and his supporters from all over start protesting.” The Libyan again advised the SC to leave me alone. The lesson is never give up your own individuality. We are all unique and we should not allow anyone to put us in pigeon boxes. Regardless of our background and gender, we must see each other with open mind. Pre-mediated ideas often lead us to a false conclusion.
A CATEGORY “A” PRISON
Category A was introduced in British penal system as a result of a Committee headed by Lord Mountbatten, the last viceroy of India. Initially, the purpose of category A was to control the Irish political prisoners’ visits and letters, but gradually, everyone considered to be the so called security risk, was made category A. The same happened to me. However, since they never found anything in terms of my behavior to put in my annual report, my visitors, who had to go through so much trouble in relation to visits, began to question why I was held in category A. This category also deprived me of my normal activities within prison and my rights. For the first few years, I requested the Category A Board to remove this category, but when they said things were above their heads, I petitioned to the High Court, where the Home Minister and I were again face to face. He lost once again.
The court decision on my category highlighted the fact once again that if you stand firmly for your rights, you will see that MIGHT IS NOT ALWAYS RIGHT. RATHER, YOUR RIGHT IS MIGHT! Again, I would suggest that your success depends on the nature of your own behavior AND DETERMİNATİON. On this occasion, the Home Office again wanted to look like a winner. A senior officer approached me and said, “the Category A Board has held a special meeting and changed your category.” It seems as if authorities’ ego always suffers when they lose. I just took the letter from the said officer and told him to convey my congratulation to the Home Minister.
WORK & EDUCATION IN PRISON
Almost all prisoners in the UK work inside the prison unless medically declared unfit. All the cooking for staff and prisoners is done by prisoners, but supervised by prison officers. Cleaning and gardening job is preferred in jails , because it gives more freedom to prisoners inside the jails. There are several industries in prison, but the state prisons PAY for one week what even an unskilled employee gets in one hour outside. Laundry is a big factory in prisons. Many hotels and labor industries have contract with prisons, because it is a cheap labor. The staff tried to put me on work, but two things helped me to save myself from hard labor.
Firstly, I was a category A prisoner requiring at least three officers for security on me. Therefore, I was an expensive worker. Secondly, I resisted the hard labor. I refused to work without a reasonable salary. Some staff said “Raja is not a bad guy, but he has his opinion.” Therefore, I managed to stay either in my cell or in Education Department both studying myself and helping with special people brought in three times a week. I managed to complete my Master Degree in Social Sciences. A female governor wanted to hold a Postgraduate Ceremony, but again, it was a wrong time as I had to move to another prison. The governor was very keen on ceremony, because it also enhances their position as such achievements by prisoners are rare in prisons.
Almost every prison has a Psychology Department, which supervises rehabilitation courses in prisons. I had been exempted from such a course, because I had a BSc Honor degree in Psychology. Most prisoners avoided prison psychologists as they were paranoid of them, but I got on well with psychologists. They offered me books and shared ideas with me. Monica Liyod and Sonia in Long Lartin prison were most helpful. Jack Upton and Sue Marshall in Education Department treated me like a family member. I started a doctoral degree as well in High Point Prison, but was unable to continue due to disruption and lack of access to relevant books. I had a heart attack in prison even when I was declared as one of the fittest and healthiest prisoners. The medical Dr. and nursing staff in Long Lartin prison treated me like a patient, not a prisoner, but prison has its own effects. The biggest problem is dependence, lack of privacy and not direct access to anybody and anything. No matter how kind and caring the medical staff is, prisoners do not have a family member around them and the security staff only bother wıth security matters.
Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Africans and Afro-Caribbeans are the main ethnic communities in a multi-cultural British society. The Muslims and Afro-Caribbeans are the second largest population in prison, but there are prisoners from many other countries, who are deportees. Race Relations is a big problem in prisons, but the British prison authorities are handling it very well.
When I was in Long Lartin, I was asked if I could participate in a Race Relations program. It required me to lecture on ethnicity and answer any question from the staff. I urged the staff to try to learn different social and cultural rules, because the lack of their knowledge caused misunderstanding between people, especially Non-Verbal Communication (NVC), which is also called body-language. On one occasion, a female officer asked me if a female is considered dirty during her monthly period and therefore not allowed to cook or serve the food? I thought something had gone wrong. So, I asked her if she was talking about Islam or a Muslim? She said a Muslim prisoner shouted at her not to serve him food, because she could be dirty. I told her I sensed a problem between the two of them, but as far Islam was concerned, Islam urged everyone to be lenient on women during their monthly period because of stress they go through. She smiled and said she could then have a day or two half when such time came! ‘Why not?’ İ replied to her joke.
Although we used to have small cultural events in prisons from time to time, we managed to organize two big events. One in Long Lartin Prison, Evesham in September 1994 and one in Gartree Prison, Leicester. I conducted the both events covered nationally by the media. Many staff were concerned that the occasions might spark a political debate in prison, but we remained objective. We invited guest speakers from almost all communities as well as Psychiatrists. It created very positive feeling in and outside the prisons reducing tensions between staff and prisoners and between prisoners from varied social backgrounds. Strangely, someone at the higher level thought I was becoming too powerful in prison and tried to move me, which I resisted through a parliamentarian and a Kashmiri Barrister Haroon.
RIGHTS OF FOREIGNERS
The needs of foreign national prisoners are quite different from national prisoners, but staff are unlikely to realize that unless demanded. Generally, it is thought that prisoners just need food. Whereas, the fact is that foreign nationals have either less or no visits at all. During my first 12 years, I had no access to telephones and my letters both in English and other languages were subject to censor. My letters in foreign languages were sent for translation, which used to take a long time. As a result, there is a larger effect of isolation on foreign national prisoners. Some foreign national prisoners did not understand English. Therefore, as a Race Relations Representative, I requested the governor to give access to separate video room to the foreign nationals so that they could schedule the programs of their own choice. The governor approved it. I also managed to get approved a number of foreign language newspapers. When I was in Germany, my land lady used to send her children to school by bus once a week. When asked, she said her children needed to realize how hard their parents life was. Otherwise, they would not appreciate what they got. I noticed that the newcomers had no idea how hard it was for us to get our rights, because some of them would neglect other fellow prisoners and monopolize the room. So, in the light of German lady’s lesson, İ told new prisoners that they would not get access to videos twice a week.
Before I went to prison, I did not realize that there were so many people outside, who did not have anybody just even to listen to them. We set up a group in prison for those isolated and lonely prisoners, who just wanted to what they termed, “ get things off their chest.” The listener would just sit and listen without interruption. This idea came from outside. It was proposed by a lady, who said she did not have many friends and her colleagues would just finish their work and go home. One day she just begged a friend to let her off her chest. “You just have to listen to me. I can’t keep it any more”, she said to her colleague. When she told me her story, it sounded both ridiculous and sad, but she suggested that there must be many prisoners, who may not have someone to speak to. She proposed the idea to the governor, who set up a group on trial basis, but it was productive and became another regular group in prison. The governor also allowed guest lecturers occasionally at our request associated with academic institutions.
When the Home Minister reinstated my extra-judicial sentence, the British Foreign Minister made a statement in the parliament that the public was not in favor of my release. “Don’t forget, Mr. Mhatre was not just a diplomat, but a diplomat of a very friendly country”, added the foreign Minister. He thought it would please India and give some justification to Government’s decision. However, politicians are not always clever enough to pre-judge public reaction. As soon as I heard this, I wrote to the Lord Chief Justice that I had long been arguing that I was being held just to please India. In the eyes of the minister, I said, the death of a member of a friendly country is more important than the one who is not friendly.” I took two further steps.
First, I announced we would participate in local election to test the public views on our secret sentences. As we thought that our papers might be rejected on the basis of conviction, we fielded a candidate on our behalf. His name was Chaudhry Allahditta from Small Heath, Birmingham. To government’s amazement, our candidate won by 250 votes. The Labour Party had lost this seat to us after 35 years. The Tony Blair government could no longer argue that public did not want me and my fellow Kashmiri Muhammad Riaz to be released. The media made fun of the Blair government. The same day, I collapsed in prison as if something stuck in my throat. I was taken to hospital, where a Dr. told me that one of my arteries had blasted. Some friends from outside asked me if I thought there was a conspiracy to harm me through food, but I kept quiet as I knew it was difficult to prove.
THE DEATH OF MY MOTHER AND BROTHER
My eldest brother Nazir Raja moved from Amsterdam to Luton near London. He intended to visit me, but I was told that his health suddenly deteriorated. His Dr. rang the prison Dr, Alex Ball and told her of my brother’s last wish to visit me before his death. I was asked by an officer to follow him to Governor’s Office, where a senior officer handed over an incoming call to me. A Hospital official speaking on the other side in a very soft manner and sympathetic tone said my brother could not live for more than a week and his last wish was to see me. Controlling my emotions, I said to him it was not up to me. The Dr. should speak to the Governor. He said my brother’s Dr. had already spoken to the prison Dr. who had strongly recommended my visit. Princess Diana had died in the same week and the whole British nation was feeling very sad. This softened prison authorities attitude towards me and arranged my visit. For security reasons, my visit had been kept secret. When my brother unexpectedly saw me along with prison security officers in his hospital room, he raised his hand and said: “Allah O Akbar. Long Live Kashmir.” That was the last word he spoke to me!
I had so many upsets and disappointments in prison that on occasions, I thought there was no point to participate in any internal activity, but then again, nature is nature. The optimism kept revisiting and reinvigorating me. In mid 1990s, riots took place in British jails against the regime. Justice Woolf had been appointed as an inquiry officer. He was considered to be a liberal judge. He wrote to all prisoners asking about the causes of riots and suggestions to improve the system. Most prisoners ignored his letter and threw it in dustbins. However, a few of us replied. I recommended the removal of category A, secret sentences on political reasons and practicable visit rules for foreign national prisoners, who suffered more from isolation for being imprisoned abroad. Justice Woolf appreciated my recommendations and I filed his letter without realizing how helpful it was going to be for me in future.
Despite winning the case in European Court of Human Rights , I was first told that the British judiciary was on summer holiday and there was no judge available to hear the application of my release as directed by the European Court of Human Rights. The said inquiry officer Justice Woolf of 1993, was luckily now the Lord Chief Justice Woolf in 2004. I immediately wrote to Lord Woolf that he had appreciated my recommendations, but things have still not changed much. “I have won the case, but still in prison, because there is no judge to hear my case and release me. Lord Woolf first cancelled Justice Rose’s holiday and ordered him to finalize my paperwork without undue delay and then informed me what he had done. Lord Woolf’s great favor once again reinforced my optimism and justified my belief in continuing right things against all odds.
MY ENEMY’S ATTEMPTS TO KEEP MY IN PRISON
The 11 August 2004 London High Court’s ruling in line with European Court of Human Rights had been publicized by the national British electronic and print media. Several prison officers from various departments met with me and congratulated me, but some insiders and outsiders felt jealous and hatched a plan to provoke the British public against me. A Judge came into High Point Prison, Essex to declare my release. He advised of the presence of my family and legal representatives, myself and the Home Office representatives. My Netherland’s educated niece, Shahida Raja appeared on behalf of my family. As my solicitor Simon Creighton took me and my niece into the temporary court room, I found my chair straight in front of the judge. My solicitor sat on my right. A Prison official on my left. The two Home Office representatives on judge’s right and left. The judge expressed his regret that I was still in prison. He congratulated me for my achievements in prison and praised the positive role I played. He then addressed my niece saying: ‘Look after your uncle.’ The Home Office representatives requested the judge to allow them to ask me some questions. The judge said “You have been asking questions to Mr. Raja for the past 22 years. Now, it is Mr. Raja’s turn to ask questions.” I said I had many questions but I would just thank the judge to make the final process so easy for me. He smiled and said ‘good luck with your future.’
My niece had been escorted back to prison gate and I had been taken back into my cell. Before I reached he prison landing, there was a rumor going on that I insulted the British Queen following the court victory. It was an attempt to show that I was an arrogant, who should not be released, but nobody took much notice of it since 22 years was long enough a time for the decision-makers to assess my character. İ was surprised that this statement had also been published by a Pakistani daily in Islamabad.
A couple of weeks before my yet undeclared release plan, a Home Offıce offıcıal ıntervıewed me. I told her that I would not partıcıpate ın any ıntervıew untıl I could have a copy of the report she would compile, whıch she could submıt to the home offıce after my sıgnatures. She agreed. Among other thıngs, she advısed the Home Offıce that my pre and post release plan should be made carefully. I knew she ındıcated that the Brıtısh securıty should take me to pakıstan, but I dıd not realıse what would happen durıng my journey ın Brıtaın and after my arrıval ın Islamabad.
On 16 of May 2005 at about 7 ın the evenıng, the Actıng Hıgh Commıssıoner of Pakıstan Murad Alı Khan, vısıted me along wıth my nephew Shakeel Raja. Normal vısıts were held between 2 and 4.30 PM IN THE SPECIFIED AREAS, but we met ın the Governor’s offıce. The Hıgh Commıssıoner showed me a travel docement and said I would be escorted to Manchester Aırport the next mornıng. So far so good, but unlıke ordınary prısoners, my belongıngs had been taken to the prıson gate soon after this meeting ended. Next morning, I was taken to the gate when all the prısoners were stıll ın beds. I had no chance to say goodbye to any of my fellow prısoners. I was greeted by a group of unknown securıty offıcers ın cıvılıan unıforms at the gate. A senıor offıcer asked me to sıgn my release document. As he offered me a pen, he saıd Mr. Raja I cant belıeve you are goıng. I saıd Mr. Kıng, sometımes unexpected thıngs do happen. I wanted to tell hım what my mother told me: ‘Allah is more powerful than any government’, but, I thanked Allah, sıgned the paper and returned the pen. A medıcal offıcer approached me and saıd: ‘I am gıvıng you medıcatıons for sıx weeks untıl you are ın a sposıtıon to buy themselves.’ Thıs was certaınly somethıng to be apprecıated, but then she played a psychological game. She knew me and my case very well, but stıll asked: ‘By the way, what were you ın for?’ She asked me thıs provocatıve questıon at the advıce of the psychologıst just to see my reaction. I saıd, ‘darlıng ıf you stıll don’t know it, you wıll never know it. Good bye.’ She dropped her eyes.
The Brıtısh government announced on natıonal tv channels that I would be taken by securıty to fly from Manchester aırport to Islamabad on PK 702, but half way through, they dıverted my securıty van to Heathrow and put me on Brıtısh aırways. Hundreds of my supporters and well wıshers kept waıtıng at Manchester. At Islamabad, I had been welcomed by the heads of several Pakıstanı agencıes, who told hundreds of medıa men and thousands of welcomers that they would have a chance to see me, but the agencıes secretly escorted me to my home town Khuıratta. The agencıes advısed me to remaın ındoor because they saıd the Indıan agents could harm me, but my supportrs comıng from all over the country broke all the barrıers and brought me out to address a rally of thousands of people. People who gave me a hero welcome told me the town never saw such a large number of people before. I condemned the oppressıve and ımperıalıstıc forces and thanked the EU judıcıary whıch released me as well as my supporters from all sections of British societ who campaıgned for my release and people from my home country, who welcomed me back home.
Following my release, İ reviewed the strategy and approach to our struggle. İ concluded that the armed struggle was harming our innocent people more than the occupiers. The political and diplomatic efforts should have been the first priority anyway. İ started meeting with dıplomats and addressed both natıonal and ınternatıonal unıversıtıes and courts and Bar Assocıatıons. I have wrıtten several books sınce my release ıncludıng a prıson dıary and translated several dıarıes of the vıctıms of the forced dıvısıon of Jammu Kashmır. İ have recently visited Gilgit-Baltistan where İ was overwhelmed by love and affection and Natural Beaaauty.
THE VOICE OF GILGIT-BALTISTAN
Muhammad Nawaz Khan Naji is the most popular member of GB Assembly. He represents Ghizer constituency, but wherever we went in GB, people recognized him. He is considered to be the ‘Voice of GB’ who resists any decision of GB before the final solution to Kashmir conflict. Nawaz Khan Naji is the head of Balawaristan Front independent of Pakistan establishment. He provided me with transportation and guidance accompanying me during my tour from Ghizer to Hunza. My tour has enhanced my knowledge of the region and reinforced my opinion of the regional and international importance of Gilgit-Baltistan. The naturally beautiful and resourceful GB is the head of JK without which body has no life. Nawaz Khan Naji represents a constituency of Ghizer, but wherever we went in GB, almost everybody recognized him. The ruling party and opposition are also polite with him.
VISION, ROLE & CHARACTER
Vision determines the role and the role shapes the character. No matter how any power tries to undermine you, if you play a positive role and remain determined, nobody can kill your character. People will one day see and acknowledge your role. İ was held in top security prison, where nobody could visit me without the permission of the İnterior Minister. My letters were also censored. My sentence was secret. The İndian diplomats and agents remain active against me both in social and print media. İ was escorted by the British Security team to Pakistan, where the Pakistan authorities did not allow its media to speak with me. Whenever İ briefed diplomats or addressed any forums nationally or internationally, they were clandestinely debriefed afterwards. Yet, international researchers, investigative journalists and experts contact me from time to time for their qualitative research, because the researchers are interested in reliable source of knowledge they need. So my advice to fellow human being is to make sure you remain positive and practical. Keep your character intact and active. Allah will help you in his own mysterious ways!
BRITISH PARLIAMENTARIAN ON KASHMIR
Dr. Brian İddon served the British parliament for 15 years. He retired in 2010 when he was still popular and young by the Asian standard, where politicians never retire until death. They keep speaking even from their graves through their family successors. Dr. İddon played a decisive role in a campaign for my release. He has recently written his autobiography in which he has discussed the Kashmir İssue and dispute on our sentence in detail, but for the sake of space, İ have selected only two of his paragraphs, which show Kashmir remains divided due to the divided Kashmiri leadership. He says:
‘People from Kashmir have settled in Great Lever and Farnworth, and I soon became aware of their concerns after I was elected to Parliament. I joined the Kashmir, India, and Pakistan APPGs and, when I retired, I was vice-chairman of the Pakistan APPG. It seemed like there was a lobby every month in Parliament by one Kashmiri faction or another. Indeed, I often pointed out to my Kashmiri constituents that there were too many factions, all competing for attention from Parliamentarians, which made understanding the politics of Kashmir extremely difficult at times.
‘In 1988 Leon Brittan, then Secretary of State for the Home Department, set a minimum tariff of 25 years for serious offences and applied this tariff retrospectively to Quayyum Raja. This resulted in a campaign on behalf of both Raja and Riaz. When I was invited by my Kashmiri constituents to consider the injustice that had been inflicted on Quayyum Raja by the Home Secretary setting tariffs retrospectively I decided to support their campaign. I joined demonstrations outside 10 Downing Street and at the Home Department, and wrote letters to successive Labour Home Secretaries asking them to look again at these tariffs. It was a touching occasion when Quayyum’s very elderly mother travelled all the way from Azad Kashmir to see her son in prison. Lawyers acting on behalf of Raja and Riaz tried unsuccessfully to get the longer tariffs reduced.’
Dr. iddon lives in his home town Bolton and İ am in mine in Khajorullah, Kashmir, but we remain in touch. Occasionally, İ also exchange letters with the British Foreign Office. İ believe that Britain must play a role to solve the protracted Kashmir İssue, not because she still remains a major negotiating power, but because Britain made certain decisions in its own interests during the Raj and final departure in 1947, which continue to affect our life. Britain argues that İndia and Pakistan must solve the Kashmir conflict. Pakistan agreed to the UNSC to withdraw all of ıts troops before the referendum and İndia was ordered to withdraw a bulk of its troops, while we (Kashmiris) want both of them to withdraw at once so that the people of Jammu Kashmir can vote on their future without any political duress.
Although Britain caused irreparable damage to my homeland and victimized me personally, İ admire some of British principles such as communication skills, a sense of responsibility and responsiveness contributing to their continued successes. When all doors were closed on me, it was the British Lord Chief Justice who responded to my personal letters that opened my window on the world. The British government still replies if and when İ write on Kashmir.
Vision & Determination is the abridged versian of ‘Dastan-e-Azam‘ (A Story of Determination) first published in Urdu. It summarises 22 years of the non-judicial detention of a young Kashmiri prisoner Quayyum Raja in a British Prison. Qayyum was born and raised in Khuiratta, Kotli, Pakistan-administered-Kashmir. He came to Europe in 1979 to pursue his education, which he succeeded to do despite being imprisoned unjustly, in and outside the prison. He eventually obtained a degree in Psychology, a Masters in Social Sciences and a number of qualifications in Journalism and International History. In February 1984, a group of British Kashmiris tried to protect the life of the father of the Kashmiri Independence Movement, Maqbul Butt, from hanging in India. They kidnapped a Birmingham-based Indian diplomat by the name of Ravinder Mhatre. The issue of the detention of Quayyum Raja became a controversy when the real killer of the diplomat evaded justice whilst the British Government tried Quayyum Raja and Riaz Malik in Open Court, but sentenced them secretly. After ten years of an arduous legal battle, it was discovered that the sentence was kept secret because it was not determined by the Court, but the British Home Secretary. Quayyum Raja and Riaz Malik refused to accept their respective sentences, and many Parliamentarians, the British Media and Human Rights Organisations campaigned against their imprisonment arguing that sentencing is the domain of Judges, and not Politicians. Quayyum Raja took the British Government to the European Court of Human Rights, which eventually ordered his release. It took 22 years for Qayyum to be eventually freed. Riaz had been released three years earlier.