JAMMU: Prominent separatist leader Mohammad Ashraf Sehrai, who was arrested under the Public Safety Act in July last year, died at a hospital here on Wednesday, officials said.
Sehrai, 77, a close confidant of hardline Hurriyat Conference leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, was incarcerated at the district jail in Udhampur.
He was shifted to Jammu's Government Medical College (GMC) hospital after his health deteriorated on Tuesday, the officials said.
Sehrai, who replaced Geelani as chairperson of the Tehreek-e-Hurriyat in 2018, had tested negative for COVID-19 in a rapid antigen test.
His RTPCR report is still awaited, they said.
He had COVID-19 symptoms and his oxygen levels had fallen, the officials added.
They said Sehrai, who had been jailed in Udhampur since July 13, 2020, had been suffering from various ailments.
He complained of breathlessness on Tuesday and was taken to the district hospital in Udhampur.
When his situation did not improve, he was moved to the GMC, about 55 kilometres away, where he breathed his last around noon on Wednesday following acute respiratory distress, the officials said.
His youngest son Junaid Ashraf Khan had joined the Hizbul Mujahideen terror outfit in March 2018 and was later killed in an encounter with security forces in Srinagar on May 19, 2020.
Sehrai was one of those detained during a lockdown ahead of the revocation of special status to Jammu and Kashmir and its bifurcation into two union territories in August 2019.
He was finally arrested under the PSA from his Barzaulla residence in Srinagar in July last year.
Originally hailing from Tekipura village in Lolab in north Kashmir's Kupwara district, Sehrai joined the Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) at a young age and remained associated with Geelani for over six decades.
He was detained numerous times on charges of carrying out anti-government and anti-national activities.
Sehrai was Geelani's main supporter and aide when he launched the Tehreek-e-Hurriyat in 2004 after parting ways with the Jamaat.
Sehrai was appointed as acting chairperson by Tehreek-e-Hurriyat in March 2018 and was later elected as chairperson for three years after Geelani stepped down from the post.
Peoples Conference president and former minister Sajad Lone paid tribute to Sehrai and said, "Sehrai Sahib was a political leader not a terrorist".
In a series of tweets, Lone remembered his meeting with the leader and asked, "And why did he have to die in incarceration and not at his home amongst his kin and loved ones. Have we become so weak that an old infirm dying person is a threat to the state. I am not being critical.But please introspect. "
"This is the irony of Kashmiri politics. Top quality politicians consumed by the conflict. The ideological versatility of Kashmir politics is a curse. A transparently honest politician spent decades in jail," he added.