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Police arrest 3 for threatening Kashmir girl band

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SRINAGAR, India (AP) - Three people have been arrested in Indian-controlled Kashmir for allegedly threatening the first Kashmiri all-girl rock band, which disbanded after its debut concert following abusive comments on social media and a demand from a top Muslim cleric that they stop performing.

The three have been booked for criminal intimidation and violating Internet laws, police officer Afadul Mujtaba said Thursday. If convicted, they could be jailed for up to seven years each. They were arrested Wednesday night

The controversy over the band Pragaash, or "First Light" in Kashmiri, highlights the simmering tension between modernity and tradition in Muslim-majority Kashmir, where an armed uprising against Indian rule and a crackdown by government forces have killed more than 68,000 people since 1989.

Police are looking for at least a dozen other people whose comments were abusive. However, no action has been taken against the cleric for describing the girls' band as a non-Islamic activity.

The arrests came as one of the band members told India's CNN-IBN channel that the group had decided to stop singing because of the cleric's edict, and not merely because of the online abuses. "Everything was going fine till the fatwa was issued," she said, referring to the cleric's order.

The TV channel did not identify the band member, who also said the band members respected the cleric's decision because he was "more aware of our religion." She urged the media to stop reporting on the case.

Pragaash performed in public for the first time in December in Srinagar, the main city in Indian-controlled Kashmir. It won third place in an annual "Battle of the Bands" rock show organized by an Indian paramilitary force as part of a campaign to win hearts and minds in the region.

Soon after the show, Kashmiri pages on social networking sites like Facebook hotly debated the band. Some wondered whether the performance was appropriate in Muslim-dominated Kashmir, while others raised broader questions on the Islamic approach to music and the role of women in the society.

Many commenters backed the girls, but others were abusive, hurling sexual slurs and calling for them and their families to be expelled from the region.

The controversy deepened Saturday after Omar Abdullah, the region's top elected official, promised a police probe into the threats and wrote on Twitter that "the talented teenagers should not let themselves be silenced by a handful of morons."

The all-girl band then came under the scrutiny of various groups.

Mufti Bashiruddin Ahmad, Kashmir's state-sponsored cleric, issued a fatwa on Sunday ordering the girls to "stop from these activities and not to get influenced by the support of political leadership."

Kashmir's main separatist alliance, the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, also did not approve of the band, calling the band "a step toward Westernization of young girls."

However, the alliance also distanced itself from the cleric's edict, and denied the girls were under threat. It said the Indian media was "blowing up a small issue with a purpose to defame the Kashmiri freedom struggle."

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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