Court martial for Army men in Machchil fake encounter, hope for victims' families
All three victims went along happily at the promise of earning Rs 2,000 per day working for the Army.
The decision taken by the army to court martial six of its men, including two officers, for their involvement in the 2010 ‘Machchil fake encounter’ has raised hopes for three families in the Valley who have been fighting a long and arduous battle seeking justice for their loved ones killed in April 2010.
A spokesperson of the Army’s Northern Command on Wednesday said the Army has ordered disciplinary proceedings against the accused personnel involved in the 2010 Machchil fake encounter case.
"After detailed scrutiny of the complete incident and any wrongdoings committed by the concerned personnel, the Army has ordered court martial proceedings to take the legal process to a logical conclusion highlighting the Army’s resolve of ensuring justice with speed," the spokesperson said.
The army had, earlier, completed a court of inquiry headed by commander of 68 Mountain Brigade, Brigadier G S Sangah. The court martial proceedings are likely to be headed by an officer of the rank of Brigadier or Major General.
“We welcome the decision of the Army on initiating a court martial against its men. It will set a precedent for those who kill innocent people for medals and money,” said Mohammad Yousf Lone, whose son Riyaz was among those killed in the fake encounter in 2010.
The decision comes at a time when the Army’s Northern Command has been slowly pushing for an image makeover over the issues of human rights in Kashmir. Early this month, Commander of 15 Corps, Lt Gen Gurmit Singh, had said the Army would prosecute all those officials found guilty of human rights violation in Jammu and Kashmir.
“I don’t want any such person in the Indian Army who is found guilty of rights violation and any such official, whosoever he may be, will be prosecuted. I will ensure that no individual in the Army tramples the dignity of a civilian and this is a pledge I am taking before you,” Singh had said.
After the Commander's statement this is the first major action against any serving army official involved in alleged human rights violations.
What is the Machchil fake encounter
Reyaz Ahmad Lone (20), Shahzad Ahmad Khan (27), and Mohmmad Shafi (29) were three ordinary villagers who ended up in the ‘martyrs graveyard’ of Nadihal in north Kashmir, not because they died fighting an adversary or willingly gave up their lives for the 'cause' of Kashmir. They were killed allegedly to make soldiers' record look good, in April of 2010.
On 27 of April, 2010, the three had travelled with a local counterinsurgent, Bashir Ahmad Lone and his accomplice Abdul Hamid from their village in Baramulla, to meet Abbas Hussain Shah, who worked with the 161 Territorial Army in Kupwara.
A promise of Rs 2,000 a day by an army Major posted in Kupwara had motivated them to take a dangerous journey across the Line of Control for spying for the Indian Army. On their way back from Kupwara to Baramulla, Bashir had asked them to come the next day, and paid them 500 rupees each.
Riyaz, the only earning member of his family, told his mother that he had gone with the counter insurgent Bashir and would be given a well paying job were he would earn Rs 2,000 a day. The next day he left home and never returned.
“That was the day when my world collapsed, he was the lone responsible brother of three sisters. He was so hardworking that he used to work 24 hours at a workshop in Baramulla for getting his elder sister married,” says his mother Shafeeqa.
Mohd Shafi was the elder son of Abdul Rashid, a laborer, living in a shack. He was the eldest among five siblings, four of them girls. A daily-wage labourer, Shafi used to work day and night for survival and his aged parents.
One of the accused had told the police that all the three - Shahzad, Shafi and Riyaz - went along happily, at the promise of earning “Rs 2,000 per day” working for the army.
On 29 of April Major Upender, according to police, was waiting with two army vehicles in Kalaroos in Kupwara. All the three boys were ‘loaded’ in a truck while Bashir was asked to leave and another accused Hamid went with the Major.
According to police all the three were then taken to Sona Pindi near the Line of Control, shot dead in a staged encounter and later dubbed “unidentified infiltrating militants.” The Army claimed to have recovered five AK rifles, ammunition and Pakistani currency from them.
How it was exposed
A rare police investigation into the killings reveled that some soldiers and officers of army’s 4 Rajput battalion lured the poor villagers into a trap only to be killed and branded as ‘infiltrating terrorists’.
Like the Pathribal fake encounter case, there was little doubt that Machil killings were murders provoked by mindless bravado rather than duty.
When the families pointed towards Bashir’s involvement on May 10 in a police station, the police started analyzing the call details of the three and Bashir. They then found they had all gone to Kalaroos. Bashir was picked up eleven days later, followed by the arrest of Hameed, another accused.
The police later officially sought Abbas Hussain Shah’s custody from the Commandant of his 161 TA battalion, and on May 27, he too was arrested. All three are presently in jail.
It was only after a public outcry that the bodies of the three Nadihal victims were exhumed and it was established after forensic tests that the army had lied.
On May 28, 2010 police filed a case of abduction and murder against the army for the killing of three Nadihal youth. They had received the three dead bodies from Police Division Kalaroos with an Army report according to which these “unidentified militants” had died in an encounter with troops of 4-Rajput at Doshat Post, Tanakpur, across Sonapindi Galli on the LoC, in Machhil sector during the night intervening April 29 and 30, 2010.
On July 15, 2010 police presented its charge sheet against the accused under section 302 (murder) in the case before CJM Sopore. The accused army men charge-sheeted in the case include Colonel D K Pathania of the 4 Rajput Rifles, Major Upendra Singh, Major Maurya (Adjutant), Subedar Satbir, Hawaldar Bir Singh, Sepoy Chadra Bhan, Sepoy Nagendra Singh, Sepoy Narendra Singh and Abbas Hussain Shah of the Territorial Army.
Even as the case for cash reward of Rs 6 lakhs for killing the three “unidentified militants” was processed at the level of Commanding Officer D K Pathania, Maj Upendra and his unit shifted their base later.
Last year the court of Chief Judicial Magistrate Sopore, taking cue from the Supreme Court of India’s verdict on the infamous Pathribal fake encounter case, allowed the army to try the soldiers and officers accused in the Machil faked encounter in a military court.
The Machchil fake encounter became one of the principle reasons for fuelling of civilian unrest in the valley. That unrest which continued for two months left 122 persons including protesters and bystanders dead.
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The militants shot the two policemen from close range, an official said, adding they were taken to a hospital where both of them succumbed