In Kashmir, victims' families shocked as Army closes Pathribal fake encounter case

Anantnag: The decision taken by the army to exonerate its men alleged to be involved in the infamous Pathribal fake encounter case has come as a shock for the family members of five men killed on March 26, 2000 in the so-called encounter in Pathribal village in south Kashmir.

 In Kashmir, victims families shocked as Army closes Pathribal fake encounter case

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Shakoor Ahmad Khan, 34, whose father Juma Khan was one of the five civilian killed that day, says he had expected after the CBI probe that the army would follow suit in indicting five of its men.

“Somewhere in the back of my mind, I had a firm belief that to set an example, the Army would punish its men. It would have set a precedent for those who kill people for medals,” Shakoor says.

He recalls that the Army sent a summons to his grandfather, Amirullah Khan, who had died in 1994, six years before the encounter. "That showed how serious the army was about the trial,” he remembers.

A spokesperson of the Army’s 16 Corps based in Nagrota, Jammu, which was conducting court martial proceedings against five of its men said on Thursday that it has closed the Pathribal fake encounter case, as the evidence recorded in the army court could not establish anything against the accused Army men. “The evidence recorded could not establish a prime-facie case against any of the accused persons but clearly established that it was a joint operation by the Police and the Army, based on specific intelligence. The case has since been closed by the Army and intimation was given to Court of Judicial Magistrate, Srinagar in this regard,” the spokesman said.

However, family members of the victims are still rueing the Supreme Court's decision to allow the Army to try the accused. They say the justice done by the CBI in its probe in the case was negated by the Army.

As the news broke about the exoneration of the five men,  neighbours thronged the house of Mohammed Yousuf Malik in Kapra village
in South Kashmir’s Anantnag district, another civilian killed in the encounter.

Tanveer Ahamd Malik, cousin of Muhammad Yousuf Malik, said that the Army was never serious about the case. “They wanted us to travel 330 kilometres to Jammu for every hearing instead of shifting the case to Srinagar,” Malik says. “For us the closure is end of the hope for justice. There is no light at the end of the tunnel. Justice was something which we had longed for. It also speaks volumes about the attitude of the Indian state towards common people of Kashmir who they claim to be the citizens of India,” Tariq Ahmad, a resident of Kapran village, told Firstpost.

Kashmiris were up in arms against the State in March 2000 when, during the visit of former United States President Bill Clinton to India, a group of armed men order Sikh men from Chattisinghpora village, almost 80 kilometers from summer capital Srinagar, to assemble in front of the village gurdwara. After lining them up, the armed men fired -- 36 people were murdered in what was the biggest massacre of Sikhs since the insurgency broke in 1989.

Five days after the massacre, under pressure from the government to show results, the Jammu and Kashmir police and army had claimed to have killed five ‘Lashkar-e-Taiba’ militants responsible for the massacre of Sikhs.

The five dead bodies were charred and beyond recognition. But in the nearby villages many villagers had gone missing since the encounter. The villagers started a protest on April 3, 2000, with thousands of people marching from Achabal village to Anantnag town demanding that authorities release the bodies of the five so-called terrorists. On their way they pelted stones at the police base in Barakpora village. Police and CRPF personnel opened fire, killing eight persons and injuring 15.

The then chief minister Farooq Abdullah, under considerable pressure from the public, returned the dead bodies of five ‘terrorists’ to their family members. The Abdullah government ordered the suspension of the then SSP of Anantnag and ordered a CBI inquiry.

The bodies were later identified as Zahoor Ahmad Dalal, Bashir Ahmad, Mohammed Yousuf Malik, and two other youths, both
named Juma Khan, who had gone missing between 21–24 March and were killed and dubbed ‘Lashkar-e-Taiba’, militants responsible for the killing of the Sikhs. This was what the CBI investigation concluded.

The CBI in 2006 charge-sheeted the accused army officers in 2006. They said the officers involved in the case were Brigadier Ajay Saxena, Major Bijendra Pratap Singh, Major Sourabh Sharma, Major Amit Saxena and Subedar Idrees Khan.

However, the Army had contested the charging of its men on the grounds that prior sanction from central government was required under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA).

On Friday, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah tweeted on Friday saying he was extremely disappointed with the decision of the Army.

“Extremely disappointed with the decision of the army reg #Pathribal. Will ask the Law Dept & Advocate General to examine options… A matter as serious as #Pathribal can't be closed or wished away like this more so with the findings of the CBI so self evident.”

Shakoor Khan said he refused to attend the court martial proceedings after the army shifted the case from Srinagar to Jammu.

“Is CBI a Pakistani agency that the army didn’t believe them? They had clearly said that my father's was a cold-blooded murder by the Army. How could have one expected them (army) to give us a fair trial? What was the need for the army to reinvestigate the case, it
was simply to save their men,” he told Firstpost.

He says his faith in the institutions of the state had risen manifold when the CBI had  presented a chargesheet in the Supreme Court against the accused men. But another arm of the State has destroyed that trust. Human rights activist Khurram Parvez, says the decision by the army to exonerate its men was on expected lines.

The case which was first heard in Anantnag District Court, was later transferred to the Jammu and Kashmir High Court, and then finally to the Supreme Court.

On Jan 23, 2012 the apex court expressed its displeasure that the decade-old case was yet to reach the trial stage due to Army's perceived
defiance against prosecution of its personnel supposedly enjoying immunity under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA).

Solicitor General Harin Rawal, appearing for CBI, had said in court "they (the Army) want to bury the case".

In June 2012 Supreme Court directed the army to either try the accused in a court martial or allow the civil trail. The army opted for the
former. The army‘s 16 Corps based in Nagrotra, Jammu conducted the court martial proceedings against the five men.

 

Updated Date: Jan 24, 2014 16:23:17 IST