Brigadier, 4 Others To Be Tried For Kashmir ‘encounter’

Brigadier, 4 Others To Be Tried For Kashmir ‘encounter’

28 June 2012
The Telegraph (Kolkata)
Muzaffar Raina

Srinagar: The army has agreed to court-martial five soldiers, including a brigadier, accused of killing five civilians in Pathribal village of Kashmir 12 years ago and passing them off as militants. On May 1, the Supreme Court had given the army eight weeks to decide whether the accused should be tried by a regular criminal court or face a court-martial. The ruling had disappointed rights groups fighting to have the soldiers tried in a criminal court. This week, the army applied to the court of Srinagar chief judicial magistrate Rajeev Gupta, agreeing to a trial in a “military court-court martial”. The court allowed the plea. On March 25, 2000, the army had claimed to have killed “five foreign militants”, allegedly responsible for the murder of 36 Sikhs in Kashmir’s Chattisinghpora village five days earlier during then US President Bill Clinton’s India visit. Some families later claimed the Pathribal victims could be their missing relatives picked up by the security forces shortly after the Chattisinghpora massacre. The security forces fired on protesters disputing the army version, leaving 10 civilians dead. In 2006, the CBI said it had enough evidence to show the killings were “extra-judicial executions” that amounted to “cold-blooded murder”. The agency indicted five people: Brigadier Ajay Saxena, Lt Colonel Brijinder Pratab Singh, Major Saurabh Sharma, Major Amit Saxena and Subedar Idrees Khan. (Their current ranks could not be ascertained, nor whether some of them have retired, because all of them were posted out of Kashmir after the incident.) The CBI said its investigations had shown the five victims were local civilians Juma Khan, 53, Bashir Ahmad Bhat, 26, Juma Khan, 38, Mohammad Yousuf Malik, 38, and Zahoor Ahmad Dalal. The army fiercely resisted the CBI’s move to prosecute the accused in criminal courts, arguing they enjoyed immunity under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. The CBI, which contended that no sanction was required as these were “cold-blooded murders”, approached the apex court against the army’s stand. Amnesty International has described the apex court verdict allowing a court-martial as “disappointing” and “a major setback”. Abdul Rasheed Khan, son of one of the slain Juma Khans, said he wanted to see his father’s “killers” punished. “I have waited very long and I don’t know how long I have to wait again. I don’t trust anybody (in the government or army) and unless I see justice I can’t be content,” he said.