There was outrage in the Kashmir Valley on Friday after the Army announced the closure of the Pathribal case in which five Rashtriya Rifles officers were accused of killing five civilians in a fake encounter in March 2000.
Chief Minister Omar Abdullah led the chorus rising from the entire political spectrum, from the mainstream to the separatists, complaining of a denial of justice.
“Extremely disappointed with the decision of the army reg(arding) #Pathribal. Will ask the Law Dept & Advocate General to examine options,” Omar tweeted early in the morning.
“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.” The chief minister said he would take up the matter with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
CBI had accused Brig. Ajay Saxena, Lt Col Brajendra Pratap Singh, Maj. Saurabh Sharma, Maj. Amit Saxena and Subedar Idrees Khan of the abduction and “cold-blooded murder” of the five civilians and filed a chargesheet in a Srinagar court in 2006. The Army had said the five men were foreign terrorists involved in the massacre of 35 Sikhs in Chittisinghpora some days earlier.
The Army claimed immunity from trial citing the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act. In 2012, the Supreme Court gave the Army the option of instituting a Court of Inquiry into the killings. In a statement issued late on Thursday, the Army declared the case closed, saying “the evidence recorded could not establish a prime facie case against any of the accused”.
The official release said the evidence “clearly established that (the encounter) was a joint operation by the police and the Army based on specific intelligence” and, “the case has since been closed by the Army authorities and intimation given to Hon’ble Court of Judicial Magistrate, Srinagar”.
On Friday, former chief minister and patron of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, said: “While there have been many instances in which standards of justice applied to incidents taking place in J&K have been found short of the universal standards applied in the rest of the country, the Pathribal atrocity stood out even among them for its cruelty and context.”
He described the Army’s decision as a “huge setback to the efforts at reconciliation and delivery of justice, which is a prerequisite for building trust”.
The separatists said the verdict had exposed the Army and courts, and demanded an international probe into the Pathribal killings.
“This (closure of the Pathribal case) is a slap on the entire nation of Kashmir,” Hurriyat chairman Syed Ali Shah Geelani said. “By this verdict, the reality of Indian Army has come to fore. On the ground, it is Indian Army that is ruling the state. The local government is just a cover for this martial law.”
Geelani described the case as the worst example of “state terrorism”, and demanded an investigation by the UN War Crimes Tribunal.
Human rights groups in the Valley said they had expected the Army’s decision, and expressed concern about the “message that this verdict sends”.
“We are not disappointed. This was something on expected lines,” said Parvez Imroz, human rights lawyer and patron of the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society. “For us the biggest setback was the Supreme Court decision in this case. We had lots of expectations from the Supreme Court especially when the case was filed by CBI contesting that Army can’t take cover under AFSPA”.
Imroz said “the clear message the Army has sent is that they are not concerned about the public outcry or public concern”. He said “the verdict has further compounded the institutional injustice done to Kashmiris”.
Public anger and disappointment was also visible on the streets at several places in the Valley.
The Army release recalled the Macchil case, and said court martial proceedings against six accused were in progress. “The Army is very sensitive to all allegations of human rights and makes sure that due process of law is followed and action taken against the accused persons,” it said.