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 continued…