An Army Court has awarded life sentences to at least five armymen, including a Commanding Officer and a Major, for their involvement in the killing of three Kashmiris in a fake encounter in Machil four years ago. This is the first case in the Valley in which Indian Army personnel have been awarded life terms on these charges.
Hailing the General Court Martial (GCM) verdict, which has been sent to the Northern Corps Commander Lt Gen G S Hooda for final approval, Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah termed it a “watershed moment”.
The court martial, headed by Brig Deepak Mehra of 68 Mountain Battalion, wrapped up its proceedings last month and the verdict has become public at a crucial political juncture in the Valley, with the first phase of Assembly elections in the state scheduled to be held on November 25.
Those convicted include the then CO of 4 Rajputana Rifles, Col D K Pathania, and another officer Maj Opendra Singh. The court martial also recommended that their service benefits be suspended.
“The Army has handed out life sentences… inc the CO in the Machil fake encounter case of 2010. This is indeed a very welcome step,’’ Abdullah tweeted.
The CM went on to praise the verdict in a series of tweets. “This is a watershed moment. No one in Kashmir ever believed that justice would be done in such cases. Faith in institutions disappeared.”
Abdullah added: “I hope that we never see such Machil fake encounter type of incidents ever again & let this serve as a warning to those tempted to try.’’
The case relates to the killing in 2010 of Shezad Ahmad, Riyaz Ahmad and Mohammad Shafi from Nadihal village of Baramulla. On April 29 that year, the three were lured by two local counter-insurgency agents — Bashir Ahmad Lone and Abdul Hamid — and a Territorial Army jawan Abbas Hussain Shah to Kalaroos village in the Machil sector near the LoC.
The three, who were promised jobs as porters and “good money”, were then killed by the soldiers of 4 Rajputana Rifles near the Sona Pindi post and dubbed as “Pakistani militants”.
The victims’ real identities were revealed a month later when their bodies were exhumed following a public outcry. The state government then constituted a high-level inquiry commission to probe the killings, but its report was never made public. The killings, meanwhile, sparked widespread unrest in the Valley in which 123 people were killed.
Soon after the incident, the Army removed Colonel Pathania from the post of Commanding Officer while Major Opendra was suspended after an internal inquiry.
The Army initiated court martial proceedings in December 2013 based on the findings of a court of inquiry report that was submitted by the then Commander of 68 Mountain Brigade Brigadier G S Sangah.
The Army probe was set up following a notice issued by the Sopore Chief Judicial Magistrate based on a chargesheet filed by local police against 11 persons including nine Army officials and two civilians who were charged under Sections 302 (murder), 364 (abduction), 120-B (criminal conspiracy) and 34 (common intent) of the Ranbir Penal Code (RPC).
In April 2013, a civil court had handed over custody of the Territorial Army’s Abbas Hussain Shah to the Army for recording evidence. The court martial has now acquitted Hussain while the two other civilians — Lone and Hamid — are still in custody.