THE ARMY is in the process of taking over proceedings against a Rashtriya Rifles officer in the Shopian fake encounter case from a civilian court where a chargesheet has been filed against him, The Indian Express has learnt.
The Army has decided that the officer, an Army Captain, will be tried in a court martial. A Junior Commissioned Officer is also to stand trial in the case in the military court.
Police have filed a chargesheet in the Shopian Chief Magistrate’s Court against Captain Bhoopendra Singh, who went by the operational alias Major Basheer Khan, and two civilians, Tabish Nazir and Bilal Ahmed Lone. The JCO is not named in this chargesheet.
While the police arrested the two civilians, they could not arrest the officer “for procedures under AFSPA”. An Army source said Captain Singh and the JCO were placed under arrest by the Army soon after evidence emerged of wrong doing, and they are in the custody of military police.
The chargesheet accuses Captain Singh and the two civilians of staging the July 18 encounter at Amshipora in Shopian district and setting up the evidence, later destroying this evidence, and “purposefully projecting false information” as part of a criminal conspiracy to claim Rs 20 lakh reward money, which is given carrying out successful encounters.
“As per procedure, the court asks the Army in such cases whether the Army wants to conduct the trial or it can proceed as a civilian trial. The Army has indicated that they will be taking over,” a source told The Indian Express. The court wrote to the Army to choose between a civilian or military trial on December 27 when the chargesheet was filed. “We have to give our consent in writing, and that is in process,” a senior Army official said.
The precedent for a transfer of any case involving an Army officer from a civilian court to the military court came with the 2012 Supreme Court judgment in the Pathribal case following the CBI indictment of five officers. The Supreme Court ruled that no cognizance could be taken of any offence committed by a soldier in the course of official duty without prior sanction from the government.
The Supreme Court also gave the Army the option of choosing the “venue” of the trial between a civilian or a military military. The Army had invoked the Armed Forces Special Powers Act to argue that the men could not stand trial in a civilian court.
The two civilians chargesheeted in the Shopian case cannot be tried by the Army, and their trial will go ahead in the district court, the source said.
The Army has paved the way for a court martial against the Captain and the JCO. A Court of Inquiry, which recorded the evidence, and a Summary of Evidence, a process that collects evidence admissible in a military court, have already been completed. The police chargesheet against the Captain is likely to become part of the proceedings in the military court.
The Summary of Evidence findings, which broadly reflect the findings of the police, are now with the Judge Advocate General branch of the Army for “validation”. A second officer said the Army was committed to ensuring justice in the case. “It is a critical case, and we have acted with great speed as soon evidence came up in a preliminary inquiry that something was amiss about this encounter. On August 11, a Court of Inquiry was ordered. Normally, a Court of Inquiry gets 90 days, but in this case, because of the importance of this case, everything was wrapped up in 30 days, after which the Summary of Evidence process began immediately,” he said.
He also said that unrelated to the trial of the Captain, the Army was planning to investigate if others in the unit were in any way responsible for the Amshipora incident. “When something goes well, everyone up the hierarchy takes credit. When something goes wrong, everyone up the hierarchy gets the stick. That is the Army’s internal accountability, and that will go on and is not linked to the trial,” this officer said.
A day after the Amshipora encounter, the Commander of 12 Sector RR, Brigadier Ajay Katoch, held a press conference on July 19 to announce that three terrorists had been killed in the encounter, giving detailed account of the “encounter”.
He said the officer and two soldiers accompanying him came under heavy fire, they retaliated, and police and CRPF were also rushed to the spot. He also said the “search party” came under fire from a house and “in the ensuing action, three terrorists were neutralised”.
On the bodies of the terrorists recovered by the search team, Katoch said arms, ammunition and IED material were found. He praised J&K Police for preventing stone pelting by villagers.
The story came apart after a family in Rajouri filed a missing person’s complaint early in August about three of its family members – Imtiyaz Ahmed, Abrar Ahmed and Mohd Ibrar – who had travelled to Kashmir to look for work and had not been in contact since July 16. From photographs on social media of the encounter, they had identified the bodies as those of the three missing family members.
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