Seven Armymen, including a Major General, were sentenced to life imprisonment through a court martial on Saturday in connection with the killings of five civilians associated with a prominent students’ body in 1994 in Assam’s Tinsukia district.
A defence source said that the order has not been cleared by higher authorities yet. “Summary General Court Martial held at Dinjan has pronounced judgment in an encounter case of 1994. The judgment needs to be confirmed by the competent authority and this may take 2-3 months. The judgment is against three officers, and four junior commissioned officers and other ranks,” the source said.
Five youths — Prabin Sonowal, Pradip Dutta, Debajit Biswas, Akhil Sonowal, Bhaben Moran — were reportedly picked up by the Army on the night of February 18, 1994 and their bodies recovered on February 23 in a forest area. Sonowal was an office bearer of All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) while the other four were associated with the outfit.
The petitioner in the case, then AASU vice-president Jagadish Bhuyan, said he had filed a Habeus Corpus petition in the Gauhati High Court on February 22, following which the high court had ordered that the detained men be presented before the nearest magistrate.
“After their bodies were recovered the next day, the Army claimed that they were extremists, I again filed a petition in the High Court. The court had subsequently ordered a CBI enquiry,” Bhuyan, who is now the Chairman of the Assam Petrol-Chemicals Limited, a PSU of the government of Assam, said.
Bhuyan said that the CBI had recommended court martial and the HC had accepted that. The case went to the Supreme Court and eventually, a court martial was conducted.
“This order is really important because it shows how strong Indian judiciary, Indian Army’s discipline and the democratic system of our country are. This order shows that anyone in this country can get justice. I am thankful to the High Court, the Supreme Court and the Indian Army,” said Bhuyan.