Majid Jahangir, Tribune News Service
Srinagar, June 29. The Army has decided to try in a military court five of its officers allegedly involved in the Pathribal fake encounter killing of five civilians in Anantnag district of Kashmir in March 2000.
The Supreme Court had on May 1 given the Army eight weeks to decide whether the accused — Brigadier Ajay Saxena, Lt Col Brijinder Pratap Singh, Major Saurabh Sharma, Major Amit Saxena and Subedar Idrees Khan — should be tried under the Army Act or face criminal trial.
The Bench had also directed the Army to communicate its decision to the Srinagar Chief Judicial Magistrate (CJM). The Army had moved an application on June 26 before the court of CJM Rajeev Gupta and agreed to the trial of the case in a military court. The Army plea was allowed.
“Within the parameters of the Supreme Court judgment, the case is passed to competent Army authorities,” the court order said. The CJM also directed transfer of case documents and chargesheet to military officials.
The CBI had in 2006 indicted five Armymen for killing five civilians and dubbing them as foreign militants. As per the probe, the civilians were killed and branded as militants days after 35 Sikhs were massacred in the nearby Chattisingpora village. All the Armymen were posted out of Kashmir soon after the incident and the force remained silent on their present postings.
On March 25, 2000, the Army and the J&K Police claimed to have killed five Pakistani Lashkar-e-Toiba militants who they claimed were responsible for the killing of 36 Sikhs in South Kashmir’s Chattisinghpora. The killing of Sikhs had happened ahead of then US President Bill Clinton’s visit to India.
Local residents alleged the Pathribal encounter was stage-managed and those killed were civilians.
The Army and police had jointly given a detailed briefing of the Pathribal operation to then Union Home Minister LK Advani when he visited Chattisinghpora.
After tremendous public pressure, the bodies were exhumed and the Central Forensic Scientific Laboratory established that the five persons killed by the Army were indeed villagers, who had gone missing from different places in the area.
After the CFSL report, the Pathribal case was handed over to the CBI. In February 2003, the CBI registered a case, charging five Army personnel of 7 Rashtriya Rifles with abduction, murder, criminal conspiracy and destruction of evidence.
All the Armymen were posted out of Kashmir soon after the incident and the force remained silent on their present postings.
The Army had resisted the CBI’s move to prosecute the accused in criminal courts, arguing they had immunity against prosecution under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and prior sanction from the Centre was required to do so. The CBI approached the apex court against the Army’s stand.
On May 1, the apex court directed the Army to decide whether its men accused in the Pathribal fake encounter would be court martialled or face criminal trial.
The ruling National Conference has welcomed the Army’s decision. “It’s a welcome step but we demand that the proceedings and results be made transparent so that there is no scope for any allegations or feeling of a cover up,” party spokesman Tanvir Sadiq said.
Relatives of victims were disappointed over the development and said there was little hope for justice. “We have never heard what happens inside the court martial proceedings… the results are never made public,” Rashid Khan, son of one of the victims, Jumma Khan, said. (With PTI inputs)