Army closes Pathribal fake encounter case; anger in J&K

| | Srinagar
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Army closes Pathribal fake encounter case; anger in J&K

Saturday, 25 January 2014 | Khursheed Wani | Srinagar

Army closes Pathribal fake encounter case; anger in J&K

The Army in Jammu & Kashmir has declared the closure of controversial Pathribal encounter case citing lack of evidence to establish a prima facie case against any of the accused Armymen. The “closure” has drawn flak against the Army with Chief Minister Omar Abdullah announcing to “examine options” to disallow efforts to close or wish away a matter “as serious as Pathribal”.

During the past 14 years, the case has come across many twists including fudging of DNA samples of the deceased’s kin, legal wrangles and Army’s perpetual effort to benefit from the immunity under controversial Armed Forces Act.

The closure of the case by the Army’s Court of Inquiry seeks to exonerate five Army officers of the seven Rashtriya Rifles who have been earlier indicted by the CBI for their involvement in abduction and murder. The CBI sought exemplary punishment against five officers — Brigadier Ajay Saxena, lt Col Brajendra Pratap Singh, Major Sourabh Sharma, Major Amit Saxena and Subedar Idrees Khan — when a chargesheet was filed in a Srinagar court in  2006. The CBI held the five guilty of “cold-blooded murder” of five innocent civilians.

The CBI inquiry had been ordered by then Farooq Abdullah Government after Justice (retd) RC Pandian Commission recommended probe into Chittisinghpora massacre and Pathribal encounter. The Pandian panel inquired indiscriminate firing on a procession at Brakpora. The marchers were demanding whereabouts of five missing men who later turned out to be those killed at Pathribal. Pandian, who indicted CRPF in Brakpora killings, asked authorities to probe these interlinked incidents.

The charred bodies passed off as those of foreign militants were exhumed on April 6, 2000 and identified by the relatives of Juma Khan and his namesake fellow villager, both belonging to tribal Gujjar community, Zahoor Ahmad Dalal, Bashir Ahmad Bhat and Mohammed Yousuf Malik.

The CBI verdict was challenged by the Army in the apex court and pending sanction from the Center to prosecute the guilty, the case lingered for several years. The army received a reprieve when the apex court avoided final verdict and offered options to the army in 2012 to either carry out the proceedings of the case in a civilian court or the Court of Inquiry set up by the army. The Army chose against the trail in civilian court.

Immediately after the apex court’s decision, the Army started proceedings on the case in Nagrota in Jammu. However, most of the witnesses and kin of the deceased showed unwillingness to present before CoI at Nagrota.  The Army later briefly shifted the CoI to Awantipora at the headquarters of counter-insurgency division of the Army, Victor Force.

“The case has since been closed by the Army authorities and intimation given to court of Judicial Magistrate, Srinagar,” an Army spokesman said. He said “a comprehensive and exhaustive effort was undertaken to record evidence against all the accused after it took up the case on apex court directions.”

“Over 50 witnesses have been examined, including a large number of civilian witnesses, State Government and police officials. Forensic, documentary and other relevant evidence has also been taken on record,” he said. “For the convenience of the next of kin of the deceased persons and other civilian witnesses, the team recording the evidence moved to Kashmir Valley to record their statements. Considerable help was provided by the local civil administration”, the statement added.



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