Army closes Pathribal ‘fake encounter’ case

‘Couldn’t establish prime-facie case against accused, but established joint operation by Police, Army’

UMER MAQBOOL

Srinagar, Jan 23: Eight years after the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) charged five Army men, including four officers and a Junior Commissioned Officer, with murder of five civilians in Pathribal area of south Kashmir’s Islamabad (Anantnag) district in 2000, Army Thursday said it has closed the case “because the evidence recorded couldn’t establish a prime-facie case against any of the accused.”
An Army spokesman said it has closed the case “as evidence recorded by it clearly established that it was a joint operation by the Police and the Army.”
“The evidence recorded could not establish a prime-facie case against any of the accused persons but clearly established that it was a joint operation by the Police and the Army, based on specific intelligence. The case has since been closed by the Army authorities and intimation given to Court of Judicial Magistrate, Srinagar,” the spokesman said.
The Army had taken up the case from the Civil Court in 2012 following the Supreme Court directions while it has earlier challenged the charge-sheet filed by the CBI, which described the killings as a cold-blooded murder. Brigadier Ajay Saxena, Lt Col Brajendra Pratap Singh, Major Sourabh Sharma, Major Amit Saxena and Subedar Idrees Khan were charge-sheeted by the CBI in 2006 for killing five civilians and later dubbing them as foreign militants.
As per the CBI, five civilians were killed and branded as militants, days after 35 Sikhs were killed in Chattisingpora village, nearer to Pathribal. The CBI filed the charge-sheet against the accused army officers in 2006 but the Army contested its maintainability on the grounds that prior sanction from the Government of India was required under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which provides immunity against prosecution to Army personnel deployed in ‘disturbed’ areas.
In 2012, the Supreme Court gave the Army eight weeks to decide whether the officers accused of the fake encounter in Pathribal should be tried by court-martial proceedings or by regular criminal courts.  The CBI argued before the Apex Court that army officers involved in the “fake encounter” have no immunity from prosecution.  The CBI sought exemplary punishment for the accused.
According to Thursday’s Army handout, “a comprehensive and exhaustive effort was undertaken to record evidence against all the accused persons 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,” the Army claimed.
“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 Army said.
The Army said “it is very sensitive to all allegations of human rights and makes sure that due process of law is followed and action taken against the accused persons.”
“The Army had earlier in the alleged Machhil case ordered Court Martial against six accused Army persons and the Court Martial proceeding are currently in progress,” the handout read.

BACKGROUND
Five days after the killing of 35 Sikhs in Chattisinghpora, on 25 March 2000, army killed five men at Pathribal village of Islamabad (Anantnag) district claiming they were “foreign militants” responsible for the Chattisinghpora massacre.
Official reports claimed that the Army men had, after a gunfight, blown up the hut where the men were hiding, and had retrieved five bodies that had been charred beyond recognition. The bodies were buried separately without any post-mortem.
Locals, however, raised the finger of suspicion over the Army claim, pointing that if there had been a gunfight, some of the soldiers would also have sustained injuries. Later, locals began to protest, asserting that the slain men were ordinary civilians who had been killed in a fake encounter.
On March 30, local authorities in Islamabad district relented to growing public pressure and agreed to exhume the bodies and conduct an investigation into the deaths.

THE BARAKPORA KILLINGS
With no action being taken with regard to the promised investigation into the Pathribal killings, the local population grew increasingly restless. On 3 April 2000, an estimated 4000 to 5000 protesters started marching towards the Islamabad town, where they intended to present a memorandum to the Deputy Commissioner, demanding exhumation of the bodies. When they reached Brakpora village, 3 kilometers from Islamabad town, the paramilitary CRPF men posted in a nearby camp and personnel of Special Operation Group (SOG) of Police opened fire on the protesters killing seven civilians and injuring at least 15.

TAMPERED DNA SAMPLES
On 5 April 2000, then Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah ordered exhumation of bodies from Pathribal killings, which began the the next day. DNA samples were collected from the five bodies as well as 15 relatives of the missing young men, and were submitted to forensic laboratories in Kolkata and Hyderabad. However it was discovered that the DNA samples taken from the bodies of the Pathribal victims (all of whom were men) had been tampered with, and, according to a report, lab workers found that samples had in fact been collected from females. Fresh samples were collected later, which, upon testing, conclusively proved that the victims were innocent local civilians, and not “foreign militants”, as officials had been claiming for the past two years.
Meanwhile, the then government ordered a judicial enquiry into Pathribal case and Brakpora firing under Justice S R Pandian.
Later, the Pathribal case was handed over to the CBI.

Lastupdate on : Thu, 23 Jan 2014 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Thu, 23 Jan 2014 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Fri, 24 Jan 2014 00:00:00 IST




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