Shock, anger and disbelief has swept across Kashmir Valley after Indian army gave clean chit to five of its soldiers accused in the infamous Pathribal fake encounter. Five army men — Brigadier Ajay Saxena, Lieutenant Colonel Brajendra Pratap Singh, Major Sourabh Sharma, Major Amit Saxena and Subedar Idrees Khan — were chargesheeted by CBI in 2006 for killing five civilians after branding them militants in Pathribal village of south Kashmir’s Anantnag district.
A court of enquiry constituted by the army following the Supreme Court judgment in March 2012 has allegedly not found any prima facie evidence against the accused.
“The evidence recorded could not establish a prima 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,” said a defence spokesman at Jammu.
The spokesman noted that comprehensive and exhaustive efforts were undertaken to record the evidences against all the accused persons. “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.
For the convenience of the next of kin of the deceased persons and other civilian witnesses, the team recording the evidence moved to the Valley to record their statements,” he said
The incident dates back to 2000 when security forces branded five innocent men as militants and killed them in Pathribal village. Before burying them their bodies were charred beyond recognition.
J&K government ordered the exhumation of the bodies of Pathribal killings and their DNA samples were sent to forensic laboratories in Hyderabad where it was found that the samples were fudged. The case was handed over to the CBI which had chargesheeted the army officers in 2006.
However, the army invoked the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which provides immunity to the army personnel deployed in the areas declared disturbed by the government. The CBI, however, had argued that the accused army officers involved in the fake encounter have no immunity and demanded stern punishments for them. After years of legal battle between CBI and army the Supreme Court in 2012 gave the army eight weeks to decide whether the officers accused of the fake encounter should be tried by court-martial proceedings or by regular criminal courts.
Eighteen months after trying the men in their own court, the army has closed the case without punishing anyone triggering a chain reaction from various sections in Jammu and Kashmir.
Leading the charge is chief minister Omar Abdullah who vent his feelings on twitter against the judgment. “A matter as serious as Pathribal can’t be closed or wished away like this more so with the findings of the CBI so self evident… Extremely disappointed with the decision of the army regarding Pathribal. Will ask the Law Dept & Advocate General to examine options,” Omar tweeted.
Main opposition People’s Democratic Party describing the verdict as miscarriage of justice said developments like this make restoration of credibility in institutions among the people of J&K even more difficult. “There are many instances in which standards of justice applied to incidents taking place in J&K have been found short of the universal standards applied in rest of the country, Pathribal atrocity stood out even among them for its cruelty and context,” said Mufti Mohommad Sayeed, PDP patron.