Key witness in Tahir Sofi case picked up by army, handed over to police

Srinagar: A key witness in the killing of a young Baramulla scholar by the army, in 2013, was detained by Rashtriya Rifles soldiers on Saturday and handed over to the police, triggering a sharp reaction from the family of the slain youth who had two days earlier accused soldiers of harassing witnesses.
Shabir Ahmad Bhat of Mohalla Khwaja Sahab was picked up by the soldiers of 46 RR near Masjid-e-Rashad when he was returning home from Deewan Bagh for lunch break, witnesses told Kashmir Reader.
The 46 RR is the same unit against whom a government-appointed inquiry committee is probing the charges of killing Tahir Sofi, resident of Baramulla, on March 5, 2013.
A private contractor, Shabir was later shifted by the army to Baramulla police station, where he was detained till the last reports came in.
“He has no connection with militancy and he has never been part of any stone pelting protests. Army is harassing him because he is a key witness in Tahir Sofi’s killing,” Shabir’s close relative, who insisted not to be named due to fear of reprisal from army, told Kashmir Reader.
Shabir, a close friend and business partner of Tahir had deposed before the then Additional District Magistrate, Baramulla, Manzoor Ahmad Qadri, who was appointed inquiry officer by the state government following outrage against the killing. Shabir has also recorded his statement before the sessions court, Baramulla.
Tahir, 27, son of Ghulam Rasool Sofi, of Ganai Hamam, was killed while another youth Muhammad Abbas Lalu was injured when soldiers of 46 Rashtriya Rifles fired upon a group of youth near the Old Town Baramulla.
The killing sparked anti-India demonstrations across the Valley, prompting the administration to order a probe.
“Even warning shots by the troops of 46 RR could have scared away the youth. Instead, they opened fire that resulted in the loss of one innocent life. There seems to be no valid reason in the action taken by personnel of 46 RR resulting in the death of Sofi and injury to Lalu who has been rendered handicapped for life,” Qadri had written in his report.
Before Shabir, his relative said, four more witnesses had been
detained and harassed by the police at the behest of the army. He identified them as Sajad Ahmad Khan, Zubair Ahmad Bhat, Javed Ahmad Najar, and Javed Ahmad Gojri.
“Police told us that Shabir will be released after two days. When we asked them on what grounds has he been detained, they didn’t answer. His detention is not only unlawful but also amounts to harassment. Is this PDP’s healing touch?” he said.
Meanwhile, the family of Tahir Sofi said that Shabir’s detention has vindicated their stand that the witnesses in the case were being subjected to harassment by the army and police.
“The witnesses have been harassed to such an extent that they don’t visit us anymore. It was only Shabir who visited us on Tahir’s second anniversary. And now, he too has not been spared,” Tahir’s brother Junaid told Kashmir Reader.
He said that Shabir has stood with the family in thick and thin and has not succumbed to the pressure by various government forces.
Station house officer Baramulla Ayaz Geelani told Kashmir Reader the police did not detain any witness in the case.
“Army brought him to us in suspicious circumstances. We are investigating the matter,” he said.