Machhil fake encounter case: Military court suspends life sentence of five convicts

A military court today suspended the life imprisonment sentence awarded to the five  Army personnel who were convicted by  a general court martial  in the Machhil Fake encounter case, reports said.

According to the reports, the armed forces tribunal also granted them bail in the case related to the death of three civilians in Kashmir Valley in 2010 where the accused were dismissed from service and given jail terms allegedly under pressure from the then National Conference government in the state.

Colonel Dinesh Pathania, Captain Upendra, Havildar Devender Kumar, Lance Naik Lakhmi, Lance Naik Arun Kumar from 4 Rajput Regiment and rifleman Abas Hussain of the Territorial Army were convicted in 2014 for alleged human rights abuse.

‘The armed forces tribunal bench headed by Justice VK Shali suspended the punishment awarded to these personnel and granted them bail in the case,’ Major Anand Kumar and Major SS Pandey, the two lawyers of five Army personnel in the case, a Delhi based daily newspaper reported.

‘The suspension of punishment means that the troops would be out of jail while the court would continue to hear the case on the trial conducted by the force against them.’

The Army investigation and order in the case also came under criticism as the force had ‘failed to establish the chain of evidences to confirm the circumstantial evidence which was relied upon by the Army court martial to convict the personnel.’

There was a public outcry after photographs of those killed in the alleged encounter were released, as relatives and neighbours of the slain persons claimed that the three men were framed and killed in a stage-managed gunfight and they were not connected with militancy in any way.

All the five personnel have been languishing in different prisons across the country: Col Pathania is lodged in the Nahan jail in Himachal Pradesh while Captain Upendra is in a jail in Rajasthan’s Ajmer city. Two of the soldiers are in Meerut jail while Lance Naik Lakhmi is in the Bharatpur prison.

Pointing to loopholes in the Army’s investigations, Major Anand said that according to the police and Army theories, a person called Bashir was responsible for handing over the three deceased – Reyaz Ahmad, Mohammad Shafi and Shahzad Ahmad – to the 4 Rajput Rifles, but he was not even questioned by the court martial in its proceedings.

The Army had completed the trial in the case in December 2013 but it took almost two more years to confirm the sentence, in September 2015.

Here is the Timeline of the case:

April 29, 2010: Relatives of three civilians, all residents of Nadihal village in north Kashmir, file a missing persons report

April 30, 2010: Army claims it has killed three infiltrators at Machil near the Line of Control

May 28, 2010: Bodies are exhumed after relatives identify the clothes of the victims in a police station.

June 2010: Chief judicial magistrate records statements of a senior police officer and three constables from north Kashmir’s Kalaroos police station. The army also starts Court of Inquiry against the accused soldiers.

December 2011: The army invokes the Army Act to seek transfer of Machil fake encounter case from criminal court to court martial on grounds that accused army personnel were on active duty

December 2013: The army announces court martial of six accused soldiers.

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