The Armed Forces Tribunal on Wednesday suspended the life imprisonment sentence awarded to the five Army personnel who were convicted by a General Court martial in 2014 for staging the Machil fake encounter. The army court granted them bail in the case related to the killing of three civilian in Kupwara district of North Kashmir in 2010.
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, murder and criminal conspiracy.
“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 said.
‘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.’
On April 29, 2010, the three youth, Shazad Ahmad Khan (27), Riyaz Ahmad Lone (20) and Mohammad Shafi Lone (19), were lured to the higher reaches of Machil near line of control in Kupwara district from their Nadihal village in Baramulla district on the pretext of jobs and good money as porters with the Army. They were then shot dead by the soldiers of 4 Rajput Regiment, then commanded by Colonel Pathania, in the staged encounter. The army had labeled the victims as foreign militants.
The killing had triggered widespread demonstrations across the Valley in 2010.
According to the sources, the army tribunal observed that the accused were dismissed from service and given jail terms allegedly under pressure from the then National Conference government in the state.
The tribunal criticized the Army investigation as the forces 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.
On May 10, 2010 the families of the three men in Nadihal had registered a missing report with the police Station Panzla in Sopore Police district.
According to the reports, the families had told the police that the trio left home with a local counter-insurgent Bashir Ahmad Lone on April 29, 2010 and never returned.
In the intervening night of 29-30 April, the Army claimed to have foiled an effort by militants to infiltrate the Line of Control (LoC) near Kupwara in Kashmir.
Almost after a month after the photographs of those killed in the alleged encounter were released, the 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, there was a public outcry.
As news of the fake encounter began to spread, protests broke out in Srinagar, resulting in clashes with police and paramilitary forces over around four months that saw 123 civilians killed and 537 injured.
Following complaints from relatives of the victims, a Territorial Army jawan and two others were arrested by police.
Eleven persons including nine army officials and two civilians were charged under Sections 302 (murder),364 (abduction),120-B (criminal conspiracy) and 34 (common intent) of the Ranbir Penal Code (RPC).
On November 13, 2014, Army’s general Court martial sentenced five accused to life time imprisonment for killing the three civilian in the fake encounter.
Omar Abdullah, then Chief minister of state had called it a ‘watershed movement’.
“I hope that we never see such #Machil fake encounter type of incidents ever again & let this serve as a warning to those tempted to try,” he had tweeted.
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.
November 2014: Army announced sentencing the accused to life imprisonment.
September 2015: Army court confirmed life sentences to the accused.