Army closes Pathribal encounter case

Army closes Pathribal encounter case

The Army has closed an investigation against four of its officers and a junior commissioned officer involved in the killing of five civilians in alleged fake encounter in Pathribal in 2000, citing lack of evidence.

The decision came eight years after the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) charged Brigadier Ajay Saxena, Lt Colonel Brajendra Pratap Singh, Major Sourabh Sharma, Major Amit Saxena and Subedar Idrees Khan for killing five civilians and later claiming that those killed were mercenaries who massacred 35 members of the Sikh community at Chittisinghpora in south Kashmir in 2000, while then US President Bill Clinton was on a visit to India.

However, the Army on Thursday evening said it has closed the case “because the evidence recorded couldn’t establish a prime-facie case against any of the accused 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,” a spokesman of the Army said.

Following the Supreme Court directions, the Army had taken up the case from the civil court in 2012, as it had earlier contested the maintainability of the charge sheet, filed by the CBI in 2006 in a civil court, 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.

The CBI investigation had revealed that five civilians were killed and branded as militants by the accused, days after 35 Sikhs were killed in Chattisingpora village, nearer to Pathribal.

According to the Army’s Thursday 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, including a large number of civilian witnesses, state government and police officials were examined. Forensic, documentary and other relevant evidence has also been taken on record,” the Army claimed.

The Army’s Court of Inquiry (CoI) recorded the statements of the witnesses in Kashmir as none of the civilian witnesses agreed to travel to Nagrota, the headquarters of 16 Corps in Jammu, for this purpose.

The Army’s decision to close the case has been slammed by Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and families of the victims.

Five days after the massacre of 35 Sikhs in Chattisinghpora, on 25 March 2000, the Army killed five men at Pathribal claiming they were “foreign militants” responsible for the killings. However, the locals suspected the Army’s claim, asserting that the slain men were civilians who had been killed in a fake encounter.

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