Life term for army men in Assam 'fake counter'

The army personnel from 18 Punjab Regiment based in Dholla in Tinsukia district, still an Ulfa stronghold, had picked up nine youths from different locations between February 17 to 19 soon after Rameswar Singh, general manager of a tea company, was killed by suspected Ulfa militants. (Image for representation only)

Seven army men, including a major general, have been sentenced to life imprisonment in a court martial, 24 years after they had reportedly killed five local youths in eastern Assam’s Tinsukia district in a “fake encounter” for being suspected Ulfa militants.

The court martial also recommended for dismissal of their services.

An army officer confirmed the development saying the sentence was pronounced on Saturday.

A summary general court martial at Dinjan army camp in Tinsukia, had recently convicted Maj Gen A K Lal, Col Thomas Methew, Col R S Sibiren, Capt Dilip Singh, Capt Jagdeo Singh, Naik Albindar Singh and Naik Shivendar Singh.

The Supreme Court in 2012 had asked the army to decide the mode of trial —a court martial or judicial trial for the seven who were charge sheeted by the CBI in the reported fake encounter case registered in the Guwahati High Court in February, 1994. The high court registered the case based on a complaint of fake encounter filed by Jagadish Bhuyan, now a BJP leader and then vice-president of Tinsukia district unit of All Assam Students’ Union.

The army personnel from 18 Punjab Regiment based in Dholla in Tinsukia district, still an Ulfa stronghold, had picked up nine youths from different locations between February 17 to 19 soon after Rameswar Singh, general manager of a tea company, was killed by suspected Ulfa militants.

Fearing that the nine youths could be killed by the army, Bhuyan had filed a habeas corpus (a petition to produce an arrested person before a court or a magistrate) in the Guwahati High Court on February 22, 1994.

The court asked the army to produce the nine immediately before the nearest magistrate, but on the same night the army claimed that five Ulfa militants had been killed inside Dibru Saikhowa reserve forest in an encounter. The five deceased were Prabin Sonowal, Pradip Dutta, Debajit Biswas, Akhil Sonowal and Bhaben Moran.

“The Army had tortured the five youths so badly that they could not be produced before the magistrate. So the army men took them to the forest and killed five of them, while four were released. So, I filed a petition in the high court the next day, following which, the court registered a case. And after several hearings, a CBI inquiry was ordered. The seven army persons were found guilty, and a court martial was ordered. But the army moved the Supreme Court against the order. The Supreme Court also upheld the high court order,” Bhuyan said on Sunday.

“This has not just given justice to the five families, but has also glorified the sanctity of our democracy, judiciary and the discipline of our defence forces. This has again proved that those playing mischief with our democratic values ultimately get the punishment,” he said.

Debasish Biswas, elder brother of Debajit, one of the deceased, told DH on Sunday that the judgment came as a relief. “Finally, we got justice and we thank all who stood behind us when we made rounds of the police stations, army camp and courts for justice,” he said.

Assam has seen widespread protests against the “fake encounter.”

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Life term for army men in Assam 'fake counter'

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