The Machil fake encounter case has taken a fresh twist with a military court sentencing a sixth soldier to life imprisonment for the staged killing of three Kashmiri civilians and passing it off as a counter-terror operation in Jammu and Kashmir in 2010.
While the Territorial Army soldier, rifleman Abbas Hussain Shah, was initially exonerated by a military court last November, five soldiers, including a colonel and a captain, were sentenced to life imprisonment.
But a fresh court martial was convened on the orders of Northern Army commander Lieutenant General DS Hooda to re-examine Shah's culpability as he was accused of luring the civilians to Machil on the pretext of offering them jobs, a senior officer told HT.
They were later shot dead by troops in a staged encounter on April 29, 2010. The army described them as Pakistani militants trying to sneak in from the Machil sector along the line of control (LoC). Their bodies were exhumed on May 28, 2010.
"The court martial's recommendations were sent to the reviewing authority (Hooda) for confirmation. The authority confirmed the life sentence awarded to five soldiers but asked the court martial to relook at Shah's case citing legal opinion," he said. The army court reassembled and found Shah's culpability to be proportionate to life sentence.
The controversial killings triggered widespread protests and bloodshed in the Kashmir Valley leading to the death of 113 people.
The punishment awarded to Shah by the second court martial is a clear message that the army - an object of hate and frequent protests due to the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) - will not hesitate to punish unprincipled soldiers.
Court martial proceedings were first ordered against six soldiers in December 2013 in the Machil case. HT reported on December 26, 2013 that if convicted, all accused could get life imprisonment.
Others sentenced to life in prison are the commanding officer of 4 Rajput Regiment Colonel Dinesh Pathania, Captain Upendra, Havildar Devinder and Lance Naiks Arun Kumar and Lakhmi.