The army has decided to court-martial six soldiers, including two officers, who stage-managed an encounter in north Kashmir's Machil area and killed three civilians three years ago.
A court of inquiry, headed by Major Gen GS Sangah, who was a brigadier of 68 Mountain Division in 2010, has ascertained the role of the accused and ordered a court martial.
The move has come two years after the army invoked the Army Act to seek the transfer of the Machil fake encounter case from the criminal court to the court martial on the grounds that the accused army personnel were on active duty and discretion lay with the army for initiating proceedings before any court.
On April 29 2010, army personnel killed three youths in the Machil sector of Kupwara district, dubbing them unidentified foreign militants. However, the police investigation described them as locals of Nadihal Rafiabad in Baramulla district. The youths, Reyaz Ahmad, Mohammad Shafi and Shahzad Ahmad, were allegedly lured by former special police officer (SPO) Bashir Ahmad Lone and his accomplices to Machil on the pretext of jobs and later handed over to the army for Rs 50,000 each. Their bodies were exhumed on May 28, 2010. The incident evoked condemnation across the valley, with separatists organising shutdowns and street protests.
An army colonel, two majors, five soldiers, one Territorial Army personnel and two civilians were named by the Jammu and Kashmir Police as the accused in its chargesheet filed before the chief judicial magistrate (CJM) in 2010.
However, the army didn't hand over the accused to the police and moved an application before the CJM, Sopore, seeking court martial proceedings in the case.
The CJM had then rejected the court martial option for the accused army personnel. However, the state government did not file any objection to the army trial of the accused in their court.
A leading local newspaper in Srinagar quoted army sources as "ordering exemplary punishment against the accused in the case."
In the chargesheet filed before the civilian court, the army men are facing charges under sections 302 (murder), 364 (abduction), 120-B (criminal conspiracy) and 34 (common intent) of the Ranbir Penal Code (RPC).
The soldiers facing court martial with charges such as kidnapping and murder may face life sentence once the roles of the accused are established.