Army on Thursday challenged the authority of the police for charge-sheeting five soldiers of 13-RR for killing an Imam (religious preacher) Molvi Shoukat of a local mosque in Srinagar in a staged shootout, and later passing him off as a Pakistani terrorist of Lashkar-e-Toiba.
The Army authorities submitted an application in the court of Chief Judicial Magistrate Srinagar, where the case was listed for hearing on Thursday saying that the police had no competence to produce a charge-sheet against an Army personnel without prior permission from the central government. The Army and other central forces have been armed with special powers under Armed Forces Special Powers Act of 1990 and have legal immunity for their actions unless approved by the central government.
Molvi Shoukat, a resident of Banihal, had gone missing from Srinagar's Hawal locality, where he was praying in a mosque, on October 5, 2006. The disclosure of killing of civilians in the fake encounter by a ring of Special Operation Group (SOG) in February this year, led to the recovery of Molvi's body from a graveyard at Ajas on February 29.
A police team investigating the infamous scandal found a civilian Molvi Ashraf, five SOG men including former SSP Ganderbal HR Parihar, his deputy Bahadur Ram, sub-inspector Farooq Ahmad Guddo and constables Manzoor Malik and Tariq Lone and five soldiers of 13-RR involved in the kidnapping and killing of Molvi Shoukat in a stage-managed encounter at Ajas and then passing him off as a Pakistani terrorist.
The investigating team produced a charge sheet against the accused in the court of Chief Judicial Magistrate on April 12. The accused were charged under sections 120 B (criminal conspiracy), 364 (kidnapping) and 302 (premeditated, cold-blooded murder).
The case was listed for hearing on Thursday. However, the Army authorities two days back (on Tuesday) presented an application before the court challenging the legal validity of the police action. The Army told the court that the police had not sought approval from the central government before filing the charge-sheet as was needed under law.
The court issued a notice to the state government on Thursday to file objections within two weeks. The case has been listed for another hearing on April 18.
The accused SOG men are already in police custody. They are facing charges in another fake encounter case, wherein Abdul Rahman Paddar, a carpenter of Kokernag, was alleged to have been done to death in Ganderbal by them. Padder's case came up for hearing in the court of District Principal and Session's Court. The accused have been asked by the court to engage a lawyer. The next hearing has been fixed on April 12.