A Srinagar court has allowed General Court Martial proceedings to be held against the five army officers facing charges in the killing of five civilians in south Kashmir’s Pathribal area in 2000.
“In view of the options having being exercised by competent military authority for trial by army court, criminal court lacks jurisdiction to try the case initiated on the basis of FIR registered on February 14, 2003,” said chief judicial magistrate (CJM) Rajeev Gupta in his order passed on Wednesday this week.
The court direction came after the Army sought transfer of the case from the CJM court in Srinagar to its own court. The court has directed transferring of the records, including the chargesheet and other material evidence to the army court.
The latest development in the 12-year-old Pathribal killing case has come after the Supreme Court on May 1, 2012 asked the army to opt for an option, “either to prosecute the five soldiers in a military court or a civil court within two months”.
In 2000, immediately after 35 Sikhs were killed in south Kashmir’s Chattisinghpora area by unidentified gunmen, the army claimed to make a breakthrough in the case by killing five “militants”. Later, the five killed militants turned out to be civilians from local villages.
The five army men, identified by the CBI for having a role in the killings, were Brigadier Ajay Saxena, Lt Col Brajendra Pratap Singh, Major Sourabh Sharma, Major Amit Saxena and Subedar Idrees Khan. The CBI charge-sheeted the army men in 2006 for “killing five civilians and later dubbing them as foreign militants”.
Reacting to the development, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah said he wants justice to be done in a transparent manner. “The proceedings and results must be shared with the public… make sure the proceedings go ahead and guilty are brought to book and punished,” said Omar, who is adamant to revoke the Armed Forced Special Powers Act, which gives impunity to the army during anti-insurgency operations.
A victim family, however, has expressed apprehensions at shifting of the case to the army court.
“It was on the basis of fair report by the CBI that the SC described the killings as cold blooded murder. Shifting the case to the army court is saddening. We never get to know the court martial proceedings. They are never made public,” said Rashid Khan, son of one of the victims Jumma Khan.
Timeline of the case
1) March 20, 2000: On eve of former US president Bill Clinton’s visit to India in March 2000, 35 Sikhs were massacred by unknown gunmen.
2) March 25, 2000: Army claims killing seven foreign LeT militants in Pathribal involved in the incident.
3) On April 3, 2000: Security forces open firing on local protesters, killing seven at Brakpora, while demanding exhumation of the bodies and whereabouts of five missing youth from Pathribal.
4) October 31, 2000: Justice Pandian committee was asked to investigate Pathribal and Barkpora killings.
5) April 6, 2002: DNA profiling confirms the killed persons were civilians
6) In 2007, the SC stayed high court proceedings on an army plea that it can’t prosecute without permission from the Centre
7) March 2012: CBI told the SC it was a cold-blooded murder and no sanction was required to prosecute the army personnel
8) May 1, 2012: Supreme Court asks the army either to opt for civil court prsecution or try in the army court