The Supreme Court (SC) direction on Tuesday in the Pathribal fake encounter case, in which five civilians were allegedly killed by the army in south Kashmir 12 years ago, has raised a glimmer of hope among the victim families but they are guarded in claiming victory “until the personnel involved are not punished”.
“In the last one decade, we have suffered a lot. Finally, we can heave a sigh of relief. It was not a simple case but a well-planned cold-blooded murder of innocent civilians,” said Abdul Rasheed Khan (34), son of victim Juma Khan.
Khan also lost brother Rafiq Khan to security forces’ bullets when he was part of a protest rally demanding justice for his father near Brakpora immediately after the incident.
Most families, however, see the SC direction as the case inching towards justice. “The truth is finally coming to the fore and it was not possible without the CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) investigations. But justice in incomplete till the culprits are handed over exemplary punishment…The case need to be tried in criminal court and not in the army court,” said Shakoor Ahmad (38), son of another namesake victim Juma Khan.
Just five days after 34 Sikhs were massacred by unknown gunmen in south Kashmir’s Chattisinghpora village on March 20 in Anantnag district, the army claimed killing five Lashkar-e-Tayyeba militants at Pathribal involved in the incident. Later, it turned out the killed men were civilian from nearby villages.
The CBI argued before the SC that the killings “were cold-blooded murders and the accused officials deserve to be meted out exemplary punishment.”
“We hope the culprits will not be shielded anymore. The killings were carried out for rewards by those who tout to be protectors,” said Ahmad.
Other five families refused to talk to the media expressing indifference to the SC direction.
But the spotlight on the case, widely reported by the international media, is growing tighter with many seeing it as a testing case to lay foundation for allowing justice to take course in other similar cases in a state wracked by violence in the last two decades.
Kashmir’s leading human rights lawyer Pervaiz Imroz, however, describes the judgment as “unfortunate”. “The CBI contended before the SC that the killings were not in line with the duty, so the SC should not have given the option to seek sanction first from the Centre.
According to the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), only in cases where an act was in line with duty, a sanction was required. Today’s judgment is legal victory for the army,” said Imroz adding, “the case should go to criminal court”.
Imroz said many other victims families of similar fake encounters “may not be encouraged to come forward by the SC direction”.
The SC on Tuesday endorsed that a prior permission of the central government is needed to prosecute army officers. It said the army will decide in eight weeks whether the officer accused of fake encounter will be court Martialled or face criminal trial.
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