Completing general court-martial proceedings in less than a year, an Army court has recommended life imprisonment for a captain in connection with the killing of three men in a "staged" encounter in Amshipura in south Kashmir in July 2020, officials said on Sunday.
Captain Bhoopendra Singh was subjected to court martial after a Court of Inquiry and Summary of Evidence found that troops had "exceeded" powers vested under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), they said. The life sentence is subject to confirmation by higher army authorities, the officials said. Declining to comment, the army sources said the process involved in such matters is still on.
The three men hailing from Rajouri district of Jammu region - Imtiyaz Ahmed, Abrar Ahmed and Mohammed Ibrar - were killed in a remote hilly village in Shopian district on July 18, 2020 and labelled as "terrorists". However, as doubts were raised on social media over the killings, the Army promptly constituted a Court of Inquiry which found prima facie evidence that the troops had "exceeded" powers vested under AFSPA.
The Court of Inquiry was followed by the Summary of Evidence, which was completed in the last week of December 2020. The Army had issued a statement saying "the process of recording the Summary of Evidence has been completed."
"The same is being examined by the authorities concerned in consultation with legal advisors for proceeding further. The Indian Army is committed to the ethical conduct of operations," it had said.
The officials said the court martial proceedings were then initiated against Captain Singh for violating the powers vested under the AFSPA and for not following the dos and don'ts of the Army as approved by the Supreme Court. The Army had also called Mohammed Yusuf, the father of Abrar Ahmed, from Rajouri for deposing in the court martial proceedings during which he was asked to provide a missing report about his son.
The Jammu and Kashmir Police had also constituted a Special Investigation Team which filed a charge sheet against three people, including Captain Singh, for "staging a fake encounter". Jammu and Kashmir Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha had visited the families in Rajouri in 2020 and conveyed to them Prime Minister Narendra Modi's message that the government stood with the aggrieved families and they would be taken care of with all support from the government.
The identity of the three youths was subsequently confirmed through a DNA test. The bodies were handed over to their families in Baramulla in October 2020 and buried in their native village in Rajouri. Yusuf told PTI from Rajouri that after the killing of his son, the family was in shambles. "The compensation of Rs 5 lakh handed over by the government has been consumed in fighting the case.
"Now his child is also growing and the promise of the government to provide a job to one of the family members is still pending," Yusuf said. The SIT charge sheet alleged that Captain Singh provided wrong information to his superiors and the police about the recovery made during the staged encounter.
The other two named by the police in its charge sheet are Tabish Nazir and Bilal Ahmed Lone, both civilians. "By staging the encounter," the three accused "have purposefully destroyed evidence or real crime that they have committed and also have (been) purposefully projecting false information as part of a criminal conspiracy hatched between them with the motive to grab" cash rewards, it said.
The army had, however, denied that its captain staged the encounter for a cash reward, saying there was no such system for its personnel for any acts in combat situations or otherwise in the line of duty.