South Kashmir Fake Encounter: Captain’s Life Term Suspended, Granted Conditional Bail

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New Delhi: The armed forces tribunal here has suspended the life sentence of an Army captain who was found guilty of killing three men in a “staged” encounter in south Kashmir’s Amshipora village in July 2020.

The tribunal also granted conditional bail to Captain Bhoopendra Singh and directed him to appear before its principal registrar at a regular interval starting from January next year.

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 (COI) which found prima facie evidence that the troops had “exceeded” powers vested under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, or AFSPA. The Court of Inquiry was followed by the summary of evidence, which was completed in the last week of December 2020.

Completing general court martial proceedings in less than a year, an Army court in March this year recommended life imprisonment for Captain Singh, subject to confirmation by higher Army authorities.

In a 25-page order on November 9, the two-member tribunal headed by chairperson justice Rajendra Menon said, “…in our considered view, the evidence relied upon by the prosecution and accepted by the SGCM (Summary General Court Martial) in the present case is not convincing enough to hold the applicant guilty of the charges levelled against him. Prima facie, based on the material available on record we are convinced that likelihood of the applicant being acquitted after hearing of this appeal cannot be ruled out.”

“The applicant has already been in custody for a period of about three years and therefore, it is a fit case where, prima facie, evidence available on record suggests that bail can be granted to the applicant by suspending the sentence,” the tribunal stated.

The tribunal said the totality of the evidence available on record clearly shows that there cannot be any motive for the applicant to eliminate three civilians and conduct such an operation without the knowledge of his senior officer.

“…during the period the applicant is on bail, the sentence of imprisonment for life shall remain suspended. The applicant shall appear before the Principal Registrar of this Tribunal alternatively on first Monday of the month starting from January 2024 so that in case for any further requirement the applicant can be apprehended or contacted and appropriate action taken.

“On the applicant’s breaching any of the conditions stipulated hereinafter, this Tribunal will have the power to recall the order of bail,” the order read.

Responding to the apprehension of life threat to the applicant in case he was handed over to a civil prison in Srinagar, the tribunal said that after promulgation of the sentence by the confirming authority, the applicant shall be shifted to a civil prison in Jammu by the Army authorities under proper escort.

“On the same being done, the concerned Superintendent, Civil Prison shall release the applicant on bail on his furnishing a personal bond in the sum of Rs 50,000 with one surety of the like amount to the satisfaction of the Superintendent, Civil Prison, Jammu and other conditions,” the tribunal said.

The conditions put forth for the bail include that he shall not approach anyone who had testified against him and that he shall surrender his passport to the principal registrar and in case he does not possess a passport, he shall file an affidavit to that effect besides he shall not leave the country without leave of this tribunal.

“As we have only stayed the sentence of conviction to the extent of undergoing the jail sentence, all other punishments like cashiering etc. shall continue to remain in operation during the pendency of this appeal. The sentence of imprisonment for life shall remain suspended during the pendency of the Original Application (seeking stay on the findings and sentence passed by the court martial),” the tribunal said.

Earlier, Captain Singh’s counsel Maj (Retd) Sudhanshu S Pandey confirmed the grant of bail and said the stand of the defence which the (SGCM) had completely disregarded has been vindicated.

“Such conviction of the young officer in this manner would have a very demoralising effect on other officers who are sacrificing their lives for the defence of the nation. It would have led to a bizarre situation where the young officers instead of showing willingness to put their lives at risk for word of command will insist on written orders when such operations are conducted. I express my gratitude for the armed forces tribunal to uphold the rule of law,” he said.

Following the allegations against the Army, 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 of the slain men 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 men 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.

On September 5, the Jammu and Kashmir administration handed over appointment letters for government jobs to family members of the deceased men.(CNI) Current News of India

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