Family members of three men killed in a “staged” encounter in south Kashmir’s Amshipora in July 2020 have dubbed as “grave injustice” the suspension of the life sentence of the Army captain and the grant of bail to him in the case.
As the news of the armed forces tribunal granting the relief to Captain Bhoopendra Singh reached the village in Rajouri district the men were from, their grieving families vowed not to remain silent and decided to move a higher court.
Suspending the sentence, the tribunal granted conditional bail to Singh and directed him to appear before its principal registrar at regular intervals from January next year.
The three men hailing from Rajouri district of Jammu region — Imtiyaz Ahmed, Abrar Ahmed and Mohammed Ibrar — were killed in the remote hilly village in Shopian district on July 18, 2020, and labelled as “terrorists”.
Refusing to accept the tribunal’s decision, the families said they would take the matter to a higher court, seeking justice for their sons and hoping to unmask the truth behind the fateful encounter.
“We are poor people and feel we were denied justice… We were expecting the death sentence for the captain for killing three innocents in cold blood… We will not stay silent and challenge the order of the tribunal,” Sabir Hussain, the father of Abrar Ahmed, told PTI over the phone from Rajouri.
Bagha Khan, the father of Imtiyaz Ahmed, said the three victim families would fight for justice together. “We will move the higher court and appeal against the order of the tribunal. This is not acceptable to us as a compensation of Rs five lakh and a job with a salary of Rs 14,000 is not worth the lives of our children,” he added.
As they prepare for the legal battle ahead, the families said they found solace in the support and solidarity garnered from their community and beyond. The village stands united, rallying behind them and demanding accountability for the lives lost and justice for the innocent souls taken too soon, the family members added.
Echoing similar views, Mohammad Yousuf, the father of Ibrar, said, “It is an arduous path filled with challenges and obstacles, but my faith remains unshaken, fuelled by the memories of my son and the conviction that truth will prevail.”
The three families are convinced that their fight for justice would not only bring closure to their own shattered lives but also shed light on the larger issue of human rights and the need for accountability in times of conflict.
“The Court of Inquiry proved that they were innocents who had gone there (Shopian) for work. During the court-martial, I visited Kashmir hundreds of times and used to stay for days together in Srinagar to ensure justice is done,” Yousuf said.
“When the Court of Inquiry awarded a life sentence to the captain, we felt happy that justice was done to us,” he said.
However, the latest court verdict has reopened old wounds. Yousuf said. “We feel disappointed and do not know where we should make an appeal for justice. I have lost a desire to live and now my Allah will provide me justice.”
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 the 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 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 the tribunal.
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 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 that 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.–(PTI)