Over four years after the Machil fake encounter that fuelled widespread unrest in Kashmir Valley, five army men including two officers were sentenced to life for gunning down three youths and labelling them as militants, a decision welcomed by Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah today as a “watershed moment”.
Official sources said that the five army men including the then Col D K Pathania, who was the Commanding Officer, and Captain Upendera were held guilty by the Summary General Court Martial (SGCM) which sentenced them to life imprisonment.
The others held guilty were Havaldar Devinder, Lance Naik Lakhmi and Lance Naik Arun Kumar. Another accused, a Subedar, has been let off by the SGCM.
“The sentencing by the SGCM is pending confirmation from the confirmation authority after which the action would be considered legally complete,” an army official said.
“This is indeed a very welcome step,” Chief Minister Omar Abdullah tweeted. “This is a watershed moment. No one in Kashmir ever believed that justice would be done in such cases. Faith in institutions disappeared.
“I hope that we never see such #Machil fake encounter type of incidents ever again and let this serve as a warning to those tempted to try,” he said.
The incident came to light on April 30, 2010 when bodies of three youths were shown by Army as militants who were trying to sneak into the Valley from higher reaches of Machil in North Kashmir with arms and ammunition.
It had later claimed that they were Pakistani terrorists.
However, it was established by the Jammu and Kashmir police that the unemployed youths — Mohamad Shafi, Shehzad Ahmed and Riyaz Ahmed — were residents of Nadihal in Baramulla district and apparently misled on the pretext of giving jobs and later shot dead.
Police had charge sheeted nine people in July 2010 including six Army personnel but had to hand over the probe to the Army after it was assured of holding a detailed inquiry into the incident.
Following the alleged fake encounter, a Territorial Army jawan and two others were arrested by police but the incident led to widespread unrest in the entire Kashmir Valley which left 123 people dead.
The police charge sheet had named Col Pathania, Captain Upender and four others of the unit besides a Territorial Army jawan and two others for allegedly conspiring and kidnapping three youths on the pretext of giving them jobs and later killing them in the higher reaches of Kupwara claiming they were terrorists.
The charge sheet was filed in the court of Chief Judicial Magistrate in Sopore.
Police had arrested three persons Abbas Shah– the Territorial Army jawan, Basharat Lone and Abdul Hamid Bhat-for alleged involvement in the encounter.
These three people will now stand trial once the final report of the Army will be submitted before the Chief Judicial Magistrate in Sopore.
Meanwhile, Amnesty International in a statement aid the decision was a “welcome measure” and “turning point”.