The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Soldier on death row

New Delhi, March 1: A soldier has been sentenced to death by a court martial in Jammu and Kashmir, an army headquarters source has told The Telegraph.

Senior officers in the headquarters could not recall the last time a court martial gave such a sentence. “Not in the last 25 years,” said one army headquarters source.

The source said Sepoy Suresh Chandra Behera of 28 Rashtriya Rifles has been found guilty and given the death sentence. The order was issued by a Summary General Court Martial (SGCM) on Monday.

It is rare for an army court martial to issue such a sentence even if army law is more rigid than civilian law.

It is understood that Behera was found guilty of premeditated and wilful murder.

Death sentence may be awarded not only for wilful murder but also for treason leading to murder. Under the Army Act, death may be given for mutiny, and cowardice in the face of the enemy.

But while awarding death the army is guided by the Supreme Court directive that it should give such a sentence only in the “rarest of the rare” cases.

An SGCM is convened by the army in field areas. It comprises at least three officers and is distinct from a general court martial of at least five officers.

A soldier has the right to appeal against the sentence to both superior authorities in the army and to a civil court.

Army sources said if the sentence is confirmed, it will be executed by civilian authorities. The soldier will not have to face a firing squad.

Behera has probably been awarded death for shooting and killing Lt Colonel Saket Saxena, his superior in the 28 Rashtriya Rifles, on October 31 last year.

But army headquarters is yet to spell out the circumstances of the death penalty or confirm the sentence.

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