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Army gives clean chit to Pathribal 5

Srinagar, Jan. 24: The army has given a clean chit to five officers in the 2000 Pathribal fake encounter case in which five civilians were branded foreign militants responsible for a Sikh massacre and shot dead.

A defence spokesperson in Jammu said a court of inquiry set up on the Supreme Court’s March 2012 order had not found any prima facie evidence against the accused, triggering outrage across the state and drawing comments from chief minister Omar Abdullah.

“The evidence recorded could not establish a prima facie case against any of the accused persons,” the spokesperson said.

The Pathribal incident took place in 2000 when then US President Bill Clinton was visiting the country. Days after 35 Sikhs were massacred in Chhattisinghpora village, the security forces claimed to have killed the five “foreign militants” responsible for it.

After it emerged that the five victims were civilians picked up by the security forces from a village near Chhattisinghpora, the case was handed to the CBI.

In 2006, the agency claimed that five army personnel — Brig. Ajay Saxena, Lt Col Brajendra Pratap Singh, Maj. Sourabh Sharma, Maj. Amit Saxena and Subedar Idrees Khan — were involved in the gunning down of the civilians and dubbing them foreign militants.

The CBI said it had enough evidence to show the killings were “extra-judicial executions” that amounted to “cold-blooded murder”. It said its probe had shown the victims were civilians — Juma Khan, 53, Bashir Ahmad Bhat, 26, Mohammad Yousuf Malik, 38, Zahoor Ahmad Dalal and another 38-year-old person.

After a long court battle over the army resisting the CBI move to prosecute its five officers, the Supreme Court rapped the army for “blocking” justice. After this, the army ordered the court of inquiry, which today gave the officers a clean chit.

The army spokesperson said the inquiry had established that it was a joint operation by the police and the army based on specific intelligence, but did not clarify if it was staged. “The case has since been closed…” he said.

Chief minister Abdullah said a “matter as serious as Pathribal can’t be closed or wished away like this”. Voicing disappointment, he said he would ask the law department to examine options.

The clean chit has distressed the families of victims. “The army can kill us anytime now because it is now established that there is no rule of law in the state. We are all dead scared. Nobody is going to sleep in our house tonight,” said Abdul Rasheed Khan, whose father Juma Khan was one of the civilians killed.