Armed Forces Judge Defends Army's Use of Human Shield, Wants '100 Stone Pelters' Shot

Air Marshal (Retd) Anil Chopra is a member of the Armed Forces Tribunal, where courts martial are appealed. But his tweets raise questions about his impartiality.

New Delhi: It took only 140 characters for Air Marshal  (Retd.) Anil Chopra, who is a serving member of the Lucknow bench of the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) to raise questions about the impartiality of the legal mechanism that is meant to handle appeals in cases involving crimes and misdemeanours by soldiers and officers of the Indian army.

On April 12, soon after a video showing Kashmiri protestors heckling security forces on election duty started circulating on social media, Chopra – a highly decorated retired air force officer – took to Twitter to advocate that a hundred “stone-pelters” in Kashmir be shot.

Chopra Tweet

While the Kashmir conflict has been a polarising issue on social media, this is the first time a serving judge or judicial official has  bluntly spoken out in favour of actions whose legality is not only questionable but which may one day end up in a court room that he presides over.

The Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT), is not just the primary internal dispute resolution body of the armed forces but is also the forum where courts martial appeals end up. It has several benches across the county, Chopra serves on the Lucknow bench.

After facing severe criticism and perhaps realising the legal implications of what he had advocated, Chopra deleted his tweet.

However, he did not stop at this. Two days later, when the army was facing widespread criticism over the decision of an officer to use a Kashmiri man, Farooq Ahmad Dar, as a human shield to deter or prevent stone pelting or perhaps simply as a warning to Kashmiri civilians, Chopra applauded this drastic and illegal move as an “innovative idea”. He also said he admired the Indian government’s decision to support the major who came up with this idea.

A look through his Twitter profile suggests Chopra’s political views are aligned with those of the BJP, currently in power in the Centre. While judges and members of tribunals, like all citizens, are entitled to their political views, it is unusual for them to make these public.

However, at a time when Srinagar recorded the worst ever voter turnout in the recently-held by-poll, Chopra’s tweet advocating that a hundred people in the Valley should be killed is likely to further widen the gulf between the public in the valley and the Indian government and its institutions.

Many analysts have said that the abysmally low turnout is a clear message that the Indian state urgently needs to work towards gaining people’s confidence in the Valley instead of following a solely military approach.

Hundreds of major and minor instances of excesses by the security forces have been reported from the Valley in recent times. Such instances have often been seen as one of the primary triggers for protests.

The security forces have always maintained that they have adequate mechanisms to address such concerns and have constantly avoided trials in regular criminal courts. However, Chopra’s tweets, which reflect his prejudices, point to the glaring limits of the armed forces in addressing military abuses in Kashmir internally.

The failure of the army to even prosecute the soldiers and officers indicted by the Central Bureau of Investigation for the Pathribal massacre had raised questions about the impartiality of the court of inquiry held.

Several international protocols, including the Geneva Convention to which India is a signatory, not to speak of Indian laws, make the use of human shields illegal. Yet, Chopra not only defended this act, but also ridiculed those who saw the army action as an abuse of human rights.

For him, the way to peace involves more violence.

“I shared my opinion. The matter is closed. Let the nation decide what is right or wrong,” was Chopra’s response when The Wire asked whether he truly believes that the practice of using human shields in Kashmir is legal. Despite many attempts, The Wire could not reach AFT chairperson Justice Virender Singh for his comments.