Army Court Sentences Captain Involved in Amshipora Fake Encounter to Life Imprisonment

The court has held that Captain Bhoopendra Singh, of the Army’s 62 Rashtriya Rifles then based in South Kashmir’s Shopian district, “exceeded powers vested under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act” during the encounter.

Srinagar: An army court has handed a life sentence to the captain who was involved in the Amshipora fake encounter, in which three youngsters from Jammu and Kashmir’s Rajouri district “were murdered” in a staged gun battle on July 18, 2020 and passed off as militants.

The court has held that Captain Bhoopendra Singh, of the Army’s 62 Rashtriya Rifles then based in South Kashmir’s Shopian district, “exceeded powers vested under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act” during the encounter which took place more than a year after J&K was reduced to a union territory.

The life sentence handed to Captain Singh is “subject to confirmation by higher army authorities, and the process involved in such matters is still on, according to army sources”, reported PTI.

Speaking over the phone from his residence in Rajouri district, Mohammad Yusuf, the father of Abrar Ahmad, 25, one of the three victims of the fake encounter, said that he was happy with the sentence. “The blood of three innocents was spilled that day. The army tried to project them as militants but the truth has finally prevailed,” he said.

The other two victims killed in the staged gun battle were identified as Imtiyaz Ahmad, 19, and Mohammad Ibrar, 16, both Class 12 students. Sabir Hussain, Imtiyaz’s father, said that he worked as a labourer to provide education to his son with the hope that he will take care of the family in coming years.

“My elder son is illiterate. With Imtiyaz’s death, I have lost everything. But the news (of the life sentence to the army captain) has come as a relief. Since his murder, I had lost my sleep. Now my heart will finally rest a little,” he said.

A probe conducted by the J&K Police and army had already held three persons, including two civilians – Tabish Nazir Malik, a resident of Shopian and an army informer, and Bilal Lone, who lives in Pulwama and has turned approver in the case – responsible for hatching a conspiracy to kill the three cousins who belong to poor families in Rajouri’s Tarkassi village.

According to the chargesheet filed by the J&K Police, the army captain and two civilians “committed offences under Sections 302 (murder), 364 (abduction), 201 (causing disappearance of evidence and giving false information), 436 (mischief by fire or explosive substance with intent to destroy house etc), 120 (criminal conspiracy), 182( false information, with intent to cause public servant to use his lawful power to the injury of another person) of the Indian Penal Code and Section 7/25 of the Arms Act (possession of prohibited weapons)”.

Investigation into the case by the J&K Police’s Special Investigation Team, led by deputy superintendent of police Wajahat Hussain, found that the victims had walked on foot all the way from Rajouri to Shopian looking for work at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, when they went missing after renting a room in Shopian’s Chowgam village.

Also read: The Futility of Magisterial Inquiries Into Encounter Killings in Kashmir

In its 1,400-page chargesheet, the J&K Police blamed the army captain, Tabish, whose father unsuccessfully contested urban local bodies elections on a BJP ticket, and Bilal of abducting the trio from their rented accommodation on the evening of July 17, 2020. The chargesheet states that the victims were taken to Amshipora and killed in a makeshift building in an orchard in the wee hours of 18 July, 2020, for monetary benefits.

According to local sources, in the initial days of his posting in Shopian, Singh, the accused army captain, used the alias ‘Aslam’, a Muslim name, to build a rapport with locals in the Chowgam area of Shopian where the accused army unit was deployed. Tabish was one of his informers, according to the police investigation. Singh had claimed before his superiors that he recovered a huge cache of arms and ammunition from the three youngsters after the encounter.

However, the ‘encounter’ claim was clouded under suspicion after the J&K Police dissociated itself from the Amshipora operation, which it said was carried out on an army input and that its forces joined “only later”. The three slain men were buried in a graveyard in North Kashmir and their bodies were exhumed and returned to their families on October 3, 2020.

According to the chargesheet, the army had hired a local cab on July 17, 2020, in which the three slain youngsters were taken to Amshipora and weapons later planted on them were also brought in the same car, blowing the lid off the staged encounter.

Yusuf, Abrar’s father, said that during a meeting with the aggrieved families in 2020, months after the J&K Police exposed the fake encounter, J&K’s Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha had promised jobs to the kin of the three victims. Yusuf, however, alleged that the families have been made to move from one government office to another over the last three years to obtain the sanction for the government jobs.

“Even if the culprits stay in jail for 100 years, it is not going to bring back my son,” Yusuf told The Wire. “I am an old man. His [Abrar’s] wife and five-year-old son are without any support. The government promised to provide a job to his wife but nothing has been done in this regard so far.”

Referring to the recent terror attack on the minority Hindu community in the neighbouring Dhangri village of Rajouri, Yusuf noted that the administration swiftly handed appointment letters to the next of kin of the victims.

Two brothers and a father-son duo were among five civilians from the minority Hindu community who were gunned down in a suspected terror attack in Dhangri village on January 1. Two children lost their lives when an improvised explosive device at the site went off on January 2 morning. On January 21, the administration in Rajouri handed appointment letters to the kin of seven people. “More than two years have passed in our case but we are still waiting for the government to fulfil its promise,” Yusuf said.

The administration had offered Rs 5 lakh cash compensation to the victims’ families after the army’s claim of an encounter was busted by the J&K Police. Sabir, Imtiyaz’s father, however, said that the money has been used up over the last more than two years in visiting the government offices and pursuing the case for government jobs.

“Manoj Sinhaji made two promises to us (in 2020); one was to provide us justice by finding the perpetrators and punishing them, and the second was to provide us jobs. We are still waiting for the second promise to be fulfilled,” Sabir said.