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Army officers express dismay over suspension of sentence in Machhil encounter

Army officers express dismay over suspension of sentence in Machhil encounter
Family members and relatives of Machil fake encounter victims protest against suspension of life sentence to convicted army men. Pic: Indian Express

Srinagar: The Senior Army officers have shown dismay over the decision of Armed Forces Tribunal (ATF) that suspended the sentence and granted the Army persons bail in the fake encounter of three Kashmiri civilians.

These Army persons had killed the three in 2010 in Kashmir, which had put them behind the bars. However, their sentence was dismissed by ATF and they were granted bail last week.

Lt Gen D S Hooda (retd), who confirmed the life sentences as Northern Army Commander, told The Indian Express, “I can’t comment on the AFT ruling. It’s not really my place to do so. However, the case went through the whole process of the military judicial system over a period of more than five years. There are well-established practices which were followed and any criticism of the Army is not really justified.”

A senior officer, closely associated with the case said: “Between 2010 and 2015, from the time the court of inquiry was ordered to when the court-martial judgment was confirmed, many officers were involved in the process, including multiple corps commanders and Army commanders. The AFT seems to imply that everything was vitiated and done in bad faith during those five years. To blame it on political pressure or malafide intention of any one officer is incorrect.”

What had happened last week:

The AFT’s Delhi bench suspended the life sentence of five personnel, including a colonel and a captain who were convicted by a General Court Martial in 2015 of staging the killing of three Kashmiri civilians at Macchil in 2010 and branding them as foreign militants.

Read More: ‘Terrorists wear Pathan suit’: Tribunal justified bail for Machil soldiers

The five included Col Dinesh Pathania, Commanding Officer of 4 Rajput; Captain Upendra, then holding a field rank of Major; Havildar Devendra Kumar; Lance Naik Lakhmi; Lance Naik Arun Kumar; and, Rifleman Abbas Hussain Shah of Territorial Army.

In September 2015, based on the unequivocal advice of the legal branch of his headquarters, Lt Gen Hooda had confirmed their sentence.

Officers involved in the confirmation process said that the minimum punishment for murder is life imprisonment, which cannot be reduced, and that it is “very difficult for any commander to go against legal advice”. When contacted, official sources in the Army said, “It is not prudent to speak on the matter as the case is sub-judice.”