One year after three Kashmiris killed in Kashmir fake encounter, police probe filled with holes

Safwat Zargar

In July last year, security forces in Kashmir claimed to have killed three “unidentified hardcore terror-ists” in an encounter in Amshipora village of Kash-mir’s Shopian district.

The claim unravelled within a month when three families filed missing persons complaints with the police in Jammu’s Rajouri district. Each had a young member working in Shopian as an ordinary labourer. Two of them were men in their twenties, while the third was a teenager. They had last made phone calls to their families on July 17, a day before the purported encounter had taken place.

An army inquiry and a police probe into the en-counter established that the three suspected militants killed in Amshipora were the missing youth from Rajouri.

In October, Jammu and Kashmir Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha visited the three families and assured them that justice will be done.

In December, the Jammu and Kashmir police filed a chargesheet of more than 200 pages against a captain of the Indian Army and two civilians for the alleged abduction and subsequent murder of the three workers.

While the submission of the police chargesheet was seen as an important step in the delivery of justice to the victims’ families, nearly seven months later, the trial is yet to begin. A local court in Shopian has held 13 hearings in the matter since February, but the charges against the accused ha-ven’t been framed yet.

“I don’t even know the government lawyer who is fighting my case,” said Haji Mohammad Yousuf, the father of Mohammed Ibrar, one of the three young workers killed in the Amshipora fake en-counter. “You won’t believe it but I am not even aware of the dates when our case was taken up.” examined the police chargesheet and found it had failed to address several key aspects of the case.

When DNA samples established the truth On July 18, 2020, the Jammu and Kashmir police is-sued a statement saying security forces had con-ducted a search operation in Amshipora on a “spe-cific input by 62RR about the presence of terrorists” – referring to the 62nd unit of the Rashtriya Rifles, which is a counter-insurgency force of the Indian Army.

The police statement claimed the army person-nel led the security operation and before they could be joined by their counterparts from the Jammu and Kashmir police and the Central Reserve Police Force, they came under gunfire from militants. As they retaliated, three militants were killed.

The bodies of the three men were taken to Bara-mulla district, 125 km away, where they were bur-ied after “medico-legal formalities including collec-tion of their DNA”, the police statement said.

No photographs were released by the police at the time, nor were the three slain men identified. A case under FIR No. 42/2020 was registered by the Shopian police detailing the army’s version of the encounter.

On August 9, in Rajouri district of the Jammu region, 160 km from Shopian, three families filed missing persons complaints with the police.

All three families were related. Each had a young member missing since July 17. Two of them were in their twenties – 25-year-old Mohammed Ibrar of Tarkasi village and 20-year-old Imtiyaz Ahmad of Dharsakri village. The youngest, 16-year-old Ibrar Ahmad, was also from Dharsakri. The families said their boys had gone to Shopian to look for work.

With the families’ complaints garnering public attention, the Indian Army launched a formal in-quiry into the Amshipora encounter on August 18.

A month later, the army said it had found “prima facie evidence” that its personnel had mis-used the powers conferred on them under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1990, during the en-counter. It added that disciplinary proceedings under the Army Act had been initiated against them.

A week later, Jammu and Kashmir police an-nounced that DNA samples of the three suspected militants killed by the armed forces in Amshipora in Shopian in July had matched with those of their parents in Rajouri district.

In the first week of October, the bodies of the three labourers were exhumed from the Baramulla graveyard in the presence of family members and handed over to the families.

What the police investigation concluded Five months after the controversial gunfight in Amshi-pora, the Jammu and Kashmir police filed a charge-sheet in the case before the court of Chief Judicial Magistrate, Shopian.

The police investigation had concluded that the three victims were ordinary labourers and had no links with militancy.

The chargesheet identified three men as the accused and stated that a case of murder, abduction and destruction of evidence was “prima facie” established against them.

One of the accused was Captain Bhoopendra Singh alias Major Basheer Khan of 62 Rashtriya Rifles.

He had been put under “closed arrest” by the army on August 15 after a parallel Court of Inquiry had been established into the encounter, the charge-sheet said.

While the Armed Forces Special Powers Act gave the captain immunity from police arrest, he had been interrogated by the Special Investiga-tion Team of the police, which had also recorded his statement, the chargesheet added.

The other two accused were civilians: Tabish Nazir Malik of Chowgam village in Shopian, and Bilal Ahmad Lone of Arabal Nikas village in Pul-wama district. Both had been arrested by police on September 28.

Lone turned an approver in the case – he confessed to being an accomplice and said he was willing to testify as a witness against the other accused.

The source of the weapons Despite Lone turning approver, the chargesheet leaves many vital ques-tions unanswered.

For instance, the source of the weapons that the police concluded were illegally planted on the bodies of the three workers.

On the day of encounter on July 18, the army had claimed that “three unidentified hardcore terror-ists got neutralised” after it launched a Cordon and Search Operation the previous day in Amshipora village.

The operation was based on the army’s “own input” about the presence of “unknown terror-ists” in the village.

These details were part of a complaint before the police by Major Kush, the adjutant of the 62 Rashtriya Rifles unit (Dogra) with its headquarters in Kathuhallen, Shopian.

After receiving a written report about the en-counter from the army, Shopian police filed a First Information Report in the encounter (FIR No: 42/2020) at Heerpora police station.

According to the army’s report to the police, two pistols with two magazines, four empty pistol cartridges, 15 live cartridges and 15 empty car-tridges of the AK Series weapon and “other objec-tionable items were recovered from the encounter site”.

Subsequently, however, an investigation by the police revealed that these weapons seized during the encounter had been planted on the bodies of the three youths.

While the chargesheet said that the weapons were “illegally arranged” by the three ac-cused, the police investigation could not trace the source of these weapons.

The closest lead about the source of illegal weapons came from a Special Police Officer of the Jammu and Kashmir Police, Fayaz Ahmad Rather, a resident of Poonch district who was posted in Srina-gar.

Unlike regular policemen who are recruited through a well-laid out process and paid decent salaries, Special Police Officers are appointed by deputy commissioners under a temporary arrange-ment with meagre salaries.

Jammu and Kashmir has a more than 30,000-strong workforce of Special Police Officers, who aid the regular police in main-taining law and order, gathering intelligence and anti-militancy operations.

In his statement recorded under section 164 of Code of Criminal Procedure, Rather said his relative and friend Tabish Nazir Malik, one of the accused in the case, asked him to meet Bilal Ahmad Lone and Captain Bhoopendra Singh in Srinagar.

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