Srinagar: Seven Indian Army personnel, including a major general, have been sentenced to life imprisonment in a 24-year-old fake encounter case in Assam by an army court martial. Five people, members of the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) Prabin Sonowal, Pradip Dutta, Debajit Biswas, Akhil Sonowal and Bhaben Moran, were killed in the fake encounter, and the police had later claimed that those killed were ULFA militants.
Major General A.K. Lal, Colonel Thomas Mathew, Colonel R.S. Sibiren, Captain Dilip Singh, Captain Jagdeo Singh, Naik Albindar Singh and Naik Shivendar Singh have been convicted for their involvement in a fake encounter case in Tinsukia district in 1994, Hindustan Times reported.
“Summary General Court Martial held at Dinjan has pronounced judgment in an encounter case of 1994. The judgment needs to be confirmed by the competent authority and this may take 2-3 months. The judgment is against three officers, and four junior commissioned officers and other ranks,” an Indian Army source told IANS.
Former Assam minister and Bharatiya Janata Party leader Jagadish Bhuyan had filed a habeas corpus petition in the Gauhati high court on February 22, 1994 asking for the whereabouts of nine AASU members who had reportedly been picked up by the army. When the court asked the army to produce the men, five dead bodied were produced, triggering statewide protests.
The Central Bureau of Investigation investigated the case and filed a chargesheet against the army personnel accused. According to The Hindu, the post-mortem reports showed that the five men had been brutally tortured before they were killed. Motheswar Moran, one of the nine men who was let off, said the five were probably killed because their bodies were not in a position to be produced before a local magistrate. “Looking back, the four of us were lucky to have been tortured less,” he said.
After the CBI chargesheet, the Indian Army obtained permission to try the accused under military court through a court martial. The court martial process was held in July this year, and the quantum of punishment was announced on Saturday (October 13).
The army had reportedly picked up the nine men from different parts of the state between February 17 and 19, 1994, after the killing of a tea estate manager.
This judgment has come at a time when more than 700 army personnel have petitioned the Supreme Court asking for all court-monitored investigations into fake encounters by the armed forces to be stayed. The first prayer of the petitioners is to protect the “bonafide” action of soldiers under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, “so that no soldier is harassed by initiation of criminal proceedings”.