Srinagar’s chief judicial magistrate Rajeev Gupta issued the order, allowing the Army to try the accused in an Army court.
The five civilians, Juma Khan (53), Bashir Ahmad Bhat (26), Juma Khan (38), Mohammad Yousuf Malik (38) and Zahoor Ahmad Dalal were picked up, shot dead, and burnt beyond recognition in the alleged staged encounter in Pathribal. They were later dubbed foreign terrorists responsible for the Chhittisinghpora massacre on the eve of US president Bill Clinton’s visit to India in March 2000. All five were buried in an unmarked grave in a forested area in South Kashmir.
Brig Ajay Saxena, Lt Col Brajendra Pratap Singh, Major Sourabh Sharma, Major Amit Saxena and Subedar Idrees Khan, were charged after the CBI concluded in its probe that they had killed the five civilians days after the massacre.
The CBI had chargesheeted the Army men in a designated CBI court in Srinagar a few years back. Their trial could not begin due to the blanket immunity they enjoy under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. But the Army was forced to act after the Supreme Court order on May 1 gave it eight weeks to decide whether to try the accused in a military court or civil court.
The Army had this week applied for allowing it to try the accused officers in the Army court in the wake of the SC directive. The ruling had disappointed rights groups fighting to have the soldiers tried in a criminal court. Army in Srinagar chose to stay silent.