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Families of Kashmiri ‘militants’ killed in encounters with forces demand probe, insist their kin were innocent

Mushtaq Ahmad Wani, father of Athar Mushtaq, protesting in Srinagar. | Picture: Free Press Kashmir

In recent months, at least three Kashmiri families have demanded probes into the killing of their slain kin who are accused to be ‘alleged militants’. The call for the probe was also raised by the former Chief Minister of the Jammu and Kashmir Mehbooba Mufti. 

Auqib Javeed | TwoCircles.net

SRINAGAR – On July 28, the former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Mehboob Mufti appealed to the Police chief of the Kashmir region to probe the killing of three youth in encounters, saying that people are “raising fingers” on IGP after the killing of three youth in the encounters.

“IGP should probe the killings of Zakir, Imran and Azad Mushtaq. The facts in this regard should be made public,” Mufti said on her Party’s foundation day in Srinagar.

The appeal by the former CM is not unusual in Kashmir. Such appeals usually come from the politicians and the people alike who demand inquiry into the killing of thousands of slain youth in Kashmir, as per human rights groups.  

Zakir Bashir, 17, was killed in an encounter with government forces in South Kashmir’s Kulgam on July 1. However, his family claimed that he was a civilian rather than a militant.

Quoting Bashir’s family, a local news portal, The Kashmir Walla reported that the boy was dragged out of his home with his brother Ashiq by the government forces personnel during a cordon and search operation (CASO).  

“Bashir was beaten up badly a few meters away from his home. Once they recognized that he was going to die, they shot him twice and slit his throat,” Farooq Ahmad Bhat, Bashir’s brother-in-law, told The Kashmir Walla. 

However, the Jammu and Kashmir police, in a statement, claimed that Zakir along with two other militants were shot dead after “acting on specific information… about the presence of terrorists… a joint cordon and search operation was launched by Kulgam police, 18Bn CRPF and 09RR in the area.” The police further added that, “Zakir Bashir had recently joined the proscribed outfit”.

Days after the encounter, Mehbooba Mufti said that forces must be held accountable as “legitimate” questions are being raised on the security forces, especially on the death of Zakir Bashir during an encounter, she tweeted. 

A month earlier on June 2, a family from South Kashmir’s Tral made a similar claim that their son was allegedly killed in a “staged encounter” at a Special Operations Group (SOG) camp in Tral.

The Jammu and Kashmir Police said that an encounter broke out between a “surrendered militant” and police inside the SOG camp in Tral after the alleged militant namely Mohammad Amin Malik snatched a rifle of a cop and fired upon him and left him injured.

According to police, Malik, who had surrendered before security forces on May 30 along with a 12 bore rifle, then hid inside the camp along with the rifle.

The police said they tried to persuade him to surrender, however, he refused the offer and was killed in the brief encounter.

The family of Malik, however, refused the police story and claimed that he was killed in a staged encounter and was tortured brutally. 

His family told The Wire, that they took Malik to the police station as he was summoned, where they claimed “he was killed in custody.”

On December 30, 2020, hours after Jammu and Kashmir police along with CRPF and Army claimed to have killed three “militants” in an operation, the family members of the trio claimed that the slain militants were civilians and were allegedly killed in a “fake encounter.” 

The families of the trio came all the way from South Kashmir to Srinagar (some 50 kilometres) and staged a protest outside the Police Control Room (PCR) Srinagar alleging that the slain were not militants but civilians.

The three slain youth killed in the Srinagar gunfight were identified as 24-year-old Ajaz Maqbool Ganai from Putrigam village in Pulwama, Zubair Ahmad Lone, 24 of Turkawangan village of Shopian district and Athar Muhstaq Wani from Bellow, Pulwama, South Kashmir. 

On February 7, the father of one of the slain youth among seven was booked under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) by the J&K police for organizing a protest, where they demanded the return of the body.

Similarly, on July 25 an encounter broke out between “militants” and government forces in the Munar area of Yaripora in South Kashmir’s Kulgam district. 

As per the police, the encounter broke out after inputs about the presence of militants in the area.

Militants, according to the police officials, fired upon forces conducting the searches, and the police retaliated. In the ensuing encounter, one militant was killed. The “militant” was later identified as Imran Ahmed Dar of south Kashmir’s Anantnag district.

However, his family members too contested the police claims that their kin was an ordinary civilian, not a militant as claimed by the government forces.

Dar’s brother Zahid Qayoom told TwoCircles.net that his brother was with them till July 20. However, Zahid left the home on Eid after an argument with his father.

“We received a call from the police station that we need to present ourselves at the police post in Khanabal. We had no idea what was going on,” Qayoom told TwoCircles.net.

On reaching the police post, Qayoom said they were shown the photograph of Imran’s dead body.

“We were shocked. Our world turned upside-down,” Qayoom said. 

The family was asked to rush to Police Control Room Srinagar, where they were informed that the body had been sent to a graveyard in the Handwara area of north Kashmir for burial.

His father, Abdul Qayoom Dar, who wrote a letter to Deputy Commissioner, Anantnag for an inquiry writes that his son “was not involved in militancy-related activities nor any member of our family supported any anti-national activities ever.” He further added that his son “was a civilian… moving freely like any other civilian.” 

The letter, a copy of which lies with this reporter states, that the slain’s father had met his son last at a petrol pump at 6 pm on Saturday, near his house. “I request your good self to kindly look into the matter personally and help the family to retrieve his dead body and an FIR should be lodged to investigate the matter properly so that justice is delivered as we are a law-abiding family,” Dar added. 

“That within less than 24 hours I saw the photograph of his dead body assuring me that he was killed in a fake encounter at Munad Kulgam,” Dar stated.

Dar’s family told TwoCircles.net that police have started the investigation and they received a few calls from the authorities. 

“We demand a fair probe into the incident as we believe that our brother was killed in a staged encounter,” Qayoom said.

The claims of innocence by the family members of these slain youth (alleged to be militants) are not new. Earlier in July last year, three labourers from Rajouri in Jammu, who went missing in Shopian district, were found to have been killed in a staged encounter by the Army. The police admitted that an army officer was involved in the killing of three Kashmiri civilians in a staged gunfight and were buried far away from homes as unidentified militants.