Kashmir: Claims of probe on Hyderpora encounter leave police, families of slain, political parties at loggerheads

Family members of slain civilians Altaf Ahmad Bhat and Dr Mudasir Gul killed in Hyderpora encounter protesting in Srinagar. | Picture: PTI

The claims of the Special Investigation Team (SIT) of Jammu Kashmir Police ordered to probe the controversial Hyderpora encounter, have been dismissed by the families of the slain and political parties in the region who have called it a “cover-up.” The police have threatened penal action against critics of the SIT probe. 

Auqib Javeed | TwoCircles.net

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SRINAGAR — The controversial Hyderpora encounter is once again hogging the limelight in Kashmir—with regional political parties, families of the slain civilians and Jammu and Kashmir Police at loggerheads with each other after the Special Investigation Team (SIT) of Jammu Kashmir Police gave a “clean chit” to its forces who conducted the operation in Srinagar’s Hyderpora—during which four people, including 2 civilians were killed.

On November 16, 2021, the Jammu and Kashmir Police had claimed that a Pakistani militant Hyder Bhai, his associate Aamir Ahmad Magray of Ramban, ‘OGW’ Dr Mudasir Gul and building owner Altaf Ahmed Bhat had died during the encounter. 

However, the families of three of them—Dr Mudasir Gul, Altaf Ahmad Bhat, and Amir from Ramban, Jammu—contested the police claims, saying their “kin were not involved with militancy.” 

The killing of the civilians during the Hyderpora encounter saw an uproar in Kashmir valley—which has remained on edge after the government of India stripped the region of its partial autonomy under Article 370 in August 2019. The families of the trio protested in Srinagar for days demanding a probe into the killings and return of the dead bodies of their slain. The regional political parties also took to the street, in support of the family’s claims and demanded a fair probe into the killings. 

Pertinent to mention, all the four killed during the encounter were buried in the Handwara area of Kupwara district. 

Following the massive uproar, the government on November 18 ordered a magisterial inquiry headed by an additional district magistrate—to probe the incident and submit the report within 15 days. The probe took 40 days to complete and has not been made public yet. 

The Jammu Kashmir Police had also formed a Special Investigation Team (SIT) on November 16 to probe the encounter. The SIT was headed by DIG Central Kashmir, Sujit Kumar Singh.

On December 28, during a press conference, the SIT headed gave a “clean chit” to its forces and claimed that that the building owner Altaf Ahmed Bhat was used as a human shield by the foreign militant and was killed in cross-firing, while Dr Mudasir Gul was shot dead by the foreign militant on the directions “possibly from across.” 

The police also maintained that the third person, Aamir Ahmad Magray was an Over Ground Worker (OGW).

Families reject SIT report
However, the families of the trio rejected the SIT report and said that the “culprits” are being “shielded”.

“We aren’t satisfied with the SIT probe. We want an independent judicial probe,” a family member of slain Altaf Bhat told TwoCircles.net. 

He said the slain Altaf bore torture marks on his body and alleged that “he was tortured before being killed.” 

He further said that the CCTV footage that SIT cited and referred to during a press conference “is not working and lies defunct for the last one and half years.”

“We wonder what kind of footage they (Police) got when the CCTV cameras aren’t working,” he added.

Mohammad Nadeem Magray, elder brother of Aamir Magray while rebuffing the claims of SIT said that his brother was an ordinary civilian, not an OGW.

“My brother was innocent. The police cooked up the story today to save their skin,” he said.

He further added that Police didn’t summon them during the investigation and they are still waiting for the dead body of their kin.

It may be noted, the police returned the bodies of Dr Mudasir Gul and Altaf Bhat following the continuous protest by the families. However, the dead body of Aamir is yet to be returned to his family.

What did the SIT say?
Addressing a press conference on December 28 at police control room (PCR), DIG Central Kashmir Sujit Kumar Singh, while giving a detailed presentation about the investigations carried out into the Hydeprora encounter said that the CCTV footage and other evidence show that building owner Altaf was used as a human shield by the foreign militant Bilal Bhai, who was living in Dr Mudasir Gul’s chamber along with Amir Magray.

The DIG, who was heading the SIT into the Hyderpora encounter, said that CCTV footage shows that Dr Mudasir Gul was travelling with the foreign militant in his vehicle in Srinagar city. “The footage and other evidence show that Amir Magray had accompanied the foreign militant during Jamalata Srinagar attack. Amir would often travel to Bandipora and Gurez, an area which is still under investigation,” DIG Sujit Kumar Singh said.

He said that prima-facie evidence shows that Dr Mudasir Gul was shot dead by the foreign militant on the directions “possibly from across.” 

“The investigations reveal that building owner Altaf Bhat was made human shield by foreign militant and that he was killed in a crossfire,” said the DIG, who was flanked by Director General of Police (DGP) Dilbagh Singh and IGP Kashmir Vijay Kumar.

However, soon after the presser, apart from families of the trio, the political parties strongly rebuffed the report and alleged that the SIT was shielding its own men.

Allegations of cover-up
The People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD)—an alliance of main political parties termed the SIT statement “concocted cover-up story”

In a statement, PAGD spokesman, M. Y. Tarigami said that the press briefing of J&K police about last month’s Hyderpora tragic incident is only a repetition of an old story. “It does not even slightly give any objective picture of this shocking incident,” he said.

“There is a strong public perception that the civilians killed in the incident were made human shields by the security forces and the latest statement of the police seems to be a concocted cover-up story. It will not satisfy the legitimate concerns of the people at large and family of the slain victims,” Tarigami said.

“PAGD firmly believes that nothing short of a credible judicial probe will clear the doubts. The administration must, without any further delay, order a time-bound judicial probe,” the statement added

Apart from PAGD, the two ex-Chief Ministers of Jammu and Kashmir—Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti along with many other political leaders rejected the SIT report and demanded an independent enquiry. 

Police threaten penal action against critics of SIT probe
On 29 December, the SIT issued a warning and threatened penal action against those critical of the police report.

The Chairman of SIT probing the encounter, in a statement said that “speculative” statements from political leaders have a tendency of fear, provocation and alarm while such approach is against the law that may attract “penal provisions” as per the law.

“Today (December 29), SIT (Special Investigation Team) came across with several posts on media from some political leaders and family members wherein they have cast doubts upon the evidence obtained by SIT so far. These people have tried to call it “Concocted Cover-up Story”, “Ornamental Probe”, “Clean Chit to Killers”, “Fairy Tale of Police” etc,” the police statement reads. 

It said that the SIT constituted in the instant case is still investigating the matter, and “all such persons are once again advised to provide any type of evidence if they have regarding the incident so that every aspect of the investigation is covered and concluded on merits.”

“Such speculative statements from the political leaders have a tendency to create a provocation, rumour, fear and alarm among the general masses or particular section of society. This kind of approach is against the rule of law and may attract appropriate penal provisions as envisaged under law,” the police statement, quoting SIT chairman, said.

However, the former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah slammed police for “threatening” the people for the criticism.

“If the SIT is “still investigating the matter” then what was the need to rush to the press with a statement yesterday? I don’t recall reading anywhere that yesterday’s report was an interim one,” tech-savvy Omar posted on his Twitter handle.

“As to the “threat of penal action”. Criticising the report, whether interim or final is the right of any citizen & it does not behove J&K police to be trying to threaten people into submission. If the SIT wants people to believe the report it should report the truth, period,” he wrote in another Tweet.

Auqib Javeed is a journalist based in Kashmir. He tweets at @AuqibJaveed.