'What is going on in Kashmir?': Families dispute Indian claims youths killed in 'encounter' were fighters

Published December 31, 2020
Indian army soldiers walk past a damaged house after a gunbattle between suspected Kashmiri fighters and government security forces at Lawaypora area on the outskirts of Srinagar on December 30, 2020. — AFP
Indian army soldiers walk past a damaged house after a gunbattle between suspected Kashmiri fighters and government security forces at Lawaypora area on the outskirts of Srinagar on December 30, 2020. — AFP

In a rare protest, the families of two teenage boys and a young man, killed in Indian-occupied Kashmir on Wednesday by government forces during an alleged firefight, have denied they were fighters.

Police said the trio were killed in a 20-hour gun battle on the outskirts of the region's main city of Srinagar after they were cornered inside a home on Tuesday.

“Repeated announcements were made to the hiding terrorists to lay down their illegal weapons and surrender,” police said in a statement.

“Instead, the hiding terrorists fired continuously upon the searching party.”

Bullet marks cover the wall of a building where Indian forces allege suspected fighters had taken refuge, after a gun battle on the outskirts of Srinagar, Wednesday. — AP
Bullet marks cover the wall of a building where Indian forces allege suspected fighters had taken refuge, after a gun battle on the outskirts of Srinagar, Wednesday. — AP

But relatives of the trio disputed the story and protested outside a police building in Srinagar where the bodies were being kept.

“Yesterday at 10 in the morning, he had tea with me,” Bashir Ahmad Ganai, the grandfather of one of the slain youths, Aijaz Maqbool, told reporters.

“We don't know where he was picked up from and later killed. What is going on in Kashmir?” Ganai said.

The families of the other two — high school student Athar Mushtaq and carpenter Zubair — also insisted they were innocent.

Parents of the students said they had been on their way to receive private tutoring in Srinagar. But police insisted two of them were “hardcore associates of terrorists” and the third might have recently joined fighter ranks. Even then, Kashmir Inspector General of Police Vijay Kumar admitted the names of the trio killed in the 'encounter' were not in the "list of terrorists", according to The Indian Express.

The exact ages of the three killed were not released.

The case bears similarities to a July incident in which three labourers were killed, sparking an outcry in the region.

The army had claimed that those three men were killed in a gun battle in the village of Amshipora, and that weapons were found on them.

But on Sunday, an Indian army officer and two associates were charged with planting weapons on the bodies to make it look as though they were militants.

Pakistan calls for international scrutiny

Pakistan strongly condemned what it termed the "extra-judicial killing" of the three Kashmiris in "yet another fake encounter" by Indian security forces in Srinagar.

"Pakistan reiterates its call for independent inquiry under international scrutiny to investigate the unabated extra-judicial killings of Kashmiris by Indian occupation forces and to bring the perpetrators of these heinous crimes to justice," a statement issued by the Foreign Office said.

Referring to the July killings of labourers, it said the recent revelations of planting weapons on the bodies of the victims killed in Shopian by Indian troops to make it look as though they were armed fighters "are deeply disconcerting and an affront to the collective conscience of humanity".

"It is a well-known fact that those guilty of gross human rights violations in IIOJK have never been prosecuted," the FO said, referring to previous incidents of extra-judicial killings, custodial deaths, and "mass rapes of women" in Kunan-Poshpora (1991), Pathribal (2000), Ganderbal (2007), Machil (2010), and several others.

"Pakistan has consistently emphasised that the gross and systematic violations of human rights being perpetrated by the Indian occupation forces warrant an investigation by a UN Commission of Inquiry, as recommended by the OHCHR (UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights) in its reports of 2018 and 2019," the statement said.

"Pakistan reiterates that nothing short of an inquiry under international scrutiny can meet the requirements of justice," it stressed.

Kashmiri groups have been fighting Indian soldiers since 1989, demanding independence or a merger of the territory with Pakistan.

The fighting has killed tens of thousands of people — mostly civilians.

Since January, at least 180 Kashmiris have been killed by government forces, according to an AFP tally.

The FO meanwhile said Indian forces killed more than 300 innocent Kashmiris, including women and children, in 2020 in fake encounters and staged 'cordon-and-search' operations. It said 750 people were left critically injured.

Rights groups say cash rewards given to government forces for killing alleged militants and emergency military laws help perpetuate rights violations. Authorities deny the claims.

Under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, government forces deployed in the region cannot be tried in a civilian court unless New Delhi agrees.

No such permission has been granted in the last three decades, despite dozens of requests by police after investigations into actions by security forces.

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