The Armed Forces Tribunal has suspended the life sentence of an Army captain who was found guilty in March of having killed three men in a staged gunfight in Kashmir, PTI reported on Monday.

The tribunal also granted conditional bail to the officer identified as Bhoopendra Singh. It clarified, however, that it was not staying his conviction.

On July 18, 2020, security forces in Kashmir claimed to have killed three “unidentified hardcore terrorists” in a gunfight in Amshipora village of Kashmir’s Shopian district. The men, all related to one another, were later identified as 16-year-old Ibrar Ahmad, 20-year-old Imtiyaz Ahmad and 25-year-old Mohammed Ibrar.

Their families filed a missing persons complaint on August 10, 2022. They said that the men were labourers and not militants.

The Jammu and Kashmir Police then formed a Special Investigation Team, which filed a chargesheet accusing three persons, including Singh, of staging the gunfight.

The Army then set up a Court of Inquiry, which found preliminary evidence that security forces exceeded powers given to them under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act. In March, an Army court found Singh guilty on six charges, including murder. It recommended that the officer be sentenced to life imprisonment, subject to confirmation by higher Army authorities, according to PTI.

Singh then filed an appeal before the Armed Forces Tribunal, which passed the order staying the sentence on November 9.

The tribunal said that the Army court that passed the order in March took on record evidence that was “inadmissible” and “not convincing” to hold him guilty, The Print reported.

It said that documentary evidence indicated that there was firing on the team that had carried out the operation in Shopian.

“In our considered view, the totality of the evidence available on record clearly shows that there cannot be any motive for the applicant to eliminate three civilians and conduct such an operation without the knowledge of [his commanding officer],” the tribunal said. “This is highly doubtful and cannot be believed on its face value.”

Commenting on the judgement, Mohammed Ibrar’s father Mohammad Yousuf Khan said that it had reopened old wounds, The Indian Express reported. “Even today, his four-year-old son, Hanees, was asking me where his father is,” he said.

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