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Hyderpora encounter: Families of slain civilians protest; refute Police claims; demand return of bodies

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Prohibitory orders imposed in parts of Ramban

Photo /Javed Khan

Srinagar/Banihal: Families of two civilians killed in the Hyderpora encounter in Srinagar held a protest here on Wednesday, demanding justice for the victims and the return of their bodies.

A controversy had erupted over Monday’s encounter in Hyderopra following conflicting claims about the two deceased civilians as their family members contested the police’s charge that they were “terror associates”.

According to the police, a “Pakistani terrorist” and his “local associate” Mohammad Amir, along with two civilians — Altaf Bhat and Mudassir Gul — were killed in the encounter, where an “illegal call centre and a terror hideout” were allegedly being run.

On Wednesday, the families of Bhat and Gul held a protest at Press Enclave in the city, demanding that their bodies be returned to them as they were not militants or OGWs.

Police had said the bodies of all the four killed in the encounter were buried in the Handwara area of north Kashmir’s Kupwara district.

Speaking to reporters, Altaf Bhat’s brother Abdul Majeed said as a ‘numberdar’ (revenue official), he remains in constant touch with the police and they would have informed him if his brother was involved in militancy.

“He (Bhat) was doing business in Hyderpora Bypass for the last 30 years. He rented the building and we had furnished their (tenants’) verification in police station Saddar. The police should have contacted us if there was anything (adverse),” he said.

Majeed said his brother was a builder, a taxpayer and an innocent man.

“You can verify in the whole locality. The police knew him, they used to visit his place every day, have tea with him, they can verify his credentials,” he added.

Majeed said on Monday, the “Task Force” (police’s counter-insurgency unit known as the special operations group or SOG) came and took his brother thrice for searches in the building.

“They took him upstairs and brought him down three times. They used drones. (It was) as if they were shooting a movie there. Unfortunately, an innocent Altaf was martyred,” he said.

The family demanded justice and also the return of his body.

“We appeal the LG, request him, that verify and if there is anything (adverse) against my brother, then they can hang me in public in the city centre.

“He (Altaf) was innocent, a civilian and not a militant. We want answers, we want justice. We want his body. Why is the government, the terrorists, killing innocent people?” Majeed said.

Mudassir Gul’s wife Humaira Mudassir, while breaking down, said her husband was innocent.

The family also demanded justice and sought the return of their kin’s body.

“We want justice. Give justice to his wife, his mother and father. Give justice to his one-year-old daughter Inaya Mudasir,” Humaira said.

Senior Awami Itehad Party (AIP) leader Sheeban Ashai, who joined the protest, said the civilians were used as “human shields” by the police.

“I want to ask LG (Manoj Sinha) and India’s Home Minister Amit Shah that two innocent civilians were killed under their watch. How were they killed in the crossfire? Why were they not provided with protective gear when the forces took them for searches? That means they were used as human-shields. That is the biggest loophole in the police story,” he said.

Ashai alleged that police have started a new trend since August 05, 2019 – when the Centre revoked J&K’s special status – of picking anyone from his house, jailing him or killing him in encounter.

“They (civilians) were killed in cold-blood and look at the insensitivity and shamelessness of this government that they have detained even their dead bodies. I want to ask Sinha that is this the tradition in his UP?…why were the mortal remains not returned to their families?” he said.

The AIP leader said the families of the two civilians will continue their protest and not leave the place till the bodies are returned.

“No matter how many days, we will not leave from here till their bodies are returned,” he said.

Ashai asked the people to come to Press Enclave to register their protest peacefully.

He also asked the LG to direct the police to return the bodies of the civilians.

“We demand an inquiry headed by a retired high court judge in which two persons from civil society are also included. The facts of the case be kept in the public domain,” he said.

He said the killings were a “cold blooded murder”.

“Why was no security forces’ personnel killed in the firing? I hope that, if he (LG) has even one percent of humanity in his heart, then he should come here and sympathise with the families,” he said, adding the administration should apologise for the killings.

Meanwhile, prohibitory orders banning the gathering of five or more people at one place were imposed in some villages of Ramban district on Wednesday, following the death of one of its residents in an encounter in Hyderpora area of Srinagar.

The move comes apparently to thwart any protest by the affected family.

According to police, Mohammad Amir of Famrote village in Ramban “was a militant and was killed along with his Pakistani accomplice” in the Monday evening encounter in Hyderpora, where an “illegal call centre and a terror hideout” were allegedly being run.

Two civilians – Altaf Bhat and Mudassir Gul — were also killed in the firing, triggering angry reaction from their family who claimed they were innocent and not linked to militancy.

Amir’s father Latief Magray also refuted the Jammu and Kashmir police’s claim that his son was a militant and appealed to the Lt Governor Manoj Sinha to provide “justice to his family” and also return the body of his son for a proper burial.

In an apparent move to scuttle protests by Amar’s family, Ramban Additional District Magistrate Harbans Lal Sharma ordered the imposition of prohibitory orders under section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code in Famrote village along with Sangaldan and Seripura from 9 am Wednesday till further orders.

“The Senior Superintendent of Police, Ramban shall ensure the implementation of this order in letter and spirit,” the order said.

Magray, who had reportedly killed a militant with bare hands in his village over 15 years ago, said he would continue his struggle for “justice” for his slain son.

“If they have any proof of his involvement in militancy, show it to me…I know he was innocent,” Magray said, asking “if this was the reward for being a nationalist”.

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