UP under Yogi govt an ‘active theater of police killings’, calls civil groups’ report

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 The current Yogi Adityanath-led Hindu nationalist government in Uttar Pradesh has been blatant in its support for the police killings.

Civil society organisations who have studied 17 cases of extrajudicial killings in Uttar Pradesh, which took place between March 2017 and March 2018 and led to 18 people’s deaths, found that in not one case has an FIR been registered against the police officers who were involved in the killing.

Instead, in all 17 cases, FIRs have been registered against the deceased victims on charges of attempted murder under section 307 IPC and other offenses, according to a report by three civil society organisations – Youth for Human Rights Documentation, Citizens Against Hate, and People’s Watch.

Out of 18 People- Mansoor, Shamim, Furqan, Waseem, Kasim, Jaan Mohammad, Noor Mohammad, Ehsan, Aslam, Ikram, Shamshad, Sumit Gujjar, Nadeem, Gurmeet, Noushad, Sarvar, Ramzani and Akbar- 16 were Muslims.

The report titled Extinguishing Law and Life: Police Killings and Cover Up in the state of  Uttar Pradesh describes India’s most populous state as an “active theater of encounter killings” with “gross procedural and substantive violations by investigating agencies and judicial magistrates” in investigating these extrajudicial killings.

At every step of the required investigation after a death in custody, the authorities failed to correctly follow procedures in these 17 cases, alleged the report.

The 165 pages report has evaluated the investigations and inquiries conducted in these 17 cases and examined the role of the investigating agency, Executive Magistrates, Judicial Magistrates, and National Human Rights Commission of India, to assess whether they complied with the existing legal framework.

The report reveals gross violations of law, both procedural and substantive, by the investigating agency and the judicial magistrates, in investigating these killings.

Independent bodies such as the NHRC and oversight mechanisms such as magisterial inquiries have failed to identify these violations of law and have ignored factual contradictions in the police version of events. Instead, they have routinely condoned the unconstitutional procedures followed by the police during these investigations, according to the report.

In 16 out of the 17 cases analysed, the investigating officer closed the investigation by filing closure reports in court before the Judicial Magistrates.

“Overlooking the factual contradictions that emerge from the evidence, the closure report in all the 16 cases confirms the police version that the firing was in self-­defence. All the cases were closed on the ground that the victims – who were named as an “accused” ­ were dead, and that the police could not find any information about the accomplice who escaped the crime scene. This process has been held to be unconstitutional by the High Courts and the NHRC in other instances,” alleged the report.

According to the report, the FIRs registered against the deceased victims in each of the 17 cases claim an identical sequence of events leading to the killing – details of a spontaneous shoot­-out between police officers and alleged criminals in which the police are fired upon, and then (in self­-defence) fire back, leading to the death of one of the alleged criminals, while his accomplice always manages to escape raising doubts about the veracity of these claims.

The civil groups found that the independent investigations of police accepted the previous police versions that they killed the victims in “self­-defence”, even though the justification of self-­defence for murder has to be proved and determined through a judicial trial.

In at least eight cases, the inquiries were conducted by an Executive Magistrate in violation of CrPC provisions, despite the law requires an inquiry into the cause of death to be conducted by a Judicial Magistrate.

“No investigation was conducted on whether the use of force was necessary and proportionate. Factual inconsistencies and contradictions were also overlooked,” said the report.

The Post­-Mortem reports, according to the findings by civil groups, show the usage of lethal force.

The report went on to say: “The bodies of 12 of the victims show multiple gunshot wounds on the torso, abdomen and even on the head; some dead bodies also show fractures. Post­-Mortem Reports of five deceased victims show blackening and tattooing around the bullet entry wounds, indicating firing from close range. This contradicts the police claim that minimal force was used or that the bullets were aimed at the lower part of the victims’ bodies to immobilize them and ensure their arrest.”

Another important finding is that the policemen only sustained minor injuries following the extrajudicial killings. ­”Out of the approximate 280 police personnel involved in these 17 police killings, only around 20 police officers sustained injuries. In 15 out of the 17 cases analysed, the police sustained only minor injuries,” the report stated.

In seven cases of police killings, the fingerprints of the deceased were not found on the weapons recovered from the scene of killings. The police’s claim that the victims used weapons to shoot at them is contradicted by the independent records, claims the report.

While speaking on ‘Encounter’ Killings In India’ at the release of the report, Justice Madan B. Lokur said that the national and state human rights commissions are doing nothing regarding the growing extrajudicial killings in the country.

“The NHRC is doing nothing. Absolutely nothing. Three years, they have been sitting on it. SHRCs, nobody even talks about them. What is the use of having bodies like this if nothing is happening? Abolish them! You abolish tribunals, might as well abolish the NHRC and SHRC if they are going to do nothing. Why should the taxpayer pay for them?”, expressed Justice Lokur.

All of the 17 cases studied were probed by the NHRC, according to the report.

In 12 of these cases, the NHRC has found that there was no foul play by the cops. One case was transferred to the UP State Human Rights Commission; two others are still being probed. The status of one case is not available in the public domain.

In only one of the 17 cases did the NHRC decide that the police had acted in an illegal manner; but even in that one, while ordering compensation to be paid to the victims’ family, they did not say anything about the lack of an FIR against the police officers who were involved in the killing.

The burden of ensuring investigation and accountability, according to the report, falls entirely on the victims’ families.

“The families face intimidation, threats, and persecution through false and fabricated criminal cases. At least 13 letters have been submitted to the NHRC about the persecution by state and non­state actors of the victim families and human rights defenders providing legal aid and support to the families. The NHRC neither responded to, nor took on record the letters pertaining to persecution of victims’ families. It directed inquiries in cases of the persecution of human rights defenders but closed those inquiries as well,” says the document released by civil groups.

The current Yogi Adityanath-led Hindu nationalist government in Uttar Pradesh has been blatant in its support for the police killings.

In an interview on a news channel, India TV, in June 2017, UP CM, Yogi Adityanath had stated that the State police would not hesitate to “knock down” criminals if they did not mend their ways. “Agar apradh karenge, toh thok diye jayenge”(If they commit crimes, we will knock them down), he said.

A few months later, in September 2017, Adityanath again stated that “Police in UP will now respond to a bullet with a bullet. Unlike the previous government, I have given full authority to the force to deal with criminals in the most appropriate way possible.”

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