Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Anger as Indian police who tortured terror suspects escape action

From November 18, 2008

Human rights activists today expressed outrage that Indian police officers responsible for , using methods including severe beatings and electric shocks, will not be prosecuted.

The failure to act against the officers comes despite the Andhra Pradesh state government’s admission that the 21 men, who were detained in the wake of a series of terror attacks in Hyderabad in May and August last year, had been tortured. The state later offered them about $600 each in compensation.

Meenakshi Ganguly, senior South Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch, said: “The government has to prosecute those responsible so that those who use torture will not get away with it.”

He added: “For a period of time, these detainees were effectively ‘disappeared’ persons. No one knew if they were dead or alive.”

On May 18, 2007, at least nine people were killed when a bomb exploded outside Hyderabad’s Mecca Masjid, where thousands had gathered for Friday prayers. On August 25, 2007, nearly 50 people died and scores were injured in two separate blasts in Hyderabad.

After interviewing those charged while they were still in jail awaiting trial, the Andhra Pradesh Minorities Commission reported that their injuries were “not self inflicted, these obviously arose during police custody – custodial atrocities on young detainees all minority persons stand proved”.

The Commission said that the detainees bore scars from violence, including some who showed signs of electric shocks.

The report escalated fears that India’s police force is losing credibility as it scrambles to clamp down on a burgeoning Islamist terror threat that has claimed at least 150 lives in a series of bomb attacks since May. Responsibility for the blasts has been claimed by the Indian Mujahedeen, a previously unknown group.

Doubts over police methods have been fanned by a proliferation of claimed “terrorist masterminds” as police forces across India react to political pressure to deliver swift justice in the wake of the Indian Mujahedeen’s rise.

In September, police in Bombay said they had cracked the terror group by arresting Sadiq Sheikh, who they claimed was the lynchpin behind an attack on Delhi on September 13 that claimed 22 lives. The capital’s force had already said Atif Ameen, a previously unknown 24-year-old college student who was gunned down by the Delhi police in October, had planned the crime.

Similarly, police in Jaipur said in August that a man called Shahbaz Hussain was behind an attack on the city that killed 80 people in May.

Delhi police now claim that Atif was. Last month, both Atif and Sadiq were linked to an attack in Ahmedabad which killed 45 people and which local police had said in August was “100 per cent solved”.

The tangle of competing police claims has triggered ridicule. Antara Dev Sen, editor of The Little Magazine, said: “We better get used to having several different ‘masterminds’ for the same crime as police teams of different states fall over each other to grab the limelight in fighting terror.”

Activists fear that ill-considered police tactics risk endangering innocent Muslims. In one incident that drew ridicule, police in Delhi presented three terror suspects to the media with their faces covered in red Arab-style keffiyah headdresses, which had been supplied by officials, rather than the plain cloth bags usually used to mask criminal suspects.

Mobashar Jawed Akbar, a senior Indian journalist, said: “Indian Muslims… knew that it was an attempt to stigmatize the whole community and link terrorism in India with… Osama bin Laden.”

The Andhra Pradesh minister for minorities’ welfare, Mohammad Shabbir Ali, who announced the compensation awards to the 21 torture victims, told the Indian Express last week that he does not want to blame the police because they “do their work based on information, and sometimes information can be wrong.”

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