India abused terror suspects, mostly Muslims: Human Rights Watch

Batla House encounter, Malegaon 2006 blasts need impartial probe

By TCN News,

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New Delhi: Indian security forces and investigating agencies massively abused terror suspects, mostly Muslims picked after the spate of terror bombings in Jaipur, Ahmedabad and Delhi in 2008. The security forces carried out torture, religious discrimination and arbitrary arrests following these terror attacks, Human Rights Watch has said in its report released today in the National Capital.

India should reform its justice system to ensure that abuses did not take place during counter-terrorism efforts. While documenting the abuses that were commonplace after the spate of bombings in 2008 in Delhi, Jaipur and Ahmedabad, Human Rights Watch has warned that abusive counter-terrorism tactics could backfire.

The 106-page report – The ‘Anti-Nationals’: Arbitrary Detention and Torture of Terrorism Suspects in India is based on more than 160 interviews with suspects, their relatives and lawyers, civil society activists, security experts and law enforcement officials in New Delhi, as well as in the states of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh.

The report says that a majority of victims were Muslim men detained after the blasts in Delhi, Jaipur and Ahmedabad. These victims included about two dozen youths from Azamgarh district in Uttar Pradesh.

“Indian police are under tremendous pressure to identify the perpetrators of horrific attacks, but they need to do so without resorting to the use of arbitrary arrests and torture to coerce confessions,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Not only do such unlawful responses alienate local populations, they risk allowing the real perpetrators to remain free and pose an ongoing threat to public safety.”

The report focuses on the aftermath of three deadly bombings of major Indian cities in 2008 for which the Indian Mujahideen claimed responsibility. At least 152 people died and hundreds of others were injured in the synchronized bombings of markets, hospitals, and other public places in Jaipur on May 13, Ahmedabad on July 26, and New Delhi on September 13 of that year.

In sweeps across the country, state police, usually Anti-Terrorism Squads, brought in scores of Muslim men for questioning and promptly labeled many “anti-national” – implying they were unpatriotic. The police ultimately charged more than 70 alleged Indian Mujahideen members or associates from nine states in the 2008 attacks and in a related attempted attack on the port city of Surat in July 2008. All were held without bail.

In some states, police held suspects for days or even weeks without registering their arrest, in an apparent effort to get them to confess. Police in Gujarat and Delhi also manipulated criminal procedures to allow them to hold suspects for interrogation well beyond the initial 15-day legal limit after arrest. Many detainees have alleged they were the victims of torture, including the use of electric shocks. A released suspect held in a lockup of the Ahmedabad Crime Branch of the Gujarat state police, where some of the worst abuses occurred, said that detainees were kept blindfolded and shackled with their arms crossed over their knees. Detainees or their relatives also said they were beaten, and threatened with arrest and mistreatment of family members if they did not cooperate.

“Abuses of suspects detained in connection with the 2008 bombings occurred at every stage of custody, from police lock-ups where many were tortured, to jails where they were beaten, to courthouses where magistrates often ignored their complaints,” said Ganguly. “This is what we would expect from China. The world’s largest democracy can do better.”

Probe abuse of 9 Muslims for Malegaon 2006 blasts

Human Rights Watch also called on the Indian authorities to immediately launch a thorough and impartial investigation into the case of nine Muslim men held as suspects for more than four years and allegedly tortured in connection with deadly bombings in 2006 at a Muslim cemetery in Malegaon. Investigations in late 2010 and early 2011 revealed that Hindu extremists are now the lead suspects in that attack and other major bombings in 2006-07 in India previously attributed to Islamist militant groups. The attacks at mosques in Hyderabad and Amjer, on a passenger train linking Pakistan to India, and at the cemetery in Malegaon killed at least 115 people and injured nearly 350 others.

Probe Batla House encounter

Human Rights Watch has come down harshly on the National Human Rights Commission for its dubious enquiry into the September 2008 Batla House encounter.

NHRC, the Indian government body, is officially mandated to investigate allegations of human rights violations, has responded tepidly to complaints involving terrorism suspects, Human Rights Watch said. Most glaring was its investigation into the so-called Batla House encounter, a police raid after the Delhi bombings of September 2008 in which two Indian Mujahideen suspects died in circumstances that aroused suspicion. Ordered by the Delhi High Court to probe the two suspects’ deaths after ignoring its own guidelines that require all killings to be investigated, the Commission produced a report that exonerated police while relying almost exclusively on the police version of events. A new and more serious inquiry into the causes of death is needed, Human Rights Watch said.

“The National Human Rights Commission has lost its voice when it comes to counterterrorism abuses,” said Ganguly.

The report also includes allegations that some of the 11 Hindus arrested for a September 2008 bombing incident in the city of Malegaon, Maharashtra state, were also subjected to arbitrary detention, torture, and religion-based ill-treatment.

However, Human Rights Watch said that the authorities have shown welcome restraint in responding to three more recent attacks in 2010 that they attributed to the Indian Mujahideen. These include a bombing in the city of Pune in February that killed 17 people at a restaurant frequented by foreigners; a motorcycle drive-by shooting in New Delhi in September that injured two Taiwanese tourists; and a bombing in December in Varanasi, Hinduism’s holiest city and a popular tourist site, that killed a one-year-old child and woman in her sixties.

“While the authorities’ recent responses to attacks are encouraging, if India is to achieve long-term success in countering militant violence, it will need to transform individual acts of restraint and respect for the law into institutional changes,” Ganguly said. “That includes the police putting an end to the ugly assumption, all too common after the 2008 bombings, that only Muslim groups were likely suspects in the attacks.”


*Repeal unlawful provisions of counterterrorism laws, including overly broad definitions of terrorism, expanded police powers of search and seizure, the presumption of guilt under certain circumstances, and draconian pre-charge detention periods.

*Enact the pending Prevention of Torture Bill, but only after ensuring it conforms with the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

*Sign into law criminal procedure amendments, already passed by parliament, requiring the police to record a formal reason for making a warrantless arrest – thereby closing a glaring legal loophole that fuels impunity.

*Professionalize India’s police forces and codify the full set of guidelines on arrest and detention for police officers that are contained in the landmark 1997 Supreme Court case D.K. Basu.

*Fully investigate allegations of wrongdoing by police and other officials, including the accusations of alleged Indian Mujahideen suspects and Muslims previously rounded up in attacks now blamed on Hindu extremists, to end the culture of impunity for crimes against terrorism suspects and others in India.