The rights group also slammed Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath for making statements exhorting people to celebrate the encounter killings
NEW DELHI — As the Yogi Adityanath government in Uttar Pradesh faces sustained flak from different quarters for unleashing a ‘Jungle Raj’ in the state, a prominent rights group, People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), has condemned the killing of former Samajwadi MP Atiq Ahmed and his brother Ashraf and questioned the role of the police in the gory incident.
“What is most deplorable is that Atiq and Ashraf were surrounded by an armed team of policemen who allowed a set of media persons to interview them when the three killers came to the spot on motorcycles, whipped out sophisticated guns and shot the brothers in cold blood at point-blank range, with the armed police remaining as mute spectators doing nothing to prevent the slaughter,” said the PUCL in a statement on Wednesday.
Raising objection to the role of the police, the rights group said what raises serious questions about the complicity of the police was the fact that the two brothers were brought by the UP Police late in the evening at about 10.30 pm on 15th April to the Prayagraj Government Hospital for a purported medical check-up. Though handcuffed together, and surrounded by armed policemen, the two were permitted by the police to have a media meet in the open which was captured live on visual media. While they were talking to journalists, a three-member killer gang shot them dead.
The PUCL asked the police why they did not take the shooters in their custody to find out who was behind the murder. The group also asked why the police took Atiq and his brother for the medical check-up at an unusual time and why the brothers were allowed to talk to the media.
“The killing is not just a security lapse on the part of the police, who failed to check the identity of the killers posing as media persons; a much more disturbing issue is how the killer gang knew that a media meeting would be held in the open, outside the hospital,” noted the PUCL.
The rights group also slammed Chief Minister Adityanath for making statements to celebrate the encounter killings.
“Ever since Yogi Adityanath Government was sworn in on 19.03.2017, he has unleashed a controversial plan to eliminate alleged criminals and gangsters with his “Thok Diye Jayenge” or “They will be knocked out” policy. The chief minister has also initiated an “Operation Langda’ by which alleged criminals were shot in their legs incapacitating them for life,” said the PUCL.
According to Prashanth Kumar, state’s Special Director General of Police (Law and Order), between March 2017 and April 2023, there have been 10,900 police encounters in which over 5,046 accused persons have been injured and 185 persons have been shot dead.
The civil rights group said: “It is the responsibility of the UP government led by the Chief Minister to ensure that vigilante murders do not occur and that the police do not kill people extra-judicially. That is the essence of rule of law. It is in this most basic aspect of the responsibility of the Uttar Pradesh Government, that it has most abjectly failed. It is the right of the accused to prove their innocence in a court of law, through due process, which has been blatantly denied, and summary (in)justice is meted out without a fair trial. This is in blatant violation of Articles 14 and 21 of the Indian Constitution and cannot be allowed or condoned”.
Criticising the extra-judicial execution and instant justice, the PUCL said this position of the UP government which asserts that criminals are not entitled to the rule of law is antithetical to the values of the Constitution. To those in the public who support this amoral position that ‘gangsters’ should not be entitled to the benefits of rule of law, one should note that once an exception is made in the grand edifice of rule of law, there will be others who, the state will argue, don’t deserve the protection of `rule of law’. If this trend is not checked, the state will feel emboldened to opt for vigilante justice, including extra-judicial executions, against all those questioning its actions and policies. The ground for this has been prepared through the relentless delegitimisation of all dissent, dubbing those who are exercising the right to free speech as ‘anti-nationals’.
PUCL makes the following demands:
1. The Supreme Court should consider passing orders on the PILs pending against UP encounters. It should entrust an investigation, under its direct supervision, into the quadruple murders of Atiq Ahmed, Ashraf, Asad Ahmed and Ghulam, on 13th and 15th April 2023 to an independent investigating agency, preferably SIT, consisting of police officials from outside UP.
2. The case should be investigated as a custodial killing in accordance with the Supreme Court guidelines in “PUCL vs the State of Maharashtra” (2014 (10) SCC 635). The UP administration has shown no respect for the rule of law and therefore a Supreme Court-monitored probe will build faith and confidence among the larger public as compared to a probe initiated under the aegis of the UP government.
3. An FIR be registered into the encounter killings immediately, naming the police personnel responsible for the encounters, and transferred to the `Special Investigation Team’ comprising officials from outside UP, for a free, fair and independent investigation.
4. The police officials involved in the encounters should be immediately transferred out of their districts to enable the SIT to conduct an unbiased investigation and to ensure that evidence is not tampered with.
5. A magisterial inquiry, in accordance with the law, should be conducted. All the evidence, including forensic evidence by way of ammunition and weapons used, postmortem findings, chemical examination reports, electronic evidence and so on should be handed over to the jurisdiction of the magistrate’s court to prevent tampering with evidence; and
6. Compensation should be provided to the surviving members of the family as a partial recognition of the irreparable loss caused to them. Police officials responsible and complicit in the offence should be punished in accordance with the law