At least two human rights organizations, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) and Amnesty International India, have strongly reacted to the the Madhya Pradesh government outright justification of the fatal encounter of the eight banned Students Islamic Students of India (SIMI) boys, who reportedly fled from the Bhopal prison.
While CHRI has said that the Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister’s decision to felicitate and provide cash awards to the police officers involved in the encounter, which led to the deaths of eight undertrials on the outskirts of Bhopal on October 31 is "deplorable" and "hasty", Amnesty has sought "independent, impartial, swift and thorough criminal investigation into the alleged extrajudicial execution".
According to CHRI, chief minister's hasty action violates "the clear diktat" of the 2014 Supreme Court on police encounters, which clearly states that “no out-of-turn promotion or instant gallantry rewards should be bestowed on the concerned officers soon after" such an "occurrence."
The Supreme Court, adds CHRI, also said that "one must ensure at all costs that such rewards are given/recommended only when the gallantry of the concerned officers is established beyond doubt”, adding, "The Court’s guidelines require the state to take immediate steps to establish, through a fiercely independent investigation, whether the police action was in accordance with the law."
According to CHRI, "All agencies of state are required to cooperate so that a just and fair assessment of facts can be made. The Chief Minister’s actions preempt any possible outcome of the mandated inquiry into the incident and violates due process norms."
"A huge question mark hangs over every hour of what took place during the incident, from the time of the escape to the gunning down of 8 people in those fields", says CHRI, adding, "The Supreme Court and the police’s own rules require that the extreme step of causing death must be examined by unbiased and independent investigation with absolute freedom from political
Amnesty's statement blames the Madhya Pradesh authorities of giving "contradictory statements" on the death of the eight SIMI men.
"The Inspector General of the Bhopal police range initially said the men had been unarmed, and had been shot when they resisted capture. He later said that they had been armed with knives and pistols. However the state home minister told journalists that the men had used jail utensils as weapons. The Madhya Pradesh Anti-Terror Squad chief told a news channel on November 2 that the men had no weapons on them at the site of the killing", Amnesty says.
“The contradictory statements issued by authorities on the killings, and video clips which appear to show the prisoners trying to talk to the police before being shot, raise deeply disturbing questions. An independent investigation must determine if the police extra-judicially executed the prisoners,” Amensty's Tara Rao says.
Amnesty further says, "Local and national media channels have aired video clips which appear to have been recorded at the encounter site. One of the clips appears to show some of the prisoners waving their hands and attempting to talk to the police officers. Another clip appears to show the prisoners lying on the ground after they have been shot, and a police officer shooting at one man who seems to still be alive."
Admitting that Amnesty has "not been able to verify the authenticity of these video clips", the NGO says, "The prisoners had been charged with offences including murder, robbery and terrorism-related offences."
However, it quotes a lawyer who had been representing some of them, as saying, "why would they want to escape a high security prison when their court judgement was expected to come out in the next few weeks? There was no evidence against them and we were sure that the court would release them.”
“All the eight men were shot multiple times, and most of the wounds were above the waist, according to the post-mortem report,” said Rao, adding, “Too often, authorities in India have shown a lack of will in effectively investigating fake encounters and bringing those responsible to justice. This case must not end the same way.”
The Amnesty move comes following the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) asking senior Madhya Pradesh police and government officials to submit detailed reports on the incident within six weeks.
Guidelines issued by the NHRC in 2010 say that all alleged ‘fake encounters’ must be investigated by an independent agency. In September 2014, it may be recalled, the Supreme Court stated in the PUCL versus State of Maharashtra case that killings in police encounters "require independent investigations."
Bringing all this to light, Amnesty says, "The UN Principles on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions require that there shall be "thorough, prompt and impartial investigation of all suspected cases of extra-legal, arbitrary and summary executions, including cases where… reliable reports suggest unnatural death in the above circumstances.”