(New York) – The Andhra Pradesh state government should prosecute police officials responsible for the torture of 21 Muslims after a series of bomb blasts in Hyderabad in May and August 2007, Human Rights Watch said today.
After the blasts, the authorities detained approximately 100 Muslims for questioning. Of those later charged, 21 were released. On November 13, the Andhra Pradesh government admitted that the 21 had been tortured and announced compensation of US$600 each. It also promised additional financial assistance through government loans. But the state government has not initiated criminal proceedings against any police officers who ordered or carried out the torture.
“Acknowledging torture and providing compensation is a good first step,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, senior South Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “But the government has to prosecute those responsible so that those who use torture will not get away with it.”
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. There were arrests after each bombing.
The Hyderabad police initially suspected Islamist extremists of carrying out the attacks. Of those detained for questioning, most were released after a few days or weeks in custody.
Many of those picked up on suspicion of being linked to the blasts were illegally detained. The Criminal Procedure Code and the Indian Constitution require that detainees be produced in court within 24 hours. Some of those detained said they were brought before the magistrate only after five to 10 days.
Families were not notified of the detention, and were not informed of the whereabouts of their relatives even when they made inquiries at police stations or lodged missing person complaints. In some cases, detainees said, they were taken for interrogation to unknown locations instead of a police station.
“For a period of time, these detainees were effectively ‘disappeared’ persons,” said Ganguly. “No one knew if they were dead or alive.”
Some detainees said they were beaten during interrogation, and others said they were subjected to so-called “third degree” methods that amounted to torture. The detainees were stripped, hung upside down, severely beaten, subjected to electric shocks, and otherwise ill-treated. They were also threatened with the torture of their relatives, particularly female relatives.
In 2007, the Andhra Pradesh Minorities Commission investigated the allegations. After interviewing those charged while they were still in jail awaiting trial, it reported that their injuries were “not self inflicted, these obviously arose during police custody – custodial atrocities on young detainees all minority persons stand proved,” and added that the fact that the detainees were not brought before magistrates within 24 hours “shows how the system has failed to protect the rights of detainees.” The commission said that the detainees bore scars from violence, including some who showed signs of electric shocks.
In February 2008, relatives of victims and human rights defenders told a visiting team of investigators from the National Commission for Minorities about the illegal detention and torture of the young Muslims during the bomb blast investigations. In its report, the commission noted that it had received complaints that some were detained illegally and subjected to physical and mental torture, and that no lawyers were present during interrogation.
The team also noted that suspects said that they were not brought before a magistrate within the required 24 hours, and instead that the arrest dates were altered to indicate that officials had complied with the law. In its report, the commission expressed concern that police denied all accusations of torture, and noted that “action should be taken against those who failed to carry out their responsibilities within the framework of law and established procedures.”
To date, no member of the state police involved in the cases has been charged with committing human rights violations. The Andhra Pradesh minister for minorities’ welfare, Mohammad Shabbir Ali, who announced the compensation awards to the victims, told the Indian Express on November 13 that he does not want to blame the police because they “do their work based on information, and sometimes information can be wrong.”
“Over and over again, the police response to terrible bombings has been to round up people, simply because they happen to be Muslim, and to torture them in the hope of securing information or confessions,” said Ganguly. “This stigmatizes and alienates an entire community and makes counterterrorism efforts even more difficult. The police have a long way to go before they can
build public trust that they are capable of addressing the scourge of terrorism.”