India: Police brutality, custodial deaths go ‘unpunished’ – HRW
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India: Police brutality, custodial deaths go ‘unpunished’ – HRW

NEARLY 600 people have died while under the custody of Indian police from 2009-2015, many after being tortured, an international rights group said.

Human Rights Watch says in a report released Monday that police regularly disregard arrest procedures and torture suspects in custody to death. The police often blame the deaths on suicide or illness.

The New York-based rights group urges India to implement a string of often-ignored regulations and prosecute officers involved in the alleged mistreatment of prisoners.

“Police in India will learn that beating suspects to confess is unacceptable only after officers are prosecuted for torture,” HRW South Asia director Meenakshi Ganguly was quoted as saying in a statement.

“Our research shows that too often, the police officers investigating deaths in custody are more concerned about shielding their colleagues than bringing those responsible to justice.”

While torture is illegal in India, and law enforcement agencies in many countries now say it does little to elicit accurate information, many members of the Indian police force are open about their use of the “third degree” — a term that can encompass anything from a couple slaps to a savage beating — to extract details or confessions.

SEE ALSO: India: Over 14,000 people killed in custody in 10 years 

According to official data, HRW said 591 people have died between 2010 and 2015. The group said police often bypass arrest procedures and torture suspects in custody to death.

The group added authorities have stalled reforms needed to build a more rights-respecting force instead of holding police responsible to account for such deaths.

Entitled “‘Bound by Brotherhood’: India’s Failure to End Killings in Police Custody,” the 114-page report examines the police’s alleged disregard for arrest regulations, custodial deaths from torture, and impunity for those responsible.

HRW said the report drew investigations into 17 deaths in custody that occurred between 2009 and 2015, including more than 70 interviews with victims’ family members, witnesses, justice experts, and police officials.

In each of the 17 cases, HRW said police did not follow proper arrest procedures, making the suspect more vulnerable to abuse.

Upon arrest, HRW pointed out that suspects are required to be medically examined with the doctor listing any pre-existing injuries.

Any new injuries, the group said, will point to police abuse in custody, adding that by law, every person taken into custody must be produced before a magistrate within 24 hours.

“Bypassing these procedures facilitates abuses in custody,” the group said.

Indian government data showed that in 67 out of 97 deaths in custody in 2015, the police either failed to produce the suspect before a magistrate within 24 hours or the suspect died within 24 hours of being arrested, HRW said.

HRW quoted a magistrate in Tamil Nadu state as saying: “Police has their own code of police procedure. They don’t follow the Code of Criminal Procedure.”

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Indian law also requires a judicial magistrate to conduct an inquiry into every death in police custody to ensure accountability for police abuses.

“The police are expected to register a First Information Report, and the death is expected to be investigated by a police station or agency other than the one implicated,” HRW said.

It added every case of custodial death is also supposed to be reported to the National Human Rights Commission and Commission rules call for the autopsy to be filmed and the autopsy report to be prepared according to a model form.

“Research, court decisions, and media accounts show that these steps are frequently ignored. Internal departmental inquiries to examine wrongdoing rarely find police culpable,” HRW said.

“The police also delay or resist filing complaints against implicated police officers.”

The group said last year, police registered only 33 of the 97 custodial deaths against fellow police officers.

Additional reporting by the Associated Press