Amnesty International, Amnesty International Report 1996 - India, 1 January 1996, available at: https://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6a9f20.html [accessed 25 November 2020]
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Thousands of political prisoners were detained without charge or trial. Torture of detainees was endemic throughout the country. At least 100 people died in police and military custody, many as a result of torture. Dozens of political detainees "disappeared". Hundreds of people were reportedly extrajudicially executed by members of the security forces. At least three people were judicially executed. Armed opposition groups committed grave human rights abuses, including deliberate and arbitrary killings of civilians and hostage-taking. The government continued to face violent opposition from armed political groups in several states, including Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Assam and other northeastern states. The Chief Minister of Punjab, Beant Singh, was assassinated in a bomb explosion on 30 August; armed secessionists reportedly claimed responsibility. Jammu and Kashmir remained under direct rule by the central government. Legislation allowing detention without charge or trial such as the National Security Act and, in Jammu and Kashmir, the Public Safety Act remained in force. However, the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA), which had been used to detain tens of thousands of political detainees without trial, lapsed on 23 May. Those held under the TADA remained in detention. A Criminal Law Amendment Bill containing many of the same provisions as the TADA, many of which violate international human rights standards, was proposed but had not passed into law by the end of 1995. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), established in 1993 (see Amnesty International Report 1994), continued initiatives to raise public awareness of human rights and held several state governments accountable for human rights violations. In its annual report, the NHRC made recommendations for the prevention of violations in areas facing armed insurgencies or violent opposition. However, it continued to have only limited powers to investigate reports of violations by the armed forces in these areas or to recommend criminal prosecutions of armed forces personnel. Thousands of political prisoners were held without charge or trial under special or preventive detention laws which lacked vital legal safeguards. Many detainees were held under these laws on suspicion of committing ordinary criminal offences but others were held for political reasons. In Jammu and Kashmir alone, thousands of suspected political activists were detained without charge or trial under the Public Safety Act. Most were young men taken into custody by the security forces on suspicion of supporting the campaign for secession. A government report to the NHRC stated that 3,007 people were in detention in Jammu and Kashmir in November 1994. Local civil liberties groups estimated the figure at 20,000. Sheikh Mohammad Ashraf, a lawyer and President of the Baramulla branch of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court Bar Association, which has documented human rights violations in the state, was arrested by soldiers in mid-June. At first the army denied holding him, but on 2 July his family was allowed to see him for a few minutes. He was reportedly released in September. Torture of detainees in police and military custody to extract information and "confessions" remained endemic in every state. Most victims were criminal suspects, although some were political detainees. Many torture victims came from underprivileged sections of society, such as the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. The commonest torture methods were beatings, often with lathis (canes), and, less frequently, suspension by the wrists or ankles, electric shocks and rape. For example, in January a mentally handicapped young man, Uzzal Das, was reportedly tortured by police in Noonmati police station, Guwahati, Assam. He was severely beaten, resulting in multiple fractures to his legs. No action was known to have been taken against the officers responsible. In Jammu and Kashmir, Nazir Ahmed Sheikh had to have both his feet amputated because they had developed gangrene, reportedly as a result of torture in custody in January. The government denied the allegations of torture but no independent investigation was apparently carried out. Rape of women by members of the security forces was also widely reported. For example, three tribal women, one of whom was pregnant, were reportedly raped by police and security force personnel in Tripura in April. Three police officers were reportedly suspended but no criminal charges were known to have been brought. In Jammu and Kashmir, people documenting human rights abuses were attacked by the security forces and by armed opposition groups, although in many cases responsibility for the attacks was difficult to determine. Journalists demonstrating against state violence directed at the civilian population were severely beaten by members of the security forces in March; several had to be hospitalized. In April Mian Abdul Qayoom, President of the Jammu and Kashmir Bar Association, and Parvez Imroz, Secretary of the Srinagar branch of the People's Union for Civil Liberties, were shot and injured by unidentified gunmen. In September a photographer was fatally injured when a bomb exploded in his office. An armed opposition group was reportedly implicated in this attack. At least 100 people died in police and military custody, many as a result of torture. The majority of deaths in custody occurred in Jammu and Kashmir, but at least 30 such deaths were also reported from other states including Punjab, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal. According to reports, 23 people were killed in police custody in West Bengal in the first nine months of 1995. Among the victims was Agun Kassem, from Karimpur, who was arrested on suspicion of murder. He was beaten by police officers who then tied him to a jeep and dragged him 150 metres along a rough road. An inquiry was ordered after his death in Krishnagar Hospital. In Jammu and Kashmir, the bodies of Hilal Ahmad Nafti and two other residents of Hutmara village, Anantnag, were found cut into pieces. They had been arrested in mid-June. A fourth man arrested at the same time, Farooq Ahmad, reportedly witnessed the killing of all three villagers before he escaped from police custody. Although an investigation was ordered, villagers reported that they were not called to testify and had been harassed by soldiers searching for Farooq Ahmad. Convictions of those responsible for deaths in custody were extremely rare. Investigations were very slow even when cases were pursued. The NHRC looked into the cases of 10 people who died in police custody in Bihar between 1986 and 1991. Investigations into four cases had been under way for between five and eight years and had yet to be completed. The government stated that 34 army personnel and 245 Border Security Force (BSF) personnel had been punished for "excesses" and "wrongdoings" in Jammu and Kashmir between 1990 and 1994, but failed to provide Amnesty International with details of the incidents to which these punishments related. In other states, death in custody cases which had been pending for many years were resolved. Courts convicted police officers found responsible and ordered compensation to be paid. In May the Supreme Court sentenced four police personnel to prison terms for the death in custody of a villager in Rampura police station in Madhya Pradesh in 1981. The Supreme Court described the previous acquittal of three of the four men in the Sessions Court and High Court as showing a "could not care less attitude". In August a sessions judge in Karnataka sentenced eight police officers to life imprisonment for the murder of two men Gurumurthy and Rajkumar in police custody in 1988. Dozens of political detainees "disappeared" during the year. Most were young men suspected of having links with armed opposition groups, many solely because they lived in areas where armed groups were active. Few "disappearances" were clarified. In Jammu and Kashmir the army and paramilitary forces were reportedly responsible for scores of "disappearances". For example, Ghulam Nabi Dar, an employee of the irrigation department, was reportedly arrested by soldiers in July 1994 in Kulgam, Anantnag district. The army subsequently denied arresting him. His body was found near a road in May 1995. Jaswant Singh Khalra, General Secretary of the Human Rights Wing of the Akali Dal Party, "disappeared" after being arrested by police in September. In January he had been instrumental in filing a petition with the High Court alleging that the bodies of several hundred people who "disappeared" in police custody in Punjab between 1991 and 1993 had been cremated by Punjab police in Amritsar district. The police had claimed that the corpses were "unclaimed bodies". In October the Supreme Court ordered that a Central Bureau of Investigations inquiry be instituted to investigate the allegations. Hundreds of people were reported to have been extrajudicially executed by the security forces. Nine unarmed civilians were killed by soldiers in January in Imphal, Manipur, after a soldier was wounded by unidentified gunmen. Eye-witnesses reported that soldiers rounded up bystanders and shot them at close range. A judicial inquiry was ordered. In February Punjab police were reported to have extrajudicially executed a man and raped several women in Bihar while on duty there during state elections. Eight people were killed in March when soldiers, members of the Rashtriya Rifles, opened fire on a crowd of unarmed civilians in Kohima Town in Nagaland. According to the Nagaland Director General of Police, the soldiers had "resorted to indiscriminate firing". A joint inquiry by the army and state government was set up and 400 soldiers were detained, but no further action had been taken by the end of 1995. Extrajudicial executions in Jammu and Kashmir continued throughout the year. On 10 February, five shopkeepers were reportedly dragged from their shops and shot dead while pleading for their lives. Members of the BSF reportedly raided the area of Gada Kocha, Srinagar, in retaliation for an earlier attack on the BSF by an armed opposition group. Local people reported that they were beaten by BSF members when they tried to approach the victims of the shooting: one of the injured died two hours later. A magisterial investigation was ordered. At least three people were judicially executed, two in Tamil Nadu and one in Maharashtra, and many others were sentenced to death. At least two people were in imminent danger of execution after the Supreme Court upheld their death sentences. Armed opposition groups committed grave human rights abuses, including hostage-taking, torture and deliberate and arbitrary killings. The victims included politicians and suspected informers. For example, in Manipur, which held state elections in February, Mutum Deven, a candidate for the Manipur People's Party was abducted and killed and several candidates suffered attempts on their lives, attributed to armed opposition groups. In Assam an armed opposition group, the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) held hostages for ransom. Two government officials were held until April. One, Hemram Keet, a sales tax commissioner, had been held for 11 months. In May the ULFA released three traders held since October 1994; a fourth seized at the same time had died in captivity. In Jammu and Kashmir, armed secessionist groups held numerous hostages during the year, including six forestry officials and two journalists abducted in July. A Norwegian student, one of five foreign nationals seized in July by the armed group Al-Faran, was killed in August. Amnesty International called on the government to ensure that all political prisoners were tried promptly and fairly; to investigate all allegations of torture and deaths in custody and to bring to justice those responsible; to implement safeguards against torture; and to commute death sentences and abolish the death penalty. Amnesty International appealed to armed opposition groups to stop human rights abuses and publicly urged them to release all hostages held in Jammu and Kashmir. In January Amnesty International published a report, India: Torture and deaths in custody in Jammu and Kashmir, which contained details of over 700 deaths in custody since 1990. The government's response indicated that it was reluctant to implement eight key recommendations made by Amnesty International and dismissed most of the torture allegations. In March Amnesty International published an analysis of the government's response and in November it published India: Torture continues in Jammu and Kashmir. An Open Letter to Members of Parliament expressing Amnesty International's concerns about the Criminal Law Amendment Bill (1995) was published in July. Sixty-eight deaths in custody in states other than Jammu and Kashmir were detailed in India: Deaths in custody in 1994, published in August, to which the government responded noting that many of the cases were under investigation. Amnesty International published two reports concerning human rights violations by the Punjab police: in May India: Punjab police beyond the bounds of the law; and in October India: Determining the fate of the "disappeared" in Punjab. In an oral statement to the UN Commission on Human Rights in February, Amnesty International included reference to its concerns in India.