Open letter to AP CM on custodial violence – HRF

January 5, 2019

The Human Rights Forum (HRF) has addressed an open letter to AP CM Chandrababu Naidu calling for police personnel responsible for custodial deaths of suspects to be booked under IPC 302 (murder) and other relevant sections of the law. The HRF said criminal investigation into cases of custodial torture must be done by an agency as independent of the concerned police as possible. A mere departmental probe and the mandatory magisterial enquiry are no substitute for this lawful process, the letter stated. The HRF called upon the CM to seriously address the issue of custodial torture by law enforcement personnel and to ensure adherence to Constitutional values and lawful procedures by the police. Why is there no “zero tolerance” to custodial deaths, the HRF wanted to know.

Releasing the open letter at a media conference in Visakhapatnam on Thursday, the HRF called on the Chief Minister to comply with the Supreme Court and High Courts directives and expedite setting up of the Police Complaints Authority at both the State-level and in every district and for them to be operationalized in a substantive and meaningful manner. The rights body also sought the setting up of a State Security Commission and, among other things, the fixing of CCTV cameras in all police lock ups and interrogation centers. 

The HRF has conducted fact-findings into 9 cases of custodial violence in the State by the police over a period of 12 months from December 2017 till November 2018. It alleged that atotal of 9 persons, all from marginalised sections and mostly accused in theft cases, have died as a result of police maltreatment in lock-ups and detailed the manner in which they were allegedly tortured while in the custody of the police. Of them, five died as a direct result of alleged third degree torture while in custody, two committed suicide after being beaten while in custody and later released, and one person succumbed to a heart-attack subsequent to torture in custody. In all cases, suspects were held in illegal custody for days on end and subjected to severe violence, the letter alleged. 

The open letter stated that passing off custodial deaths as due to suicide has become a favourite concoction for the State’s police so as to cover up their crimes. After every custodial death, the police routinely trot out falsehoods and utterly implausible stories that the suspect took his own life. The HRF alleged that in all cases, the police were bringing about immense pressure on family members of the deceased by a combination of threats and money. Superiors were merely instituting departmental enquiries that were more concerned about shielding their colleagues rather than bringing those responsible for serious illegalities to justice. 

The letter said custodial violence and abuse of police power is a matter of serious concern. It said though the law criminalised torture, custodial violence evidently enjoyed unprecedented license in our State. Interrogation methods continued to be brutal and inhuman, the HRF said. There was a routine disregard for arrest regulations and procedures were brazenly flouted. Despite detailed media reports about torture in custody, hardly any corrective steps were taken. Of the nine cases, criminal prosecution was initiated against policemen responsible in only one. 

Inflicting violence on helpless suspects and subjecting them to degrading treatment has become a common phenomenon and routine police practice of interrogation. A pervasive regime of impunity was the single most important factor for institutionalising widespread use of custodial torture, the HRF stated. This, the organization said was totally unacceptable, adding that the police cannot enjoy impunity. Instead of whitewashing their crimes, police personnel responsible for this violence must be suspended, prosecuted and brought to justice. The government can boast of the rule of law only when those responsible for enforcing it are held accountable. Only this can deter torture and maltreatment. The HRF stated that the police were only as lawful or lawless as the political establishment wanted them to be. This was the unfortunate state of affairs.

HRF also wanted a judicial magistrate to enquire into all cases of custodial deaths rather than executive magistrates as is being done. It pointed out that the insertion of section 176 (1-A) through an amendment to the CrPC in 2005 mandated that all custodial deaths should be enquired into by a judicial magistrate or metropolitan magistrate rather than an executive magistrate. This has come into effect from June 23, 2006 but till date was not being implemented.

K Sudha (HRF AP State general secretary

Y Rajesh (HRF AP State secretary)

VS Krishna (HRF AP, TS Coordination Committee member)