India: Gujurat police torture illegally jailed Muslims

Most of those imprisoned have been held incommunicado for days, if not weeks or months, and there is strong evidence that many have been tortured in custody.

A twenty-year old woman, who cannot be named for safety reasons, described being allowed to see her husband and father, three weeks after police had taken them from her father's home, at Gayakwad Haveli Police Station.

She told the Gujurat High Court:

'We could see with our own eyes that they were much beaten and there was swelling on the entire body. My husband and my father were so much frightened that they could not talk properly to us. Throughout our meeting they were weeping - They could barely walk and that was enough to suggest their physical condition.'

Lawyers working in the area have told the human rights organisation that 380 Muslim men were detained for police interrogation between the end of March and the beginning of May this year, with detentions continuing today. The study says that large numbers of the men who have been taken into police custody have never been formally arrested. In numerous cases the police have kept no records of their detention or interrogation or informed their families of their whereabouts.

Lesley Warner of Amnesty International UK said:

'The Gujurat police are routinely resorting to arbitrary and illegal detention and using torture or ill-treatment to induce confessions.

'Prisoners are allowed no contact with the outside world and are even denied access to lawyers and medical care. The detention of individuals in a police station or other place of detention without recording the fact is a fundamental human rights violation. It is frequently a sign that torture or serious ill-treatment is taking place out of sight and out of mind.'

The government of India has refused requests from Amnesty International to visit Gujurat and investigate the numerous reports that have reached its London headquarters from lawyers and human rights campaigners in the region, who themselves have been subjected to threats and harassment when they speak out.

Amnesty International is extremely concerned that the state of Gujarat appears to be following a pattern of widespread human rights violations seen in several other states including Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab and states of the North-East. It calls on the Gujurat and Indian governments to ensure:

  • the independent inspection of all police stations in the state, to determine whether individuals are being illegally detained and whether up-to-date and accurate records of detention are being maintained
  • that all those illegally detained in Gujarat are immediately released
  • that where police are found to have acted illegally, prompt action is initiated against them, including the bringing of charges under Indian Penal Code.

Background

The context in which these arrests have been taking place is one of heightened communal tension, with allegations that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government of the state actively connived in violence against Muslims perpetrated in the aftermath of the killing of Hindus in Godhra in February 2002. More than 2,000 people, predominantly Muslims, were killed, and thousands more were displaced from their homes between the end of February and May 2002 in Gujarat. Sporadic incidents of communal violence continue to this day. Allegations of state connivance in the violence against Muslims have been given strength by the failure of the criminal justice system to bring those responsible to justice - a fact highlighted by the Supreme Court in a recent order which reportedly referred to 'connivance' between the government and prosecution service. The authorities in Gujarat allege that in retaliation for the violence against Muslims, a series of conspiracies were hatched, to target Hindus and prominent officials held responsible. The former Home Minister of Gujarat Haren Pandya was shot dead on the morning of 26 March 2003. In the wake of his killing and following a series of arrests, Gujarat police claimed to have uncovered a wide-ranging conspiracy. The conspiracy was alleged to have encompassed a series of bomb blasts in Gujarat in May and Septemer 2002 and an attack on Vishwa Hindu Parishad [World Hindu Council] leader Jagdish Tiwari. Young Muslim men were alleged to have been trained by the Inter Service Intelligence agency (ISI) in Pakistan. This has become known as the 'ISI conspiracy', for which Amnesty International has been informed that police filed a First Information Report under which offences can be filed for a period running from April 2002 to April 2003. Scores of suspects have been detained illegally or formally under POTA in connection with this conspiracy, including the two men referred to below.

An attack on the Akshardham Hindu temple on 24 September 2002 in Gandhinagar in which at least 26 people were killed and over 40 injured has also led to allegations that the attack was planned by 'Islamic militants and Pakistani intelligence operatives' and has led to a number of arrests in Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir.

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