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India: Reforms in counterterrorism

Feb 02, 2011

The Indian government should reform its justice system to ensure that abuses do not take place during counterterrorism efforts, Human Rights Watch said in their report The 'Anti-Nationals': Arbitrary Detention and Torture of Terrorism Suspects in India.

The 'Anti-Nationals': Arbitrary Detention and Torture of Terrorism Suspects in India

Published by: Human Rights Watch

The policeman said to me, “Please speak to your son. Tell him that he must give us a few names. Then we will let him go.” But my son told me, “I cannot give any names wrongfully.” The police said to me, “Your son’s life will be ruined. Tell him to identify some people.”

—A father whose son was detained after the 2008 Gujarat bombings, Ahmedabad, July 2009.

“You give me a stick and nothing else, no intelligence or forensic training, no education—and then you ask, why are you beating people up?”

—Security analyst Ajai Sahni on why the police torture terrorism suspects, New Delhi, May 2010.

On three separate days in 2008, India was plunged into panic as synchronized bombs struck three major cities, killing 152 people and injuring hundreds of others. An obscure Islamist militant group calling itself the Indian Mujahideen (IM) claimed responsibility. The bombings—first in Jaipur in May, then Ahmedabad in July, and finally New Delhi in September-were heinous crimes, targeting ordinary people in markets, hospitals, and other public places.

The state response was massive. In sweeps across the country, state police brought in scores of Muslim men for questioning and promptly labelled many “anti-national.” The police arbitrarily detained, tortured, and ill-treated many bombing suspects to get them to confess. In several cases, the police themselves appear to have drafted the confessions. Suspects suffered further mistreatment while in jail awaiting trial, and faced unfair proceedings in court.

The spate of 2008 bombings was followed by the November 26, 2008, attack on the entertainment and commercial hub of Mumbai, in which 10 Pakistani gunmen went on a killing spree inside two luxury hotels, a hospital, the main railway station and a Jewish center. The 2½ day assault, later linked to the Pakistan-based group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), killed 166 people and wounded 238 others. Nine of the gunmen died, and the tenth was captured. In contrast to the previous incidents, the Mumbai attack did not result in the mass arrests of Muslims.

There were no attacks by Islamist groups for more than a year. On February 13, 2010, however, 17 people were killed and dozens injured in Pune by a bomb blast, at a restaurant frequented by foreigners and located close to a Jewish center and an internationally known ashram. Indian police suspected IM, acting in collaboration with LeT. In September 2010, IM allegedly warned of further attacks, and the police were investigating the group’s claims that it was behind a motorcycle drive-by shooting in New Delhi that month that injured two Taiwanese tourists. An email claiming to be from IM also claimed responsibility for a December 2010 bombing in Varanasi, Hinduism’s holiest city and a popular tourist site, which killed two people and injured more than 30 others. There also were no mass arrests of Muslims following these attacks.

Human Rights Watch unequivocally condemns all such attacks on the population and believes that the perpetrators should be appropriately prosecuted. We also understand the need to prevent further attacks, and the great public pressure on the Indian authorities to do so.

Nonetheless, as detailed in this report, the security forces in India, the world’s largest democracy, have time and again responded to these horrific attacks by committing numerous, serious human rights violations in their quest to identify and prosecute suspected perpetrators. These abuses are both unlawful under Indian and international law and counterproductive in the fight against terrorism.

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