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INDIA: Detainee succumbs to torture by police

22 May 2014

INDIA: Detainee succumbs to torture by police

ISSUES: Torture; custodial death; police violence; impunity; rule of law

Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information from Civil Society Women's Organization (CSWO), an anti-corruption and women's rights organization based in Shillong, Meghalaya regarding the custodial death of an 18-year-old youth Mr. Balsan S. Marak. Balsan was arrested under dubious circumstances on charges of kidnapping and torture of women on 13 May. He was in police custody over night. The next day he was presented before the magistrate remanded to a 14-day judicial custody lodged in Tura District jail. Balsan was taken to Tura Civil Hospital on two occasions, on 17 May and 19 May, for a fever, ear problems, and orthopedic complication. He died in the early morning of 20 May. His body carries marks of torture and apparently was beaten at chest with rifle butt. A magisterial inquiry has been ordered. However, AHRC fears that the officers will distort the evidence and threaten eye-witnesses. There is risk that the independent investigation may be compromised, a trend continuously observed by AHRC in such cases, and consequently, the perpetrator police officers will go unpunished. Police all over the country are routinely violating the guidelines issued by the Supreme Court as well as National Human Rights Commission that aims to prevent arbitrary arrest and custodial torture. AHRC is concerned of the rising brutality of law enforcement officers amidst impunity.

CASE NARRATIVE:

On 13 May 2014, Balsan S. Marak, son of Mr. Nipson Ch. Marak and Mrs. Meena S. Marak, resident of Megonggre village, situated at the outskirts of Tura town, the headquarter of West Garo Hills district, Meghalaya, accompanied his friend Mr. Chegen N. Sangma to visit Tura Police Station. Chegen’s mother Ms. Jaynie Sangma, a teacher and activist was arrested on 10 May by police on allegedly fabricated charges of illegal confinement, kidnapping, criminal intimidation and torture of 5 women and was serving 14 days of judicial custody (see additional information below). Upon contacted by Chegen, one of the 5 women, expressed willingness to testify before police in support of Jaynie. In the evening around 7 p.m., the woman along with Chegen, Ms. Neetu Marak, Probitro Marak and the victim, Balsan, went to Tura Police station. Upon reaching the destination, the woman went inside the police station while the group was waiting outside.

After some time, a few police persons in civil dress arrived and beat up Balsan. It is not known whether they came out of the police station or from elsewhere. Balsan was then taken inside the police station at around 7:45 p.m. and told that an FIR has been filed against him by the very woman who wanted to testify in support of Jaynie.

Soon after, all the four of the group (Chagen, Neetu, Probitro, and Balsan) were formally arrested by police on charges of kidnapping and torture. They were presented before the magistrate on 14 May and were taken in judicial custody for 14 days. He was lodged in Tura District jail.

It is alleged that Balsan was tortured by police after his arrest on 13 May. Two policemen requesting anonymity informed CSWO that the victim was beaten up in custody to obtain a confession. The doctor gave a false certificate that he was in good health when, in fact, the doctor hadn’t examined him. The doctor is alleged to have said that if required, he would admit him to the hospital only if a spare seat is available.

Parents of Balsan contacted Additional Superintendent of Police Mr. Bruno Sangma on 13 May to find out the reasons for his detention to which Bruno replied that Balsan is a suspected insurgent.

Family informed that Balsan was traveling and returned to Tura on 12 May. He recently passed a Class XII examination in commerce and was preparing to take admission in a college for higher study. The family claimed that Balsan was in good health on 13 May and had no injuries at all on his hand or any other parts of his body; but when the family visited Balsan on 14 May, they discovered that his left hand was broken and swollen. Later their motion for a bail petition on medical ground was rejected.

Balsan was taken to Tura Civil Hospital on 17 May for a check up at the Out Patient Department because of his complaints of fever, headache, ear problems, and orthopedic complication. A thick white fluid was seen oozing out his ear and his body carried marks of torture and apparently he was beaten in the chest with a rifle butt. No X-ray or blood test was conducted to ascertain the causes of orthopedic complication. He was admitted to the same hospital on 19 May for similar symptoms accompanied by vomiting.

He was also unable to eat food and was administered fluid intravenously. Balsam's health reached a critical condition on 20 May and was taken to the observation unit of the hospital at 7:25 a.m. He was declared dead at 8:20 a.m., however the police and hospital officials insisted to the family that he was still alive and refused to allow them in to see the Balsan until 11 a.m.

In medical science multiple complicating factors like hypothermia, hypotension, ear problems, fluctuating heartbeat, and headache are known to be the symptoms of sepsis which can be caused by severe internal injuries; people who die of sepsis often exhibit the above symptoms. Based on the similarity with the victim’s symptoms, it can be assumed that Balsan’s internal organs like lung and cerebral spinal cavity were likely infected and filled up with fluids due to an induced sepsis which became fatal.

On 20 May, a magisterial inquiry was ordered by Mr. Pravin Bakshi, the Deputy Commissioner and District Magistrate of West Garo Hills. A post-mortem has been performed by a panel of 3 doctors and recorded on video. Reports should be forthcoming.

Mr. P.W. Ingty, Divisional Commissioner, Garo Hills Division, will conduct the inquiry and will gather factual and circumstantial evidence, including medical evidence, to ascertain the circumstances and the role of the police, if any, which could have led to the death of Balsan in judicial custody. The report is to be completed within a month.

The Police claimed in the media on 20 May that Balsan confessed to the crime of kidnapping and torture and that the confession was recorded on video. They also claimed his death is a consequence of an earlier illness and not due to torture. Police sources requesting anonymity leaked that an internal police report of the Tura Police Station itself has indicated that the Superintendent of Police, Mukesh Singh; Additional Superintendent of Police, Mr. Bruno Ch. Marak; and the 2nd Officer in Charge had beaten Balsan the night of 13 May while he was in custody. The same source also indicated that Balsan was hit on his chest with the butt of a rifle and also hit on the head. Police officers have apparently also given contradictory statements to their colleagues about the incident that validate the suspicion of torture in custody.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:

During the last week of April and first week of May, 2014, an unknown numbers of women were apprehended by Tura Police with the help of local women activists apparently in a case of moral policing. After apprehension, police handed over 5 of them to Ms. Jaynie Sangma to organize counseling sessions with a pastor. It was reported that 5 men were also detained by the police along with the women and but were let free after "light punishment". Jaynie is 38 years old teacher, an activist known for being vocal against corruption, and a peace negotiator between Achik National Volunteer Council (ANVC) and the government in Garo Hills. There was no official written exchange between the police and Jaynie for handing over the women to her.

On the 8 May 2014, a team from the District Child Protection Unit visited the house of Jaynie to meet the women, apparently on instruction by the Deputy Commissioner. Later that same day, around 8:30 p.m., members of ANVC, stormed the house of Jaynie, attacked her, and took the women. Jaynie personally knew some of militants and one among them was Mr. Katong. She fled to the DC's office to seek protection where she was provided shelter at the circuit house.

The next day, the women were found in police custody, but it was not clear when and who handed them over the women to police. At noon, media personnel were allowed to take pictures of these women and they were stripped to reveal marks of torture with bruises in their back. The same day, Jaynie was arrested on charges of illegal confinement, kidnapping, criminal intimidation and torture. Jaynie claimed that she has received letters from the parents of the women to keep them with her for counseling and she handed these letters over to the police. Police confiscated the letters and her diary without issuing a seizure list and the women were sent back to their homes on May 10. Jaynie was remanded to judicial custody for 14 days.

On 11 May, the District Child Protection Unit also submitted a report on their meeting with the women at the house of Jaynie on 8 May 2014. The report states that the women were tortured in Jaynie's house. It is not clear why the District Child Protection Unit took two days to report the torture and why they never sought immediate police help.

Jaynie suspects that the ANVC members were intentionally used by police with malicious intention. Members of the armed group whether surrendered or under cease-fire are in fact often used by police and security forces to serve illegal interests. This trend is observed in all states of north east India. Media often reports that criminal activities mostly extortion are carried out by the armed group with the knowledge of police. Extortion is rampant in the state, especially in the natural resource rich areas like the coal belts.

The ANVC was formed in 1995 with an aim of forming a separation state for the Garo tribe as "Achikland". Later the group signed a cease-fire agreement with the government of India and the Government of Meghalaya and this agreement was extended for an indefinite period from 23 July, 2008 onwards.

Meghalaya state has been experiencing active armed conflict since 1990s and several active armed groups are divided over various demands ranging from statehood to greater autonomy. The State government has not declared any part of the state as a "disturbed area" and hence the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 is not applicable.

The police department in Meghalaya is not different from its counterparts in the rest of the country. Its own officer, Mr. Champion R. Sangma, a former Meghalaya Police Service (MPS) officer who served as an Assistant Commandant of a police complained of high level of corruption and rogue system of policing. He later formed the Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA) in 2009 following a disagreement about the internal function of the police department. He was arrested in July 2012, however, the armed group is still active.

SUGGESTED ACTION:
Please send a letter to the authorities listed below expressing your concern about this case requesting an immediate impartial investigation. The investigation must be monitored by a judicial officer as otherwise the investigation may get jeopardize and evidences may be tampered and distorted by the police. The accused police officers must be suspended till the investigation is completed.
Please note that the AHRC has also written a separate letter to the Special Rapporteur on Extra-judicial, Summary, or Arbitrary Executions calling for immediate intervention in this case.

ENDS

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