In Firozabad, UP Govt Accused of Using Illegitimate and Unchecked Force

A fact-finding report from Maitreyi Gupta, who was part of a two-person volunteer team sent by an Indian human rights NGO to Firozabad.

On December 29, I visited Firozabad, Uttar Pradesh, as part of a two-person volunteer team sent by an Indian human rights NGO to document the impacts of the recent police violence in response to the anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) protests.

Firozabad has a mixed population of 62.36% Hindus and 33.80% Muslims. Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, under which right to assembly of more than 4 persons is restricted, has been imposed in Uttar Pradesh since December 19, 2019. Along with other regions of Uttar Pradesh, Firozabad has become the epicentre of unimagined and yet unchecked state brutality and apathy, with a death toll of upwards of 20, since December 19. Media attention too has been lagging, in part because of repeated internet shutdowns. The district magistrate of Firozabad issued an order shutting down internet services from December 19 until December 22. The internet was shut down again from December 26 to December 27 in Firozabad.

The violence currently taking place in Uttar Pradesh has its roots in a long history of state complicity and encouragement of violence against religious minorities, as witnessed by the number of extrajudicial executions, disproportionately of Muslim youth, since March 2017, which led to a public statement of alarm by four UN Special Rapporteurs. Chief minister Yogi Adityanath, however, had said in a press conference in September 2017:

“Today, the people are secure and safe. The police used to be scared that if we act against criminals, we will be acted against. We have changed that. The police is leading from the front”.

This time too, he had vowed to “take revenge” against people who damaged public property during the anti-CAA protests, saying somewhat ironically that “there is no place for violence in a democracy”. One of his official Twitter accounts says, “Every rioter is shocked…Looking at the strictness of the Yogi government, everyone is silent”.

India’s constitutional and international law obligations obligate the state to respect, protect and fulfil the rights to freedom of speech/expression, association and peaceful assembly of all persons. They also obligate the state to protect persons from torture and other ill-treatment and require that police refrain from using unnecessary or disproportionate force. International law does not permit the use of potentially lethal force for law enforcement purposes except when strictly necessary to protect life or prevent serious injury from an imminent threat.

Also Read: Lucknow Families Recount a Night of Police Terror and Arrests

The fact-finding in Firozabad highlights yet another series of violation of international and constitutional obligations by the Uttar Pradesh government and the Indian state, which is part of the pattern that has been witnessed in other parts of the country’s most populous state.

During our visit to Firozabad on December 29, we heard multiple credible accounts of the events of December 20. On Friday, December 20, at around 2:00 pm, even before men arose from Jum’ah from the mosque opposite the Nalband police outpost, before the namaz being completed, those inside the mosque started hearing noises of disturbance coming from outside. Although unclear who initiated it, reportedly a small protest had broken out.

A protest had earlier been planned for December 20 against the CAA, but permission had not been granted. We were told that the police and the UP Police’s Action Constabulary responded with uncharacteristic speed and started lathi charging the protestors as well as those who had just stepped out of the mosque. This led to stone and bricks pelting from the populace in defence and the police retaliated by using teargas and bullets were fired. Men coming out of Agaa Sahib Mosque, 1 km away from Nalband outpost, were not part of the protest, but got caught up in the violence.

Although the police claim that no guns were used, and have alleged use of deadly weapons by the protestors, at least 6 deaths of locals persons have already taken place – Shafiq, Armaan, Rashid, Mukin, Navi Jaan and Haroon – and as per ground reports the number of deaths is higher, estimated at ten. It has also been alleged that bullets were likely fired by civilians who were working in cahoots with the police. Videos were shown to us of civilians burning property owned by Muslim persons and tearing down CCTV cameras.

Rashid’s father and daughter.

We were told by several locals that the injured persons were sent to hospitals in Agra on motorbikes as no ambulance was allowed to reach Firozabad. They added that hospitals in and around Firozabad refused to provide treatment, alleging fear of state retaliation.

There are currently most wanted posters of more than 150 persons suspected to be part of the protest which have been plastered all over the city. Many have left the city in fear. Financial compensation notices for damaging public property have also been issued and individuals have been asked to file their response within a week, in violation of Supreme Court guidelines which requires that the courts take charge of the matter and not the state government. Further, the police have issued many notices demanding bonds of Rs 10 lakh as security for keeping peace or “maintaining good behaviour” including from those who are dead or infirm and bed-ridden.

Unlawful use of lethal force

Rani lost her husband Shafiq when he was unwittingly caught up in the violence that broke out in the aftermath of the protests, when he was returning from work from a bangle factory. He died a few days later due to injuries caused by live ammunition.

Shafiq’s photo taken in a hospital.

Rani told me: “My husband has died. He was not doing anything, he was simply coming back from work from the bangle factory. A fight broke out and he got hit in the head with a bullet from a gunshot. Everyone saw it. He fell and there was nobody to pick him up. The hospital in Firozabad refused to admit him. People from my community took him to Agra – they took him to 10-12 hospitals, they all refused. Finally, one hospital admitted him, but they kept telling me to take him to Delhi. He died in Delhi. He was the sole earning member of the family.”

We were also told that the police made families bury their deceased quietly in the dead of the night, and carried soil with them for the burial. They took the family members with them in their car to conduct the funeral and did not allow the families to inform their extended family members or their neighbours, telling them that they wanted to prevent unrest. One such case is that of Rashid, a 20-year-old man who lived with a disability, who died on the spot on December 20 due to a gunshot that hit him when he was returning from work.

We were also told that none of the family members have yet been provided with post-mortem reports.

Under the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials:

“Law enforcement officials shall not use firearms against persons except in self-defence or defence of others against the imminent threat of death or serious injury, to prevent the perpetration of a particularly serious crime involving grave threat to life, to arrest a person presenting such a danger and resisting their authority, or to prevent his or her escape, and only when less extreme means are insufficient to achieve these objectives. In any event, intentional lethal use of firearms may only be made when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life.” {emphasis added}

These standards also govern India’s legal obligations in relation to the right to life under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Arbitrary detentions and lack of access to legal, medical aid

At present, the police have reportedly imprisoned 14 persons, many of whom were arbitrarily picked up from their neighbourhoods. According to media reports, one of them is Ahmed Nabi, a 47-year-old cancer patient who was reportedly closing his shop when he was detained by the police. He has been charged with rioting armed with deadly weapon and attempt to murder among other charges. Per media reports, on December 24, a special magistrate ordered the administration to provide medical assistance, as he needs ongoing urgent treatment for cancer. However, the jailor is reported to have said that there was no personnel available to escort him and therefore he remained in the medical ward of the jail. Media reports also say he has multiple injuries: police beatings have led to broken legs and injured hands, and as a result, he is unable to use the toilet or eat.

We also received reports that the police called detainees aatankvaadi and jehaadi and pulled their beards. We heard that one detainee was threatened with a gun in his mouth.

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Authorities are obligated under international law to ensure that any person detained not be subjected to torture or other ill-treatment; have prompt and confidential access to independent counsel; and that those injured or otherwise in need of medical attention be provided with access to adequate medical services.

Under international law obligations, the Centre and Uttar Pradesh governments must desist from the use of unlawful force, arbitrary detention, and ill-treatment of detainees. They must ensure that all victims of excessive use of force by law enforcement officials are provided with timely and confidential access to counsel and any necessary access to medical services.

Finally, the Centre must undertake a prompt, independent, impartial and thorough investigation of all allegations of unlawful use of force, to hold accountable any responsible authorities including where warranted through criminal prosecution of police officers, and provide an effective remedy and reparation, including compensation and rehabilitation to victims.

Maitreyi Gupta is legal advisor, India at the International Commission of Jurists.