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INDIA: Custodial death in Manipur Dressed up as Suicide

March 6, 2014

ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION - URGENT APPEALS PROGRAMME

Urgent Appeal Case: AHRC-UAC- 028-2014

6 March 2014
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INDIA: Custodial death in Manipur Dressed up as Suicide

ISSUES: Custodial death; Right to Life; Police Torture; Right to Protest; Impunity
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Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information from civil society organizations based in Manipur, India, regarding the custodial death of Mr. Thoudam Digbijoy. Mr. Digbijoy was illegally detained in Wangoi police station, Wangoi Makha Leikai, Imphal West district, Manipur. On 26 February 2014 he was found dead, supposedly by suicide. This stirred outrage in the local community, not convinced by the version of Wangoi police officers. The resultant protests have been met by the Wangoi police with force, and three human rights defenders have been injured.

CASE NARRATIVE:

On 26 February 2014, a man was found dead. He allegedly hung himself while in detention in Wangoi police station, located in Imphal west district, Manipur.

The deceased’s name is Thoudam Digbijoy, aged about 37, son of T Nabakumar. He was previously working with an NGO as an assistant in its natural cure health care section. Married for the past 19 years, Mr. Digbijoy had been living with his wife and three children.

On the 22 February 2014 he eloped with a 22 year old girl, as a result of a relationship outside wedlock. The family of the girl with whom he had the relationship complained to the police, accusing Mr. Digbijoy of kidnapping. As a result, on 23 February 2014 at around 2:30 p.m. Mr. Digbijoy was taken into custody from his residence, situated at Wangoi Makha Leikai, by a team of Wangoi police officers. No arrest memo was issued to Digbijoy's family, which made the detention illegal.

On the 26 February 2014 at around 8 a.m. the police of Wangoi informed the victim’s family that Mr. Digbijoy was found dead in their lock-up as a result of suicide. The family of Mr. Digbijoy and local residents, however, remain unconvinced that Mr. Digbijoy hung himself, using one end of his shirt, to make a noose around his neck.

As a response to the news of the improbable suicide, the family of the victim and locals reacted by protesting against police torture and consequent custodial death. On 26 February itself, the women’s association Meira Paibis, one of the largest grassroots human rights movements in Manipur, as well as local residents, blocked Mayai Lambi road at Wangoi Keithel. In the interim, a group of women gathered in front of the Wangoi police to agitate. The Wangoi police responded with the use of force, firing tear gas shells and mock bombs to control the protestors, resulting in the injury of three women human rights defenders. The injured have been identified as Thoudam Noabi, Thoudam Lebaklei and Thoudam Ambabati – all members of Wangoi Makha Leikai Meira Paibis.

A Joint Action Committee (JAC) has been formed against the custodial death of Thoudam Digbijoy. The JAC is demanding that the government of Manipur conduct timely judicial inquiry, dismiss the involved police personnel, and grant of adequate ex-gratia assistance to Mr. Digbijoy's family.

The postmortem was conducted on 1 March 2014. However, as a starting position the JAC rejected to accept the body unless the demands are fulfilled. On the 4 March 2014 The JAC and Mr. Digbijoy’s family members claimed the body which had been lying at the Regional Institute of Medical Sciences Morgue.

The body of Mr. Digbijoy was accepted as a result of the assurance from the State Home minister to take action against the Officer in Charge of the Wangoi Police Station.

According to the media, Convener of JAC, Mr. Premjit has stated that the Minister has guaranteed suitable action taken up and the transfer of the Officer in Charge of the Wangoi Police Station and to further suspend the personnel whom were on duty the day of the incident.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION:

That the police and armed forces routinely carry out custodial extrajudicial executions in Manipur is well known. In 2012, human rights organizations challenged the custodial killing of 1,528 people in Manipur over two decades and demanded the constitution of a Special Investigation Team (SIT) when appearing before the Supreme Court.

The Commission of Inquiry, instituted by the Supreme Court of India during the hearing of Writ Petition (Criminal) 129 of 2012 [Extra Judicial Execution Victims Families' Association and Another (petitioners) Against Union of India and Others (respondents)] and Writ Petition (Civil) 445 of 2012 [Suresh Singh (petitioner) Against Union of India and Others (respondents)] has filed its report to the Court on 30 March 2012. The investigation by the Commission, chaired by Justice N. Santhosh Hegde (retired Judge to the Supreme Court and former Solicitor General of India), having Mr. J. M. Lyngdoh (former Chief Election Commissioner of India) and Dr. Ajai Kumar Singh (former Director General of Police, Karnataka state) as members, has laid bare the true face of law enforcement in Manipur.

The Commission has found:
1. that in all cases, the security forces have blatantly violated the law and procedure and have engaged in cold-blooded murder;
2. that the use of disproportionate force against the victims by firing at them repeatedly at close range is standard practice;
3. the complete negation of all legal procedures even by administrating officers including executive magistrates;
4. open and uncontrolled possibility for wanton use of authority, including fabrication of or destruction or tampering of the evidence and the crime scene and;
5. the abysmal failure of the draconian law, the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act 1958 coupled with the perpetual imposition of emergency under Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973.

Given such findings by the commission, and the history of police action in Manipur, the death of the arrested person in custody casts doubt regarding the role of police officers. The officers in question need to be investigated and, if found guilty, must be prosecuted.

SUGGESTED ACTION:

Kindly write to the authorities listed below, expressing your concern and demanding a thorough investigation in the case. The AHRC will write a separate letter to the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Arbitrary and Summary Execution calling for his intervention into this matter.

To support this appeal, please click here:

SAMPLE LETTER:

Dear ………………,

INDIA: Custodial death in Manipur Dressed up as Suicide

Name of victim: Mr. Thoudam Digbijoy (37)
Names of alleged perpetrators: Personnel of Wangoi Police, Manipur
Date of incident: 26 February 2014
Place of incident: Lock-up, Wangoi Makha Leikai, Wangoi Police Station, Imphal West district, Manipur, INDIA

I am writing to voice deep concern regarding the custodial death of Mr. Thoudam Digbijoy, 37, in the Wangoi police station, Imphal West district, Manipur. On the 26 February, 2014, he was found dead, allegedly by hanging himself while in detention in Wangoi police station, Imphal west district, Manipur.

On the 26 February, 2014, a man was found dead. He allegedly hung himself while in detention in Wangoi police station, located in Imphal west district, Manipur.

The deceased’s name is Thoudam Digbijoy, aged about 37, son of T Nabakumar. He was previously working with an NGO as an assistant in its natural cure health care section. Married for the past 19 years, Mr. Digbijoy had been living with his wife and three children.

On the 22 February 2014 he eloped with a 22 year old girl, as a result of a relationship outside wedlock. The family of the girl with whom he had the relationship complained to the police, accusing Mr. Digbijoy of kidnapping. As a result, on 23 February 2014 at around 2:30 p.m. Mr. Digbijoy was taken into custody from his residence, situated at Wangoi Makha Leikai, by a team of Wangoi police officers. No arrest memo was issued to Digbijoy's family, which made the detention illegal.

On the 26 February 2014 at around 8 a.m. the police of Wangoi informed the victim’s family that Mr. Digbijoy was found dead in their lock-up as a result of suicide. The family of Mr. Digbijoy and local residents, however, remain unconvinced that Mr. Digbijoy hung himself, using one end of his shirt, to make a noose around his neck.

As a response to the news of the improbable suicide, the family of the victim and locals reacted by protesting against police torture and consequent custodial death. On 26 February itself, the women’s association Meira Paibis, one of the largest grassroots human rights movements in Manipur, as well as local residents, blocked Mayai Lambi road at Wangoi Keithel. In the interim, a group of women gathered in front of the Wangoi police to agitate. The Wangoi police responded with the use of force, firing tear gas shells and mock bombs to control the protestors, resulting in the injury of three women human rights defenders. The injured have been identified as Thoudam Noabi, Thoudam Lebaklei and Thoudam Ambabati – all members of Wangoi Makha Leikai Meira Paibis.

A Joint Action Committee (JAC) has been formed against the custodial death of Thoudam Digbijoy. The JAC is demanding that the government of Manipur conduct timely judicial inquiry, dismiss the involved police personnel, and grant of adequate ex-gratia assistance to Mr. Digbijoy's family.

The postmortem was on 1 March 2014. However, as a starting position the JAC rejected to accept the body unless the demands are fulfilled. On the 4 March 2014 The JAC and Mr. Digbijoy’s family members claimed the body which had been lying at the Regional Institute of Medical Sciences Morgue.

The body of Mr. Digbijoy was accepted as a result of the assurance from the State Home minister to take action against the Officer in Charge of the Wangoi Police Station.

According to the media, Convener of JAC, Mr. Premjit has stated that the Minister has guaranteed suitable action taken up and the transfer of the Officer in Charge of the Wangoi Police Station and to further suspend the personnel whom were on duty the day of the incident.

I am concerned that the police and armed forces routinely carry out custodial extrajudicial executions in Manipur is well known. In 2012, human rights organizations challenged the custodial killing of 1,528 people in Manipur over two decades and demanded the constitution of a Special Investigation Team (SIT) when appearing before the Supreme Court.

The Commission of Inquiry, instituted by the Supreme Court of India during the hearing of Writ Petition (Criminal) 129 of 2012 [Extra Judicial Execution Victims Families' Association and Another (petitioners) Against Union of India and Others (respondents)] and Writ Petition (Civil) 445 of 2012 [Suresh Singh (petitioner) Against Union of India and Others (respondents)] has filed its report to the Court on 30 March 2012. The investigation by the Commission, chaired by Justice N. Santhosh Hegde (retired Judge to the Supreme Court and former Solicitor General of India), having Mr. J. M. Lyngdoh (former Chief Election Commissioner of India) and Dr. Ajai Kumar Singh (former Director General of Police, Karnataka state) as members, has laid bare the true face of law enforcement in Manipur.

The Commission has found:
1. that in all cases, the security forces have blatantly violated the law and procedure and have engaged in cold-blooded murder;
2. that the use of disproportionate force against the victims by firing at them repeatedly at close range is standard practice;
3. the complete negation of all legal procedures even by administrating officers including executive magistrates;
4. open and uncontrolled possibility for wanton use of authority, including fabrication of or destruction or tampering of the evidence and the crime scene and;
5. the abysmal failure of the draconian law, the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act 1958 coupled with the perpetual imposition of emergency under Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973.

Given such findings by the commission, and the history of police action in Manipur, the death of the arrested person in custody casts doubt regarding the role of police officers. The officers in question need to be investigated and, if found guilty, must be prosecuted.

I, thereby, urge the following:

1. Conduct of a timely judicial inquiry

2. The immediate booking of suspected perpetrators and swift trial and punishment for those found guilty.

3. Adequate compensation for the family of the victim

4. Assistance of medical treatment for the injured protesters

5. Implementation of the National Human Rights Commission's guidelines on custodial death.

Yours Sincerely,

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PLEASE SEND YOUR LETTERS TO:

1. Dr. Manmohan Singh
Prime Minster, Government of India
Room No. 148 B, South block, New Delhi, India
Fax: + 91 11 230116857; 23015603
Email: manmohan@sansad.nic.in

2. Chairperson,
National Human Rights Commission
Faridkot House, Copernicus Marg
New Delhi 110001, India
Fax: + 91 11 2338 4863
Email: chairnhrc@nic.in

3. Mr. Okram Ibobi Singh
Chief Minister of Manipur
New Secretariat Building
Bapupara, Imphal 795001, Manipur, India
INDIA Fax + 91 385 2451398
Email: cmmani@hub.nic.in

4. Mr. Vinod Kumar Duggal
Governor of Manipur
Raj Bhawan, Imphal 795001, India
Fax: +913852441812
Email: govmani@hub.nic.in

5. Mr. Shahid Ahmad
DGP Manipur
Babupara, Imphal 795001, India
Fax : +91 385 2451 100
Email: dgp-mnp@hub.nic.in


Thank you.

Urgent Appeals Programme
Asian Human Rights Commission (ua@ahrc.asia)

Document Type :
Urgent Appeal Case
Document ID :
AHRC-UAC-028-2014
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Extended Introduction: Urgent Appeals, theory and practice

A need for dialogue

Many people across Asia are frustrated by the widespread lack of respect for human rights in their countries.  Some may be unhappy about the limitations on the freedom of expression or restrictions on privacy, while some are affected by police brutality and military killings.  Many others are frustrated with the absence of rights on labour issues, the environment, gender and the like. 

Yet the expression of this frustration tends to stay firmly in the private sphere.  People complain among friends and family and within their social circles, but often on a low profile basis. This kind of public discourse is not usually an effective measure of the situation in a country because it is so hard to monitor. 

Though the media may cover the issues in a broad manner they rarely broadcast the private fears and anxieties of the average person.  And along with censorship – a common blight in Asia – there is also often a conscious attempt in the media to reflect a positive or at least sober mood at home, where expressions of domestic malcontent are discouraged as unfashionably unpatriotic. Talking about issues like torture is rarely encouraged in the public realm.

There may also be unwritten, possibly unconscious social taboos that stop the public reflection of private grievances.  Where authoritarian control is tight, sophisticated strategies are put into play by equally sophisticated media practices to keep complaints out of the public space, sometimes very subtly.  In other places an inner consensus is influenced by the privileged section of a society, which can control social expression of those less fortunate.  Moral and ethical qualms can also be an obstacle.

In this way, causes for complaint go unaddressed, un-discussed and unresolved and oppression in its many forms, self perpetuates.  For any action to arise out of private frustration, people need ways to get these issues into the public sphere.

Changing society

In the past bridging this gap was a formidable task; it relied on channels of public expression that required money and were therefore controlled by investors.  Printing presses were expensive, which blocked the gate to expression to anyone without money.  Except in times of revolution the media in Asia has tended to serve the well-off and sideline or misrepresent the poor.

Still, thanks to the IT revolution it is now possible to communicate with large audiences at little cost.  In this situation there is a real avenue for taking issues from private to public, regardless of the class or caste of the individual.

Practical action

The AHRC Urgent Appeals system was created to give a voice to those affected by human rights violations, and by doing so, to create a network of support and open avenues for action.  If X’s freedom of expression is denied, if Y is tortured by someone in power or if Z finds his or her labour rights abused, the incident can be swiftly and effectively broadcast and dealt with. The resulting solidarity can lead to action, resolution and change. And as more people understand their rights and follow suit, as the human rights consciousness grows, change happens faster. The Internet has become one of the human rights community’s most powerful tools.   

At the core of the Urgent Appeals Program is the recording of human rights violations at a grass roots level with objectivity, sympathy and competence. Our information is firstly gathered on the ground, close to the victim of the violation, and is then broadcast by a team of advocates, who can apply decades of experience in the field and a working knowledge of the international human rights arena. The flow of information – due to domestic restrictions – often goes from the source and out to the international community via our program, which then builds a pressure for action that steadily makes its way back to the source through his or her own government.   However these cases in bulk create a narrative – and this is most important aspect of our program. As noted by Sri Lankan human rights lawyer and director of the Asian Human Rights Commission, Basil Fernando:

"The urgent appeal introduces narrative as the driving force for social change. This idea was well expressed in the film Amistad, regarding the issue of slavery. The old man in the film, former president and lawyer, states that to resolve this historical problem it is very essential to know the narrative of the people. It was on this basis that a court case is conducted later. The AHRC establishes the narrative of human rights violations through the urgent appeals. If the narrative is right, the organisation will be doing all right."

Patterns start to emerge as violations are documented across the continent, allowing us to take a more authoritative, systemic response, and to pinpoint the systems within each country that are breaking down. This way we are able to discover and explain why and how violations take place, and how they can most effectively be addressed. On this path, larger audiences have opened up to us and become involved: international NGOs and think tanks, national human rights commissions and United Nations bodies.  The program and its coordinators have become a well-used tool for the international media and for human rights education programs. All this helps pave the way for radical reforms to improve, protect and to promote human rights in the region.