A former member of India’s Parliament convicted of kidnapping has been shot dead on live TV along with his brother while in police custody in the northern city of Prayagraj, raising questions about rule of law in the state of Uttar Pradesh.
The gunmen, who appeared to have posed as journalists, fired multiple shots at Atiq Ahmed and former state legislator Ashraf Ahmed on Saturday as they were being taken in handcuffs to hospital by police for a medical checkup, authorities said.
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Three suspects quickly surrendered to the police after the shooting with at least one of them chanting, “Jai Shri Ram,” or “Hail Lord Ram,” a slogan that has become a battle cry for Hindu nationalists in their campaign against Muslims.
The two victims were from India’s Muslim minority. Police did not say whether they were investigating a possible sectarian motive in the killings.
I am shocked by the brazen anarchy and total collapse of law & order in Uttar Pradesh.
It is shameful that perpetrators are now taking the law in their own hands, unfazed by the police and media presence.
Such unlawful acts have no place in our constitutional democracy.
— Mamata Banerjee (@MamataOfficial) April 16, 2023
Police officer Ramit Sharma told The Associated Press news agency that the three assailants arrived on motorcycles and posed as journalists.
“They managed to reach close to Atiq and his brother on the pretext of recording a byte and fired at them from close range,” he said. “Both sustained bullet injuries on the head.”
“It all happened in seconds,” Sharma said.
Another police official, Prashant Kumar, told the Agence France-Presse news agency that the attackers are being questioned.
The police have identified the attackers as Lavlesh Tiwari, Arun Maurya and Sunny Singh. The trio hails from the state of Uttar Pradesh.
‘Failure of the police’
Atiq Ahmed last month had said in a petition to India’s top court that his life was under threat from the police in the state ruled by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
His lawyer, Vijay Mishra, said the shooting was shocking because “it is a clear failure of the police in ensuring the safety” of his clients.
Mother of all failures in mother of democracy! https://t.co/cbY32b3Dvn
— Nirupama Subramanian (@tallstories) April 16, 2023
The shooting occurred days after Atiq’s son Asad Ahmed, 19, and an accomplice, who had both been accused of a recent murder, were killed by police in what was described as a shootout.
Atiq Ahmed, 60, was jailed in 2019 after he was convicted of kidnapping. He was a local lawmaker four times and was also elected to India’s Parliament in 2004. He reportedly faced more than 100 legal cases.
More than 180 people facing charges have been killed in Uttar Pradesh in recent years in so-called “police encounters”, which human rights groups said are often extrajudicial executions.
In 2019, UN experts raised alarms about alleged police killings in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state and home to 200 million people.
Hundreds of politicians belonging to all parties across India have criminal cases pending against them, and nearly half of the ministers in Uttar Pradesh are criminal suspects, according to the independent Association for Democratic Reforms monitoring group.
Cases against the state’s chief minister, Yogi Adityanath, were withdrawn after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP came to power in Uttar Pradesh in 2017.
‘Violation of the rule of law’
Gatherings of more than four people were banned on Sunday across the crime-ridden northern state after the shootings.
Adityanath ordered an investigation into the slayings, which have sparked outrage among opposition leaders.
Atiq is the second Muslim ex-MP who was murdered with impunity. Ehsan Jaffry was ruthlessly hacked to death by a mob in Gujarat in 2002 and today it’s Atiq. Shot and killed in police custody.
— Asaduddin Owaisi (@asadowaisi) April 16, 2023
Akhilesh Yadav, leader of the Samajwadi Party, said: “Crime has reached its peak in UP, and the morale of the criminals is high.”
“When someone can be killed in firing openly amid the security cordon of the police, then what about the safety of the general public?” he tweeted in Hindi.
Dalit leader and former chief minister of the state, Mayawati, expressed her concerns about the killing, asking the Supreme Court to take notice of this “extremely serious and worrisome” incident.
“It raises serious questions on the law and order of the UP government and its style of functioning,” she said.
Indian National Congress party leader Priyanka Gandhi also highlighted the rule of law.
“Criminals should be given the harshest punishment, but it should be according to the law of the land,” the Congress general secretary said. “Playing with or violating the rule of law and the judicial process for any political purpose is not right for our democracy.”