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Rights group counts hundreds of deaths in Indian police custody

Published:Wednesday | December 21, 2016 | 12:00 AM

NEW DELHI (AP):

Nearly 600 people died in Indian police custody from 2009-2015, many of them after being tortured, a human rights group said on Monday, urging India to enforce often-ignored regulations and prosecute officers who mistreat prisoners.

Human Rights Watch said that police regularly disregard arrest procedures and torture detained people to death. The police often blame such deaths on suicide or illness.

extracting confessions

While torture is illegal in the country, many Indian police are open about extracting confessions or details about crimes by applying the 'third degree' - a euphemism that can encompass anything from a couple of slaps to a savage beating.

"Until you use third degree against them, they will not speak," said Jairaj Sharma, a retired police officer in India's Uttar Pradesh state.

Citing government data, the report said that 97 people died in police custody in 2015. In 67 of those cases, the suspects died within 24 hours of being arrested, or authorities failed to take the suspects before a magistrate within 24 hours of arrest, as required by law.

India's Home Ministry did not reply to a request for comment on the report on Monday.

Human Rights Watch said strict enforcement was needed of existing arrest guidelines, such as informing the families of those arrested, providing medical examinations, and quickly producing suspects before magistrates.

The New York-based group demanded that police officers who engage in torture and other ill-treatment of prisoners be disciplined and prosecuted.

Police officers will only learn that beating suspects is unacceptable when some are prosecuted, said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director of Human Rights Watch. "Our research shows that too often, the police officers investigating deaths in custody are more concerned about shielding their colleagues than bringing those responsible to justice," she said in an interview.

Vikram Singh, a top retired Indian police officer, acknowledged, the country's criminal justice system is riddled with problems, from desperately overcrowded jails to suspects sometimes held for years as cases are investigated.

He said, police officers have little concern about being punished if they beat a suspect.