West News Wire: In the northern city of Prayagraj, a former member of India’s Parliament who had been convicted of kidnapping was shot dead on live television with his brother while being held by police, sparking concerns about the rule of law in the state of Uttar Pradesh.
Atiq Ahmed and former state legislator Ashraf Ahmed were being escorted in handcuffs by police to the hospital on Saturday for a medical examination when the shooters, who looked to be posing as journalists, opened fire on them multiple times, according to authorities.
After the shooting, three suspects swiftly turned themselves in to the police; at least one of them was heard shouting “Jai Shri Ram,” or “Hail Lord Ram,” which has become a rallying cry for Hindu nationalists in their fight against Muslims.
The two fatalities belonged to India’s minority of Muslims. Police remained mum on whether they were looking into potential sectarian motivations for the deaths.
The Associated Press news agency was informed by police officer Ramit Sharma that the three attackers entered on motorbikes and pretended to be journalists.
On the pretence of recording a byte, they were able to approach Atiq and his brother and fired at them very closely, he claimed. “Both received head wounds from bullets.”
Sharma remarked, “It all happened in seconds.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”