Letter to the National Human Rights Commission

The Chairperson
National Human Rights Commission
New Delhi

Subject: Possible violation of Human Rights and other illegal acts by the Delhi Police, especially its Special Cell responsible for counter-terrorist operations.


The Committee for Inquiry on December 13 is a national campaign to bring out the truth, expose the perpetrators, ensure justice and protect the rights of the accused in the parliament attack case. The Committee views this case as falling under the general concerns of rights, justice, and democracy that ensue in the context of the ‘war on terrorism.’

The Committee strongly condemns terrorist acts by fundamentalist outfits; these are serious attacks on civil society and its democratic institutions. However, the Committee agrees with Mr. Kofi Annan that human rights, along with democracy and social justice, are one of the best prophylactics against terrorism. The task is not easy, but it must be undertaken for democracy to function.

In this context, while we are opposed to the policies of the Blair government in Iraq and elsewhere, we appreciate the immediate steps taken to maintain calm and civil order in the city of London after the serial blasts on 7/7, to launch a serious inquiry into the attacks, and to refrain from implicating individuals and groups without convincing evidence. We also applaud the role of the British media and Human Rights organizations in exposing within hours the police action leading to the death of an innocent man and the immediate acknowledgement of the error by the police. We hope that both the responsible terrorist organization and the guilty policemen will be brought to justice.

In contrast, the actions of the investigating agencies, especially the Special Cell of the Delhi Police, and the reporting of their operations by the media, have only helped in spreading terror in the minds of the people. Going by newspaper reports, the national capital of India must be one of the most dangerous places on this planet (for example, Times, 18 July). The panic is so extreme that, when an explosion due to gas-leak took place in a Delhi Metro site, television channels rushed in. As the news was aired, "within an hour, we received over 500 calls where harried people inquired about the explosion," according to the Delhi Police. (Hindu, 6 March).

In this connection, we wish to draw your attention to some recent operations of the Special Cell. Here is a partial list of their arrests of and encounters with alleged terrorists only as reported in the press (we have excluded operations, including killings, against alleged gangsters, highway robbers and contract killers):

1. February 18: Aziz of Al-jehad arrested (Hindu, 19 Feb)
2. February 25: Mohammad Untoo and Gulam Nazar, ex-militants, arrested (Hindu, 26 & 28 Feb)
3. March 5: Hamid Hussain and Sariq of LeT arrested (Hindu, 6 & 7 March)
4. March 5: Shahnawaz, Bilawal and Shams, LeT militants, killed in Bharat Vihar (Hindu, 8 March)
5. March 8: Iftekar Ahsan Mallick of LeT arrested (Hindu, 9 March)
6. March 10: Mohammad Sayeed, Pak spy, arrested (Hindu, 11 March)
7. April 25: Osama and Sabir, LeT militants, killed near Pragati Maidan (Hindu, 26 April).
8. May 16: Harun Rashid, LeT militant, arrested. (Hindu, 17 May)
9. May 23: Ishaq Ittoo, LeT militant, arrested. (Times, 24 May)
10. June 4: Ejaj Wani, Shabbir Peer, Nazir Khan of Hizb-e-Islami arrested (Hindu, 5 June)
11. July 10: Abdul Majid Bhatt of Hizb-ul-Mujahideen arrested (Times, 18 July)

Our concern is that:

(i) In each case, the media reported just the police version of the story in a language and with visual aids that vastly heighten the atmosphere of fear. There have been no follow-ups to ascertain whether the arrests and the encounters were genuine. After the arrests, the arrested persons simply disappeared from view; the media made no inquiries about their treatment in police custody, and whether the accused have been given the due protection of law.

(ii) The media conducted no investigation on the following issues: (a) there is a sudden increase in anti-terrorist operations by the Special Cell, (b) dreaded terrorist organizations such as LeT allow themselves to be repeatedly caught in the traps set up by the Cell, (c) the Cell is able to recover huge amounts of explosives and incriminating material every time such that the identity and the goals of the organizations are immediately exposed, and (d) the remarkable ability of the Special Cell to remain unharmed in alleged gun-battles.

(iii) In at least two cases, there are reasons to doubt the veracity of the police story. First, the alleged ex-militant Mohammad Ahsan Untoo is in fact a senior human rights campaigner in Kashmir, who was arrested by the Special Cell illegally and was brutally tortured in an attempt to extract a confession implicating him with the murderous attack on S. A. R. Geelani (Indian Express, 17 May). Second, the People’s Union for Democratic Rights has shown that the encounter near Pragati Maidan in which two alleged militants were gunned down was possibly an act of cold-blooded murder, reminiscent of the Ansal Plaza incident some years ago (Hindu, 3 May).

While the noted Human Rights advocate Shri Pancholi has already filed an affidavit for Mr. Untoo in the Court of the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate, we understand that the People’s Union for Democratic Rights has filed a petition with the NHRC on the Pragati Maidan encounter.

(iv) There is a persistent attempt in the media, lending voice to the police, to link the current sequence of alleged terrorist acts with the Parliament attack case. Not only that the case currently rests with the Supreme Court of India, this Committee, among other human rights forums and lawyers, has repeatedly questioned the functioning of the Special Cell in that case.

In view of these grave concerns, the Committee seeks redressal from you on the following:

1. To examine the arrest records and ensure full legal protection to alleged terrorists Aziz, Mohammad Untoo, Gulam Nazar, Hamid Hussain, Sariq, Iftekar Ahsan Mallick, Mohammad Sayeed, Ejaj Wani, Shabbir Peer, Nazir Khan, Abdul Majid Bhatt and others, arrested under questionable circumstances by the Delhi Police.

2. To examine the postmortem records and the circumstances in which alleged terrorists Shahnawaz, Saqib, Shams, Osama, Sabir, and others were killed by the police. To ensure that the families of the deceased and, if they are Pakistanis, the Government of Pakistan are duly notified.

3. To examine the alleged seizures and recoveries made during the preceding arrests and killings to see if they are genuine and are documented as per law to make sure that the accused are not implicated in cases with planted evidence.

4. To examine the entire functioning of the Delhi Police in general and the anti-terrorist operations of the Special Cell in particular in view of the persistent complaints raised by human rights forums and lawyers.

With regards and
Yours Sincerely,

Nirmala Deshpande,
Member, Rajya Sabha and
Chairperson ,
Committee for Inquiry on December 13th.

Dated: July 2005

Click here to return to the September 2005 index.