IN THE death of crime suspects in the hands of the law enforcement agencies which the law enforcers prefer to call incidents of ‘gunfight’, ‘crossfire’ or ‘gangland infighting’ but are largely believed to be cases of extrajudicial killing because of the narrative that often goes with them, suspects are often reported to have died after being hit with bullets — fired by accomplices of the suspects during police operations for cohort arrests and arms or drugs recovery — in the head or the chest or even in the back. Rights organisation Odhikar in its report, as New Age reported on Sunday, says that 201 people have died in reported ‘gunfights’ between this January and June. A number of them, as rights group Ain o Salish Kendra says, died after their arrest and during operations for arms recovery and cohort arrests. While such extrajudicial killing kept creating a furore at home and abroad about rights abuse by the law enforcers, who almost always say that they had to fire in self defence, the police practice of not taking out crime suspects in protective gear in such operations — while they do so when they produce crime suspects before the media and in courts — only lends credence to the popular perception of extrajudicial killing.
While crime suspects keep dying — thus, undermining a couple of basic tenets of the law that the accused are innocent until they are proven guilty, which is for the court of law to decide, and the accused, suspects, or even hardened criminals, should get a fair chance to stand trial — after being hit with bullets in the head or the body, the home minister seeks to say that law enforcers always try to protect the detained crime suspects but fails to say whether the suspects are put in bullet-proof vests and helmets. Some police officials also claim that they usually take the suspects in bullet-proof vests and helmets out in operations for arms recovery or cohort arrests. But some law enforcers contradict the proposition, saying that although they take steps for the protection of suspects in such operations, bullet-proof vests and helmets may not always protect the suspects while some others in the law enforcement agencies believe, as New Age quoted one official as saying, that ‘criminals’ could not be given bullet-proof vests. A situation like this obviously raises rights concerns and questions police intention as the police put bullet-proof vests and helmets on crime suspects when they are produced before the media and in courts in fear of any accident but the police do not do so when they take out suspects in operations for the arrests of accomplices and arms recovery.
While it is imperative for the government to end extrajudicial killing as such death does not only run into an affront to the rule of law, it also harms justice dispensation. With the law enforcers coming to believe suspects as criminals, which is for the court of law to decide, it also imperative on the managers of the law enforcement agencies to impress upon themselves and the personnel that any justice dispensation devoid of judicial accountability only weakens the judicial process.
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