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The Assam Human Rights Commission (AHRC) took suo moto cognisance of police firings in the state and has served notice to the state government inquiring into the circumstances leading to the death of 12 accused in the last two months, officials said on July 13.

An AHRC official said that commission member Naba Kamal Bora has issued notice to the principal secretary, Home and Political department, to undertake an inquiry into the facts and circumstances leading to the death and injuries of alleged accused persons and submit a report thereof by August 7.

The AHRC notice said that it is reported that six suspected Dimasa National Liberation Army (DNLA) militants and two alleged insurgents of United People’s Revolutionary Front (UPRF) were killed in two separate encounters with police in Karbi Anglong district.

Four other suspected criminals were killed by police in different encounters, the AHRC said, quoting media reports.

In another incident, accused Sayed Ali alias Patha was injured in police firing at Morigaon while he tried to escape from police custody, according to police.

Earlier, Delhi-based lawyer from Assam, Arif Jwadder, had filed a complaint with the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) against the series of encounters by Assam Police that have taken place since Himanta Biswa Sarma took over as chief minister on May 10.

In his July 10 complaint, Jwadder alleged that petty criminals were being shot and the reason mentioned for such “fake encounters” is that they tried to “flee from police custody, snatching pistols”.

More than 20 such “encounters” have taken place in the past two months in Assam and most of the persons at the receiving end were alleged drug dealers and cattle lifters with a few having died on the spot, he said.

“Recently, Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, who also holds the Home department, said in a police conference that police should shoot at alleged criminals at legs which is permitted by law. After such a statement by the chief minister, now police are staging fake encounters with impunity,” Jwadder said.

He had urged the NHRC to take note of these incidents and call for an inquiry.

Justifying the encounters, Sarma had on July 5 said that shooting at criminals “should be the pattern” if they attempt to escape from custody or try to snatch guns from the police to fire at them.

Opposition Congress and other parties have, however, strongly condemned the recent incidents of “encounters”. State Congress president Ripun Bora said Sarma’s remark that firing upon criminals in custody by the police or while in chase should be a “pattern” has dangerous ramifications of turning Assam into a police state and making the security personnel trigger-happy, thus setting a dangerous trend of disregarding human rights concerns.

“Sarma should be aware that the Supreme Court and the high courts have ruled that no matter how dreaded a criminal may be, he should be apprehended alive. The police have no right to fire at criminals at will. They can open fire only for self-defence and that too below the knee,” Bora, a Rajya Sabha member, told the media.

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