A former Muslim MP in India has been shot dead on live TV by men chanting the Hindutva battle cry “Jai Shri Ram.”
Atiq Ahmed was gunned down along with his brother while in police custody in the northern city of Prayagraj in Uttar Pradesh.
The gunmen, who appeared to have posed as journalists, fired multiple shots at Ahmed and former state legislator Ashraf Ahmed yesterday as they were being taken in handcuffs to hospital by police for a medical checkup.
Three suspects, Lavlesh Tiwari, Arun Maurya and Sunny Singh, quickly surrendered to the police after the shooting with at least one of them chanting “Jai Shri Ram,” or “Hail Lord Ram” – a slogan that has become a battle cry for Hindu nationalists in their campaign against Muslims.
Police did not say whether they were investigating a possible sectarian motive in the killings.
Police officer Ramit Sharma told The Associated Press: “They managed to reach close to Atiq and his brother on the pretext of recording a soundbite and fired at them from close range. Both sustained bullet injuries on the head.
“It all happened in seconds,” Sharma added.
Atiq Ahmed last month 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, who had been accused of a recent murder, was 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.
“We are extremely concerned about the pattern of events: individuals allegedly being abducted or arrested before their killing, and their bodies bearing injuries indicative of torture,” the UN experts said.
“Unfortunately we are continuing to receive reports of other similar cases of killings as well as threats and harassment,” the experts said. “These are extremely serious allegations requiring immediate action.”
They called for an urgent review of the use of force by Uttar Pradesh police to ensure all law enforcement operations were conducted in compliance with international standards, for prompt, independent, and thorough investigations into all allegations of potentially unlawful killings and for perpetrators to be prosecuted.
They also highlighted their concern over statements issued by high ranking state government and police officials seeming to incite, justify or sanction killings.
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.