Three men accused of being involved in criminal cases were killed in an encounter in Assam’s Goalpara district on Friday night, ANI reported. Assistant Superintendent of Police Mrinal Deka alleged that they had refused to surrender.

The incident took place on Friday around 8.30 pm near Alok Bazar.

The deceased have been identified as Shahjahan, Nazmul and Sajal. The police said that they were involved in murder and kidnapping cases.

“They were trying to escape by hiding in a truck,” Deka alleged, ANI reported. “Acting on a tip-off, we stopped the vehicle but they tried to run away and opened fire on us.”

The three men were severely injured and taken to a hospital, where a doctor declared them dead, the police said.

Police shootings in Assam

Since Bharatiya Janata Party leader and Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma assumed office in May last year, at least 35 accused persons have been killed in police custody.

In most cases, the police have claimed they opened fire in self-defence or to prevent the prisoner from escaping.

On March 15, 21-year-old Biki Ali and 38-year-old Rajesh Munda were shot dead by the Assam Police. Both were accused of rape and were killed within a day of their arrest. The police had claimed that they were trying to escape custody when they were shot.

Shortly after the encounter, Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma had defended the police action in the state Assembly.

The number of cases registered in January and February had fallen by 30% compared to the same period last year, Sarma had said, adding that the police’s tough stand against criminals was working.

On Monday, Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Pijush Hazarika had said in the Assam Assembly that the death of accused persons while attempting to escape police custody was not new in the state.

“There is no such word as encounter in the Assam Police manual,” Hazarika added. “If a criminal tries to escape or attack the police, they may get injured or killed.”