Human rights organisation Amnesty International India on Thursday criticised the police encounter in which four men accused in the alleged rape and murder of a woman veterinarian were killed near Hyderabad earlier in the day. The organisation said the incident sets a “disturbing precedent of circumventing the legal system” and called for an independent inquiry.

In the early hours of Friday, the police claimed the four men were killed in an encounter when they were trying to flee from custody. The accused tried to flee when they were taken to the murder site to reconstruct the crime scene and allegedly snatched a weapon and fired at the police, resulting in a cross-fire, the police said.

The organisation in a statement said the Telangana Government must ensure “an independent, impartial, swift and thorough criminal investigation into the alleged extrajudicial execution of four undertrial prisoners”.

Executive Director of Amnesty International India, Avinash Kumar, said extra judicial killings are not a solution to preventing rape. “The reported delay in filing the First Information Report by the Telangana Police in this case coupled with the shoddy investigation and the general low conviction rate for those accused of rape raises deeply disturbing questions about the state of justice in India,” he added.

The veterinarian’s family had said that police did not search areas where she was last seen. Instead, they reportedly asked if the woman had a boyfriend and was in regular touch with men, and sought to know her phone habits.

The organisation cited international law and stressed that extrajudicial, arbitrary or summary executions and enforced disappearances are strictly forbidden.

It added: “The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which India is a party, prohibits arbitrary deprivation of life and guarantees the right to a fair trial. Moreover, the United Nations Principles on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions require that there shall be thorough, prompt and impartial investigation of all suspected cases of extra-legal, arbitrary and summary executions, including cases where...reliable reports suggest unnatural death in the above circumstances.”

Kumar said the killing set a “grossly wrong precedent” and called for and independent investigation.

The accused – Mohammed Areef, Jollu Shiva, Jollu Naveen and Chintakunta Chennakeshavulu – were arrested on November 29 for allegedly raping and killing the woman before burning her body two days before. The four were under judicial custody and lodged in high security cells in Cherlapally Central Prison.

The National Human Rights Commission has also sent a team to immediately conduct a spot inquiry and said the matter needs to be investigated “very carefully”. A number of other people have also warned about the dangers of “extra-judicial killings”.

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