The International Commission of Jurists, a global human rights organisation, has called on the Narendra Modi government to investigate “the use of excessive and unlawful force by Uttar Pradesh police against demonstrators” protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act. At least 19 people were killed in the state during last month’s protests – most of them from firearm injuries.

In a briefing paper published on Wednesday, the rights organisation said first-hand interviews with witnesses and victims had allowed it to establish that the police used “unnecessary, excessive and indiscriminate” force to quell the demonstrations.

“The high death toll of peaceful protestors in Uttar Pradesh highlights the use of excessive force by the police, in contravention of international standards of policing and human rights,” said ICJ Secretary General Sam Zarifi. “The state and federal governments must investigate any death or injury that occurs during protests by law enforcement officials and to ensure access to justice to victims and their families.”

The organisation said many people had reported that they had not been able to get their medico-legal certificates and “victims’ families reported inability to access postmortem reports”. It pointed out that the right to life and freedom from ill treatment were protected under international law, “including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which India is a party and requires that when arbitrary deprivation of life occurs, there is accountability and reparation for victims”.

One of the accounts of administrative negligence is by a woman in Kanpur identified as Qamarjahaan, whose son Mohammed Saif died of bullet injuries. “My son had taken a bath and took money from me to buy food,” the woman told the International Commission of Jurists. “He saw a protest was happening and stood to observe it and got hit by live ammunition. He told us that the police fired two bullets which hit him in the stomach and in the hand...”

Qamarjahaan alleged that the police verbally abused Saif. “We took him to the hospital around 5 pm,” she added. “He was conscious until 5.30 pm until he went to the operation theatre. We were told by hospital authorities the next morning at 9 am that he has died although the news cycle reported his death the previous night.”

She said the police did not provide her any documents, including the postmortem report. “The police only came to deliver the body to make sure that the funeral was conducted without unrest,” Qamarjahaan added.

As the protests escalated last month, the state police imposed prohibitory orders under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure to stop people from assembling. The police violated guidelines placed by the Supreme Court on using the law. On December 20, a day after massive nationwide protests, police personnel were deployed in large numbers in Muslim neighbourhoods even though in many places there was no formal protest call. In the Muslim-majority town of Nehtaur in Bijnor district, video footage showed riot police standing outside a mosque. The residents said they had gathered in the area for Friday prayers, and not for a protest. They accused the police of assaulting worshippers emerging from a mosque, which provoked Muslim youth into throwing stones at them. However, the police claimed it was the other way round.

There were also reports of the police denying medical aid to injured, some of whom were not even protestors and were simply caught up in the demonstrations. Video footage and first-hand accounts emerged of policemen entering and ransacking Muslim homes, looting cash, beating up women and the elderly, and breaking the windows of cars. One article published by HuffPost India detailed the horrifying story of five minors in Bijnor district’s Nagina town who were picked up the police and tortured for more than 48 hours.

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