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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Hannah Ellis-Petersen South Asia correspondent

Former MP and his brother shot dead on live TV in India

A former Indian MP convicted of kidnapping and facing murder and assault charges has been murdered along with his brother in a dramatic shooting broadcast live on TV.

Atiq Ahmed, a former MP who was serving a life sentence in jail, and his brother Ashraf Ahmed were in police custody outside a hospital in Prayagraj, in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, when three men fired more than 20 rounds of bullets at them from close range as they took questions from reporters. The two brothers died on the spot.

Police officer Ramit Sharma said the three assailants came on motorcycles posing as journalists, and were carrying camera equipment, a microphone bearing the logo of a television network and fake journalist IDs.

“They managed to reach close to Atiq and his brother on the pretext of recording a bite and fired at them from close range. Both sustained bullet injuries on the head … It all happened in seconds,” said Sharma. The attack, which took place late on Saturday night, was captured live on television by several broadcasters present at the scene.

The men responsible quickly surrendered to the police after the shooting and handed over their pistols, 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.

The assailants were named as Lavlesh Tiwari, 22, Mohit Puraney, 23, and Arun Kumar Maurya, 18. The men reportedly told police they had been following the Ahmed brothers for two days, since they came into custody, and wanted to carry out the killings to gain notoriety.

“We wanted to kill Atiq Ahmed and his brother Ashraf with the aim of completely wiping off the Atiq-Ashraf gang and making a name for ourselves,” the men are quoted as telling police in the report filed in the case. Police said they were investigating further but did not clarify if they were looking into a sectarian motive for the killing.

One of the assailants was shot in the hand during the retaliatory police firing and a police constable suffered a bullet injury in the attack. No action has been taken so far against the team of 20 police officers who were in charge of the Ahmed brothers.

Atiq Ahmed being escorted by police officers outside a court in Prayagraj on 13 April.
Atiq Ahmed being escorted by police officers outside a court in Prayagraj on 13 April. Photograph: Ritesh Shukla/Reuters

Atiq Ahmed, his brother and their wider family were notorious gansters in the Uttar Pradesh criminal underworld, accused of running a crime syndicate embroiled in murder and extortion, and the former politician had more than 100 different cases filed against him, including assault and murder. He was jailed for life in 2019 after being convicted of orchestrating a kidnapping while in prison.

The Ahmed brothers had been in police custody relating to the murder of lawyer Umesh Pal, who had been a key witness in the case of another killing they were implicated in.

Last month, Ahmed had filed a petition to the supreme court alleging his life was under threat from police. His lawyer, Vijay Mishra, said the incident was shocking as “it is a clear failure of the police in ensuring the safety” of his clients.

Uttar Pradesh, which is India’s most populous state of more than 200 million people, has a reputation for criminality and nearly half the ministers, the chief minister included, have pending criminal cases against them.

It was just earlier this week that Atiq Ahmed’s 19-year-old son, who was also accused in the murder of lawyer Umesh Pal, was shot dead by police in what many suspect was an “encounter” killing.

Opposition parties criticised the killings as “brazen anarchy” and a collapse of law and order and accused Uttar Pradesh of operating as a “mafia raj” under the Bharatiya Janata party (BJP), who rule both the state and central government. The state’s chief minister, Yogi Adityanath, is one of the most hardline Hindu nationalist figures in the BJP and has regularly deployed incendiary language and a disregard for the rule of law in his pledge to crack down on crime in the state.

Since Adityanath came to power in 2017, the Uttar Pradesh police have a notorious record of carrying out extra-judicial encounter shootings of criminals who they claim attempted to make an escape from custody or who fired on officers first. In the past five years, there have been almost 9,000 police shootings in Uttar Pradesh, with more than 170 fatalities, and Muslims and Dalits, the lowest caste of Hindus who used to called untouchables, disproportionately targeted.

In February, Adityanath had told the state parliament they would “destroy the criminals” and in an infamous speech in 2017, he said said: “If anyone commits a crime, he will be shot down.” Activists and former police officers have alleged extrajudicial killings subsequently became unofficial policy in the state, carried out with impunity by police.

Adityanath said a judicial investigation had been ordered into the killings of the brothers and a report submitted to the home ministry. The internet was cut in certain areas, with large groups banned from gathering over fears the issue could escalate into protest or violence.

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