Chittoor forest killings put 'fake encounters' in spotlight

Vishwas News

Hyderabad, April 16:Kanagarani last saw her husband when he left their village on a mountainside in Tamil Nadu to look for work.
She only found out he was dead when his picture appeared on the local news describing him as a dangerous criminal who had been killed by police along with 19 others accused of smuggling sandalwood.
"He was only a painter," said the tearful 20-year-old, who had been married for just six months and who like many Tamils goes by only one name. "Now I only want justice."
Police said last week they had acted in self defence when they fired on a group of alleged timber smugglers in the remote forests of Tirupati in Andhra Pradesh, home to the rare trees that produce red sandalwood.
But activists and relatives have challenged that version of events, and on Wednesday a case was filed with a local court charging "unknown persons" in the force with murder and abduction.
It would not be the first deadly clash between police in the state and loggers of red sandalwood, which is smuggled to China and Japan where it is highly prized for its rich hue and purported medicinal value.
But the number of victims in this case was particularly high. All 20 were from Tamil Nadu, where street protests erupted last week after news of the killings emerged.
Rights activists say the evidence points to a "fake encounter" - a commonly used term in India for staged confrontations in which police or military forces execute unarmed suspects and later claim it as self-defence.
"If you do this for long enough, you can just tell when an encounter is staged," said Narayana Rao, an activist with the Civil Liberties Committee who helped lead a fact-finding mission at the spot where the incident purportedly took place.
"In a real encounter, the person runs at least a little once they've been shot, so bullet marks and blood stains are spread across the site.
"But here the blood is pooled only where the bodies were found, and the bullet wounds were concentrated in the victims' heads and torsos, suggesting they'd been brought here and shot."
Source: Vishwas News



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