Police in Thoothukudi in Tamil Nadu state had picked up the duo for breaking coronavirus lockdown rules.
India has arrested five policemen over the deaths of a man and his son in custody, a senior investigating officer said on Thursday, following outrage that drew comparisons to the death of George Floyd in the United States.
Last week, the duo – J Jayaraj, 59, and J Bennix, 31 – were allegedly subjected to a brutal thrashing that resulted in rectal bleeding and eventual death, according to a letter to government officials written by Jayaraj’s wife J Selvarani.
“All important police personnel involved in the incident have been arrested,” K Shankar, inspector general of police, Crime Branch Criminal Investigation Department (CB-CID) in the southern state of Tamil Nadu told Reuters news agency.
“The investigation continues,” Shankar said, adding that a murder case has been filed against the arrested policemen, who include two sub-inspectors, two constables and the police station’s inspector.
The arrests came after a court ruled that autopsy reports of the father and son suggested the police officers had been involved in the two men’s deaths by torture.
The court ordered authorities to provide protection to a woman police officer who gave an eyewitness account of torture in custody of the two in the police station.
Hundreds of thousands of tweets were sent out using the hashtag #JusticeforJayarajandBennix, that was among the top Twitter topics trending in India last Friday and among the top 30 trending globally, with many comparing the deaths to that of Floyd, who died after a white police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
Bennix died on Monday after complaining of breathlessness and Jayaraj died a day later, Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami, who oversees the police department in the state, said in a statement on Wednesday.
Police in Sathankulam, a town located 50km (31 miles) south of the port city of Thoothukudi in Tamil Nadu, said the duo were picked up for breaching coronavirus lockdown rules.
Last week, the state government, headed by the regional All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), announced a compensation of 2 million rupees ($26,450) for the family of the victims.
It also suspended two police officers and transferred several other officials.
A local court has been monitoring an investigation into the case, which has sparked protests in the state.
Nearly 15 cases of custodial violence and torture were reported daily on average, according to India’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).
The NHRC said in its report that some custodial deaths were reported after a considerable delay or not reported at all, adding violence in custody was so rampant “that it has become almost routine”.
Amnesty India had called on the Tamil Nadu government to “end impunity for police officers”.
“The deaths of Jayaraj and Bennicks [Bennix] once again signal towards India’s continuing failure to hold its police accountable,” said Avinash Kumar, executive director of Amnesty International India, in a statement last week.
“The poor conviction rates in cases of custodial torture and deaths have further created a climate of pervasive impunity, emboldening the police officers. This must end now.”
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