Five police officers in India have been arrested in connection with the killing of a father and son who were allegedly brutalized after their arrest last month for keeping their store open past permitted hours during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
According to reports, P. Jeyarj and his son, Bennicks (Fenix), were arrested on June 19 in Tamil Nadu state in southern India and kept overnight in police custody. The father, believed to be in his 50s, and son, believed to be in his 30s, died two days after being released within hours of each other.
The father and son were jailed at the Sathankulam police station in Tuticorin and family members say their loved ones were tortured.
The death of the Jeyarj and his son has fueled protests and demonstrations against police brutality in India, which have occurred since the death of African American George Floyd in Minneapolis on Memorial Day.
An investigation was launched by a local court. The Madras High Court, the highest court in the state, ruled there was enough evidence to charge the officers with murder.
The court found there were serious injuries listed in the two men's autopsy reports.
CNN reports that court documents show that the son was admitted to the hospital just before 8 p.m. on June 22 and died less than two hours after being admitted. About an hour after the son passed, the father was admitted to the hospital and died the next morning.
The court reprimanded the officers after a local magistrate said they were uncooperative and tried to tamper with evidence.
According to Hindustan Times, Kovilpatti judicial magistrate M. S. Barathidasan issued a four-page report to the Madras High Court that cited testimony indicative of torture and an attempted cover-up.
The magistrate cited testimony from an anonymous constable who said the father and son were beaten throughout the night.
The magistrate reported that security camera footage from the night in question had been erased and that officers refused to hand over batons that were alleged to have been used to beat the men.
“In fact, [the police] were emboldened enough to even intimidate the judicial officer to put spokes in the wheel of his enquiry,” the court argued, according to The Hindustan Times.
Court documents show that the state government transferred the case to federal authorities.
BBC reports that the police station in question has been implicated in several other instances of custodial torture and at least two allegations of custodial deaths. The court admits that it has received multiple complaints about the police station.
The death of the father and son drew scrutiny from Christian organizations as people nationwide have protested against India’s problems with police brutality in recent weeks.
"It is only when the community has confidence in the integrity and capacity of the law enforcement that the community is governed by the rule of law," R. Joseph Kennedy, the general secretary of the All India Christian Forum, said in a statement.
The All India Catholic Union, the largest body of Catholic laypeople in India, released a statement on Monday stating that “police brutalization” has shocked the country, according to Vatican News.
AICU warns that there are “police atrocities in other states which have gone unchecked under the cover of the COVID curfew.”
Father Mariadas Lipton of the Diocese of Tuticorin, told Catholic news outlet Asia News that everybody — no matter their religion or caste — should be outraged by the deaths of the father and son.
Jignesh Mevani, a deputy from the legislative assembly in Gujarat, called on people to protest against the killing of the "many George Floyd of India.”
“Such violence from those who should defend citizens is unacceptable,” Cardinal Oswald Gracias, the president of the Indian Bishops' Conference, told Asia News. “Justice must run its course and punish the guilty.”