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Sunday, September 24, 2023

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Sunday, September 24, 2023

Arrest of ex-HNLC leader was carried out in reckless manner: Report

The report was tabled by Chief Minister Conrad K Sangma on the first day of the Autumn Session of the Assembly on September 9.


The One Man Commission of Inquiry headed by Justice T Vaiphei revealed that the police operation to arrest former Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council (HNLC) leader (L) Cheristerfield Thangkhiew at his residence on August 13 last year was carried out in a reckless manner, which resulted in his death.

In the report, which was tabled by Chief Minister Conrad K Sangma on the first day of the Autumn Session of the Assembly on September 9, Justice Vaiphei said, “Therefore, my finding is that the Tactical Team-I in carrying out the operation to arrest the deceased at his residence on August 13, 2021 at about 3 AM was culpable of thoughtless and excessive use of force, which resulted in the death of the deceased, late Cheristerfield Thangkhiew, which turned out to be avoidable.”

“In my considered view, the post facto excuse that none but the deceased was hurt, cannot be a valid justification for carrying out the operation hastily and in a reckless manner by the Tactical Team-I,” he added.

The report said the common thread of evidence running through the statements of these state witnesses is that the objective of operation was professed to be simply to capture the deceased alive and not to shoot at him. That was the decision taken in the tactical meeting held prior to the operation.

“In my considered view, the operation was well-planned but executed poorly, recklessly, hastily and without proper application of mind,” Justice Vaiphei said, while adding, “In order words, it was a botched-up operation that failed in its objective to apprehend the deceased alive, who would have given valuable information to the police about the subversive activities of the proscribed HNLC outfit.”

He said the fact that by undertaking such reckless operation, the team completely lost sight of the possibility of harming the family members of the deceased, who were never accused of having anything to do with the nefarious activities of the deceased he was charged with.

“If the primary objective of carrying out the operation was to capture the deceased alive, the manner in which the raid was conducted unnecessarily gives rise to the impression that, that was not so. This is most unfortunate,” he further stated.

The report said coming now to the killing of the deceased, the evidence of state witness number four is that in the meeting (the tactical meeting held prior to the operation), there was no talk of intelligence information as to who were present with the deceased at his house on that night. When they reached the gate of the residence of the deceased, they called out to him a number of times to announce their presence, but there was no response from the deceased or his family members.

It was drizzling at the time of the operation, but it was not a heavy shower. On reaching the main door of the first floor, they knocked at the door three times, but there was no response and forcibly opened the door.

According to witness number four, they were instructed during their training that having a torch in the corridor of a dwelling house in the course of operation against militant outifts would not help as that would make them a target and also a torch was not necessary in an in house arrest. He stated that after the team forcibly opened the door outward, he was the first to enter the narrow corridor which is approximately three feet wide and completely dark.

He proceeded further into the corridor and had almost reached the end when, suddenly, in the cover of darkness, one person came charging towards him aggressively and making a loud noise. It appeared to him in the darkness that he was raising his hand and was about to attack him whereupon he shouted “Sangeh Sangeh!” (Stop, stop!).

When the aggressor did not stop and continued to charge aggressively (at that time, the distance between him the aggressor was barely 2-3 feet), he, fearing imminent attack by the aggressor, was left with no option but to, in a split second decision, fire one round from his service weapon at the lower portion of the aggressor. The person collapsed from the shot, as other members and senior officers of the tactical team entered the corridor.

Later, when the light was turned on, the injured was seen lying on the floor and was identified as the deceased, late Cheristerfield Thangkhiew. A knife was also found. In his examination by learned Counsel for the Commission, the witness denied that he had used excessive force by firing at the deceased.

Justice Vaiphei however said to his opinion, having entered what could potentially be a lion’s den in darkness without proper planning and without taking adequate precaution, state witness number four had taken purely avoidable and unnecessary risk endangering his own life and that of deceased whom the team professed to have not intended to kill him in the first place.

“In my opinion, the forced entry into the house of the deceased in darkness and the subsequent killing of the deceased was a reckless exercise and tantamount to disproportionate use of force, which resulted in the death of the deceased,” he said while stating that this apparently defeated the very purpose of launching the operation, namely, to capture him alive.

Justice Vaiphei, in his report, said that the operation was a futile exercise as the deceased was never apprehended alive.

“Had they waited for about two hours or so for daylight, cordoned off the house of the deceased (as they actually did it here) in the meantime and lobbed teargas grenade into the rooms occupied by the deceased and his family, they could have been forced to come out of the house; the deceased could have been easily apprehended by this means. In this way, the safety of the other innocent members of the family of the deceased could also be ensured,” he stated.

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