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17 Indian police given life term for killing man India searches for students washed away in river surge, 5 dead

NEW DELHI, June 9, (Agencies): An Indian court sentenced 17 police officers Monday to life in prison for kidnapping and killing a 22-year-old jobseeker in their custody in 2009. Prosecutors said business graduate Ranbir Singh had gone to the northern city of Dehradun looking for a job when he was arrested by police for alleged robbery.

Newspapers said police claimed Singh was involved in an extortion racket and was shot trying to escape arrest. But an investigation determined he’d been tortured, shot 12 times at close range and died in custody. The conviction of 17 police officers in a single case is believed to be unprecedented in India.

Rights groups often accuse Indian security forces of torturing and killing people in custody to force them to confess.

In convicting the officers on Friday, Judge J.P. Malik also found them guilty of entering into a criminal conspiracy to kill Singh. The officers had denied the charges against them and can appeal. Members of the victim’s family said Monday they had hoped the officers would be given the death penalty, and would appeal the sentences to a higher court.

The case was tried in New Delhi, after the victim’s father, Ravindra Singh, filed a petition saying the involvement of Uttarakhand’s state police left him doubtful that justice could be served by authorities in the state capital of Dehradun.

Meanwhile, rescuers found five bodies Monday and were searching for 20 more people feared dead in northern India after they were swept away by a sudden surge of water released from a dam, officials said. Rescue workers were scouring the Beas river for 19 students and a guide who were missing after being hit by the wall of water on Sunday night in the Himalayan state of Himachal Pradesh. The engineering students, who were on a college trip, were standing on the banks of the river taking photographs when the water came racing downstream from a hydroelectric power plant. “So far five dead bodies have been retrieved,” the National Disaster Response Force said in a statement. Fifty students had been travelling on buses to the tourist hill station of Manali when they stopped in the Kullu Valley, some 200 kms (130 miles) from the state capital of Shimla, officials said.

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