Despite claims made by the government officials regarding the introduction of radical changes in the police investigation system as well as the thana culture, the reality is otherwise
On Feb 2, 2009, the officials of Kotwali police station, Gujranwala, arrested one Baber Bhatti on the count of gambling as he was on his way to the hospital for a routine medical check-up. He was publicly beaten up by the policemen and then made to ride a donkey around the city. A day after the incident, on Feb 3, the Wazirabad city police (it also falls under the jurisdiction of the Gujranwala district) beat four people in public, using a piece of reinforced leather called 'chhittar'.
The next day, the Mozang police in Lahore resorted to similar kind of violence in two separate incidents. The policemen took five accused of gambling to Bhoondpura Chowk in the form of a procession, during the peak hours, created a commotion to attract a maximum number of people, and forced them down on the road. One of the cops placed his foot on the neck of the accused while the other two held him by his hands and feet and, finally, the fourth (cop) used the good old 'chhittar'. One by one, the cops thrashed all the five accused, after removing their lower garments, and forced them to say aloud, "Mein jua naeen khedaan gaa" (I won't gamble again).
In the second incident, the same policemen tortured another accused, using the same methods, as scores of people stood witness. Some of them couldn't tolerate the sight of so much torture and passed out on the spot.
The high-handedness of police is not a new phenomenon in Pakistan. Although police officials and different governments have occasionally claimed introducing radical changes in the police investigation system as well as the thana culture, the reality is otherwise. A recent police torture data released by the Karachi-based Madadgaar Helpline shows that from January 2008 to June '08, a total of 743 cases of police torture were reported. The provincial break-up of the figure shows that four cases were reported from Balochistan, 29 from NWFP, 406 from Punjab and 304 cases from Sindh. The nature of abuse ranges from 79 cases of murder, 20 of rape, 333 of illegal detention, 256 of physical torture and 55 harassment cases. The graph of police torture/violence on people is on the rise.
"A further analysis reveals that 416 cases occurred at police stations, 252 at workplace, 66 at victims' residences, and 52 at public places, 57 in private jails, 60 in jail and 92 cases were reported at abandoned places," reads the report.
Muhammad Maqbool, DIG, Loralai police, Balochistan, says that the answer to minimal or no police torture cases in Balochistan and NWFP lies in their social structure that is based on a strong tribal system. "The tradition of revenge in tribal culture keeps the police in control," he told TNS.
Punjab Police officials claim using torture as a tool not only to investigate the accused or the criminals but also to curb crimes. "Such public punishments can inspire awe and fear (of the police) among the public. Believe me, 80 percent of crime is controlled this way," said a deputy superintendent of Punjab police requesting anonymity.
He said that if the Station House Officer (SHO) of a certain area gets tough, the people in his area would think twice before they commit a crime. The low ranking police officials who are 'famous' for using the third degree are a favourite with the high officials, he added.
According to him, common torture methods employed by police officials include standing for hours with arms stretched to a side, hanging by the ankles, twisting the genitals, clubbing, not allowing them to use toilets for hours, burning with cigarettes, whacking the soles of the feet, sexual assault, prolonged isolation, electric shock, denial of food or sleep, hanging upside down, forced spreading of the legs with bar fetters and public humiliation. The police official also admitted having private investigation cells where the accused were kept without formal arrest. "If we keep the record of arrests, we will have to produce them before a judicial magistrate within 24 hours of their arrest and seek physical remand. Since there is usually no record of who is taken in and released, nobody from outside the police station can prove any wrongdoing."
Ironically, torture is prohibited in Pakistan's constitution as well as criminal justice system and Sharia laws. According to Article 14 of the Pakistan Constitution, sub article (a), "No person shall be subjected to torture for the purpose of extracting evidences." Article 38 and 39 of the Law of Evidence exhorts that "no confession made to a police officer shall be permissible against a person accused of any offence. No confession made by any person whilst he is in custody of a police officer unless it be made in the immediate presence of a Magistrate shall be proved as against such person."
Under the Qisas and Diyat Ordinances, causing of hurt by any person to extort "any confession or any information which may lead to the detection of any offence or misconduct" is defined as a distinct, punishable offence.
Furthermore, Pakistan is a signatory to the Universal Declaration on Human Rights whose Article 5 states, "No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."
On the one hand, Pakistani laws bar use of torture against any body, on the other, the human rights organizations rate Pakistan among the most vulnerable countries regarding police torture. The Amnesty International says that every year more than 100 people are killed in Pakistan due to police torture. The HRCP annual report 2007 says that as many as 147 cases of torture in police custody and at least 65 cases of death in police custody were reported.
According to the report, the Lahore High Court has observed that it seemed difficult to save the public from police excesses, irrespective of the new legislation. The most revealing data about police torture was released by Madadgaar Helpline at the end of the year 2008. According to the report, over the past nine years, there have been 9,364 reported cases of police torture. Of the total, 231 cases were reported in 2000, 555 in 2001, 996 in 2002, 838 in 2003, 1,260 in 2004, 1,356 in 2005, 1,662 in 2006, 1723 in 2007 and 743 in the first six months of 2008.
A senior police official of a federal institution formed in order to steer the police reform efforts in the country told TNS on condition of anonymity that in civilized societies torture could not be used as a policy tool to curb or investigate crimes. "Unfortunately, investigation skills of police in Pakistan are pathetic. They are not capable of extracting information by other means."
He declared that the police high officials who resorted to torturous methods were punished duly. However, the data available to TNS regarding 'Punishment awarded to police personnel during 01.01.2008 to 31.12.2008' of Punjab police presents a different picture. According to the data, a total 65 Punjab police officials (two inspectors, three sub-inspectors, 28 assistant sub-inspectors, 10 head constables and 22 constables) were given 'major and minor' disciplinary punishment on the basis of the torture category. The data further reveals that 33 out of these punishments were just of 'censure'. The data clearly shows the seriousness of the police high officials regarding controlling the practice of torture among its ranks.
Tariq Abbas Qureshi, district police officer, Sahiwal district, informs TNS that torture is the only resort since the police have no scientific means of investigation at their disposal. "Most of the investigation officers are not capable of comprehending the medical legal certificate. They are incapable, in most of cases, of taking assistance from the MLS or post-mortem reports. They do not even have the capacity to use fingerprint matching, leave aside DNA test or other forensic methods. So the only resort left is torture."
In our police investigation system, an accused is arrested and then evidence is 'extracted' out of him/her. In the developed countries, on the contrary, there is no concept of formally arresting the accused unless there is sufficient material available against him/her.
Here the police are obliged to recover the stolen property from the criminals. The court refuses to convict the accused unless the stolen property is recovered. This puts immense pressure on the police to recover stolen property within fourteen days (usual period of judicial remand). This is the reason why the police tortures and keeps the accused in custody without formally arresting them to complete the recoveries.
He says that the police are also used by influential people of an area to humiliate their opponents publicly, although the practice has been reduced by the present government.
Zia Ahmed Awan, President, Lawyers for Human Rights and Legal Aid (LHRLA), the body that runs Madagaar Helpline, tells TNS that the police department has always been a symbol of terror. "Gradual increase in violence by the police shows serious negligence of concerned government departments, particularly the law enforcement agencies. Because of the stigma attached, discrimination against victims and the police's non-cooperative attitude, the corrupt officials and culprits continue to remain at large. This is a source of encouragement to criminal minded officials."
He also says that the data provided by Madagaar Helpline consists of just the cases that were reported in the media. "I personally think that 90 percent of such cases are not reported in the media due to different reasons."
The current police system, he says, is obsolete and, as a result, the condition of innocent people and victims has increasingly become pathetic. "The government is not taking any positive steps to improve the system and enforce laws while the civil society and political parties are also not standing up for positive changes or a proper implementation of the Police Ordinance in order to pressurize the incumbent government to bring about the much-awaited change.
"Pakistan is a country where even the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the apex court, is not spared physical and mental torture (at the hands of the law enforcement agencies), let alone the common people," he laments.