Saleem Shahzad killing HRCP to observe proceedings of probe commission
By Madeeha Syed
KARACHI: Supreme Court Bar Association President Asma Jehangir and Human Rights Commission of Pakistan co-chairperson Kamran Arif will observe the proceedings of the investigation commission on the alleged torture and killing of journalist Saleem Shahzad, said the HRCP chief on Sunday evening.
Zohra Yusuf, the chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, was speaking at a seminar, titled “Torture is a crime”, which was organised at the Karachi Press Club in collaboration with the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, the Asian Human Rights Commission, the Karachi Union of Journalists and the Karachi Bar Association.
Chief Justice of the Sindh High Court Mushir Alam, Senator Mir Hasil Khan Bizenjo and former SHC Bar Association chairperson retired Justice Rashid A. Razvi were the main speakers at the seminar, which was held to mark the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.
Ms Yusuf said that most torture cases being reported this year to the HRCP were mainly related to intelligence agencies. She cited the examples of Umar Cheema, a reporter who was allegedly abducted and tortured, and the recently reported torture and death of Saleem Shahzad, who was working as the Pakistan bureau chief of Asia Times Online.
She said that Pakistan was a signatory of the United Nations Convention Against Torture. She said although the federal government had ratified it, it did so with several reservations. “Those reservations have now been withdrawn under international pressure and a perceived threat to the country’s international prestige,” she said.
The HRCP chairperson said mostly torture, which took place with the knowledge, endorsement or in the presence of an official, happened either to elicit a confession or to obtain an inducement.
She mentioned an incident that had taken place in a private police torture cell in Chichawatni, where the torture inflicted by the police was recorded on a cellphone camera. “The brutality exhibited by the policemen in the video was shocking” she said, adding that a court had ordered the closure of all private torture cells and sought an affidavit by the Punjab Police validating that the cells had been shut.
Ms Yusuf was quick to point out that torture was not limited to men, as women too were found to be its victims. She cited a case in Lahore where two maid servants working at a lawyer’s residence were arrested on a suspicion of theft. “They died as a result of the torture they underwent at the women’s police station,” she said.
Appreciating the efforts of the media to highlight incidents of human rights violations and torture, she highlighted the need for regular follow-ups on the incidents.
SHC Chief Justice Mushir Alam, who spoke near the end of the evening, cautioned against giving sweeping statements that there were no laws in the country against torture. Existing laws should be examined and suggestions for their improvements should be given, he said.
He spoke about how the lawyers and the media by doing their work could bring about a change as they did during the recent lawyers’ movement.
Earlier, former SHCBA chairperson retired Justice Rashid A. Razvi spoke about legality surrounding the criminal act of torture in the country.
He said all forms of torture were in clear violation of the constitution, which in clause two of Article 14 stated that “no person shall be subjected to torture for the purpose of extracting evidence”, and in clause one of the same article stated that “the dignity of man and, subject to law, the privacy of home, shall be inviolable”.
He also mentioned Article 9, which states, “no person shall be deprived of life or liberty save in accordance with law”. He also quoted Article 4, which states, “To enjoy the protection of law and to be treated in accordance with law is the inalienable right of every citizen.”
Mr Razvi called for a change of mindset of the police regarding the concept that a person would only tell the truth if they were physically intimidated or ‘slapped aroundÂ’.
He said that cases of torture were not reported out of fear of reprisal. And those statements by torture victims that had been recorded were normally redacted afterwards, making it very difficult to investigate such incidents or bring to justice the proponents of torture.
Referring to a case of Asfandyar Wali versus the state regarding the assassination of Hayat Khan Sherpao in 1975, Mr Razvi said it was mentioned on page 38 of a report on the case that the judge presiding over the case frequented the place (the Bala Hisar Fort), where Asfandyar Wali was tortured, and remarked that the torture cell was actually a dungeon where no one could retain his or her sanity for even a day. Asfandyar Wali was eventually acquitted, he added.
Former legislator from Balochistan Abdul Rauf Mengal, Baseer Naweed of the Asian Human Rights Commission, general secretary of the Karachi Bar Association Haider Imam, Dr Tauseef Ahmed Khan, Karachi Union of Journalists Chairperson Siraj Ahmed and KPC President Tahir Hasan also spoke.
Additional IG police Syed Zakir Hussain was also in attendance.
The United Nations Convention Against Torture came into effect on June 26, 1987 and from 1998 onwards, numerous organisations around the world have been holding conferences, seminars and campaigns on this day to speak out against torture, its practice, its implications and steps that individual organisations and governments can take to prevent it from happening.
Every year the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims, an independent organization working towards the cause, published a report detailing the workings of the campaigns that took place in each country.