HR group’s report highlights torture, killing by police
LAHORE: Police frequently resort to extrajudicial killings, torture, arbitrary arrest and ill-treatment of people in custody, and those from marginalised groups — refugees, the poor, religious minorities and the landless — are particularly at the risk of violent abuse of powers by the force.
This is the crux of the Human Rights Watch (HRW)’s 102-page report — This Crooked System: Police Abuse and Reform in Pakistan — released on Monday.
The report is based on interviews with more than 30 police officials of different ranks, 50 victims of police abuse, their families and witnesses to police abuse and discussions with scores of policing experts and civil society activists in Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan.
The report does not cover Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Human Rights Commission of Pakistan Secretary General I.A. Rehman said it would have been better if KP was also part of the report.
“Serious and sincere efforts are needed to reform police. But the government does not seem to be interested in putting things right,” he said at a consultative meeting on the report at the HRCP office.
Mr Rehman said the use of police to win elections and for other purposes should be stopped.
The report documents a range of human rights violations committed by police and, at the same time, notes that police face pressure from politicians, the elite and public expectations.
It says: “Police in all three provinces frequently use torture and other ill-treatment against people in custody, particularly during criminal investigations, at times resulting in the deaths of suspects.”
It highlights methods of custodial torture, including beatings with batons and littar (leather straps), stretching and crushing legs with roola (metal rods), sexual violence, prolonged sleep deprivation and mental torture, forcing detainees to witness torture of others.
It quotes senior officials as saying that physical force is often used because police are not trained in methods of professional investigation and forensic analysis, making the force resort to unlawfully coercing the suspects into giving information and making confessions.
The report says several police officers have openly admitted to the practice of fake encounters in which police ‘stage a shootout’ to kill an individual already in custody. Such killings, they say, are carried out because of pressure from higher command or the local elite, or because police are not able to gather enough evidence to ensure convictions.
“Police are rarely held accountable for such killings and families of victims are deterred from filing complaints against police out of fear of harassment or being falsely nominated in trumped-up cases,” it says.
“I have no doubt in my mind that police killed my son,” the report quotes the father of Syed Alam, who was killed in police custody in Karachi in Nov 2015. “They killed him because I was pursuing an anti-corruption complaint against them (police). I have no hope of getting justice in this crooked system,” he said.
The report says colonial-era police laws enable local politicians to frequently interfere in police operations, sometimes directing police officials to drop investigations against suspects with political connections, including known criminals, or to harass or file false charges against political opponents.
“Abysmal working conditions contribute to the climate where violations are tolerated or encouraged. Low-ranking officers are required to be on call 24 hours a day, every day. Instead of having scheduled shifts, many work long hours, sometimes living in run-down barracks at the police station. Many are separated from their families for long stretches of time. They often lack necessary equipment, including vehicles, investigative tools and even paper on which to record complaints and make notes,” it says.
The HRW urges the federal and the provincial governments to investigate and appropriately discipline or prosecute officials responsible for human rights violations, including the use of arbitrary detention, torture and other coercive measures to obtain evidence and confessions. Acceptable investigation techniques should be explicitly defined in the police rules and manuals.
In the meeting, former IG Tariq Khosa said police excesses were found more in Punjab and Sindh as compared to the two other provinces. He said 2002 Police Order could not be implemented in Punjab in letter and spirit and the law of 1861 remained practically enforced in the country.
The million dollar question was who would police police force, Mr Khosa said, adding that in the society police were encouraged for torture. He said every one having whatsoever authority wanted to have control over police.
He suggested that the Supreme Court should give ‘tenure security’ to the officials investigating corruption scandals so that they could investigate without any fear of being removed from their posts.
Mr Khosa said the Punjab government was going to establish an ‘independent police authority’ to address complaints against police.
Advocate Asad Jamal advised the government to evolve a ‘simple system’ to make police accountable for their excesses. “The government may establish the office of police ombudsman to redress public complaints against police,” he said.
Former police officers Tahseen Shah and Mohammad Ali Nakukara also spoke. Advocate Saroop Ejaz moderated the meeting.