NAB lets media inside its lock-ups to counter complaints
LAHORE: The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) on Thursday threw open its lock-ups to counter allegations that it is running ‘aqubat khanas’ or torture cells in the name of investigating corruption cases.
A group of journalists stayed in the NAB lock-ups for some time to find out whether there was any truth in accusations made by people close to Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz president Mian Shahbaz Sharif — to which Khawaja Saad Rafique who was arrested on Tuesday along with his brother Khawaja Salman Rafique in the Paragon housing society case has added an angry line or two of his own.
The media visit was arranged after the former railways minister had given the accountability court his own inside account of life within the walls of the detention centre. He came up with such details as how the door to the washroom he was using on the NAB premises was without something as essential as a latch. In response the court had asked NAB to provide “basic facilities” to the suspects. A block in NAB building consists of 14 detention cells and each has space for three suspects
The NAB building at Thokar Niaz Baig has a separate block that consists of 14 detention cells (lock-ups), seven on the ground floor and as many on the first floor. Each cell has space for three suspects. Part of the open area at the block’s entrance is dedicated to offering prayers and a strip that can be used for taking walks. This leads to a corridor, to the right of which are the cells to keep the suspects and on the left are located rooms for interrogation and for a doctor to sit. At the end of the corridor stand the small-size washrooms. A camera is installed in each cell.
During Thursday’s visit it was observed that Saad Rafique, Salman Rafique and SSP Rai Ijaz, who is there as part of an investigation into an embezzlement of Rs700 million police funds, were kept in separate cells. Three suspects shared other cells. Each cell had windows for cross ventilation.
Mattresses were placed on the floor for the suspects without exception. A couple of electric heaters were on view outside the cells. As a NAB official briefed the media personnel Saad Rafique hastened to claim that these facilities had been provided only after he had protested. Amid reminders that he better refrain from commenting on conditions in the cells, Khawaja Saad angrily retorted: “I cannot be denied my rights to speak.”
Salman Rafique on the other hand did not have any complaints to make. “The attitude of NAB officials is good,” he said.
Rai Ijaz, a former Lahore traffic police chief, compared the conditions at NAB lock-ups with the scene in general at the police stations. And he found NAB winning the contest hands down. “I have no complaints whatsoever,” the SSP said, providing a view quite contrary to the images sent out by some recent critics of NAB behaviour towards those it detains at this centre.
Along with Shahbaz Sharif and Saad Rafique, former Punjab University vice chancellor Prof Mujahid Kamran had also spoken adversely of the detention centre. Whereas Saad Rafique had dismissed the food he was given by NAB as ‘substandard’, Mr Sharif had termed the NAB Lahore lock-ups an “aqubat khana”.
Prof Kamran had come up with his own list of serious allegations. He had said that cameras were installed even in washrooms at the centre and that he had witnessed other suspects tortured at the facility.
Lahore NAB Director General Shahzad Saleem told Dawn that “propaganda” had tried to paint its detention cells in Lahore as some kind of Guantanamo Bay.
“NAB wants the media to see (for itself). The suspects are provided with all basic facilities and good food here,” he said.
“On the doctor’s advice, a suspect can get his meals supplied from home. Suspects are also allowed to have daily walks. These torture stories are spun to malign NAB,” the DG said. “We make sure that self respect of none of the suspects is hurt,” he added.