Lahore: Custodial torture is used as an instrument of governance in Pakistan, human rights experts say, pointing to the killing of an opposition politician in jail last month as the latest example of the practice.

Aftab Ahmad, the coordinator of senior MQM leader Dr Farooq Sattar, died on May 3 while he was being held in custody by the Rangers law enforcement agency in Pakistan’s largest city Karachi.

The cause of his death was initially reported as a heart attack, until photos emerged of his body bearing torture marks. The photos went viral.

The Director General of the Rangers, Major General Bilal Akbar conceded that Ahmad had been tortured in custody, resulting in his death.

AKbar said Standard Operating Procedures had not been followed during interrogations.

Zainab Malik, heads advocacy at Justice Project Pakistan (JPP), told News Lens Pakistan that Ahmad’s death was just one example of custodial torture in Pakistan. Juveniles and women are the primary target of torture in police custody, she says.

“A high number of women who go behind bars at police stations are raped by the police officers,” Malik said.

Citing the constitution of Pakistan that provides protection against torture of every kind, she added that constitution did not define punishment to those involved in torture. It needs another law to implement the constitution. She explained that there was no particular law to criminalize torture in Pakistan.

“Pakistan ratified the United Nations Convention against Torture treaty in 2010. This convention makes it mandatory on the signatory country to make laws against custodial torture while defining, penalties, suggesting remedial measures for the victim and delineating investigative mechanism.”

All these measures are supposed to be independent of the police. “Presently even if we complain against the custodial torture to the magistrate, he refers the case to police. There is an inherent bias in the existing legal framework that prohibits torture,” she added.

“Since the Army Public School massacre, the death penalty has been restarted and to date, a significant number of people have been sent to gallows. Our research shows that a majority of the conviction had been secured by forced confession made when tortured,” said Malik.

According to the JPP, the government only yielded to address this issue when international pressure mounted. The Prime Minister House released a report titled “National Action Plan on Human Rights” in February 2016.

The report has set targets and according to the deadline, the bill pertaining prohibition of custodial torture will have been passed by July this year.

Legally, torture is prohibited in Pakistan as per Article 14 (2) of the Constitution of Pakistan,

“No person shall be subjected to torture for the purpose of extracting evidence,” says the constitution.
Pakistan has also ratified United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). The Convention explains:

“The term ‘torture’ means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession….”

According to a study done by the Asian Human Rights Commission in 2015, 80 percent prisoners were tortured in police custody. Seventy-two percent failed to report fearing repercussions. Around 44 percent people were sexually abused in detention.

A 2013 report by the Centre for Public Policy and Governance, ‘Policing, Custodial Torture, and Human Rights’, found that torture was the “foremost instrument of evidence collection in Pakistan’s criminal justice system”.

The report described a “socio-cultural acceptability of torture” among those who dispense it and those on whom it is dispensed.

Lawyer Zia Ahmed Awan does not entirely agree with the JPP. He says there were laws in Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) that address issues about custody. However, the word ‘torture’ was not used in any of the Pakistan Penal Code’s section.

“We lack political and professional will by both the politicians and law enforcement agencies (LEA) to make new and implement existing laws regarding custodial torture,” Awan told News Lens in a telephone interview.

“We have not only given unofficial impunity to the law enforcement agencies, but a very non-serious attitude about torture in custody prevails,” Awan said.

Secretary General Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, I. A. Rehman, got even harsher on the issue when explaining the government’s seriousness in implanting the convention against torture.

“The government believes in torture. In Pakistan, the law enforcement agencies are trained to get coerced confessions, which means applying torture,” Rehman said.

Some lawmakers such as Farhatullah Babar from the Pakistan People’s Party had tried to draw the government’s attention towards the practice of torture. However he could not get the bill passed by the National Assembly.

The PML-N lawmaker, Maiza Hameed, has made a more recent attempt. She has moved a bill titled ‘Torture, Custodial Death (Prevention and Punishment) Act 2014.’

She told News Lens Pakistan in a telephonic conversation that the bill was under discussion in the National Assembly Standing Committee on Human Rights.

“We are almost done with the law. The only area where consensus lacks between the opposition and the treasury is whether the bill should include investigating measures adopted by the Rangers during custody,” Said Hameed.

Hameed was unaware about the government’s decision to introduce Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention and Punishment) Bill, 2013 by July 2016.

The Chairman, National Assembly Standing Committee on Human Rights, Babar Nawaz Khan, told News Lens Pakistan, about his ambition to bring out a comprehensive law of international standard on custodial torture. He said the bill should be ready by November this year.

Like Hameed, Babar Nawaz was equally unaware about the National Action Plan on Human Rights their government has undertaken.


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