Culture of police torture in Pakistan – by Qudrat Ullah

Although the police flogging are not an uncommon arcane in Pakistan, yet the shocking telecast of flout police torture of some hapless accused, in the presence of flabbergasted on-lookers, in a remote Punjab locality by the acerbic media, has unnerved the whole nation. Its subsequent admonish of the antiquated police system shows that much debated change in ‘Thana-culture’ is still a far cry; rather it has become a hopeless cliché for the ordinary public who have lost every hope of any meaningful social change in their lives. This battering fiasco has happened at a critical time as the police order-2002 is about to be replaced by a ‘balanced’ police act-2010 and the Punjab government is already working to slot in necessary legal changes to make the police system more functional and people-friendly by removing its extraneous portions.

Use of torture by the police for gleaning facts or to contrive the otherwise innocent accused to confess is constitutionally disallowed everywhere in the modern-day world as it’s an affront to human dignity. Torture contravenes the inherent dignity of a person. By torturing the accused, police violates the fundamental rights enshrined in Article 4, 9 and 14 of the Constitution. Pakistan has already signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) on April 17, 2008 and also pledged before the UN Human Rights Council to stop the menace of torture in Pakistan and rectify its laws according to the CAT.

While the use of torture, in any form has been prohibited under Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), but the police in South Asia are notorious for their brutal tactics of using torture as a practical method for forcing the criminals and the accused to admit their crimes. Police torture is a colonial legacy, and red chili spray was one of the favorite tools by the police then, which used to extract confessions from the accused by applying this method. In fact, it’s a ready technique, still popular in Indo-Pak sub-continent, as the norms of human rights and rule of law have failed to break in this archaic police culture.

The main problem is that the police are not familiar with the latest methodical techniques of interrogation nor they have any scientific tools to solve complicated crime mysteries. The police order-2002 has failed to improve this situation.

According to a research conducted by a Ph.D. scholar for gauging the total number of police tortures during the last five years in Lahore alone, 16.42 percent of youth aged between 15 to 19, 25.38 percent adults aged between 20 to 24 and 18.9 percent of adults aged between 25 to 29 years, were tortured by the police, during the period of research. Similarly, 18.62 percent of detainees were subjected to some sort of mechanical torture, including all forms of violence, besides domestic violence and blunt-tools were most commonly used.

A similar study on prisons has further noted with concern that 91.54 percent of detained men and 8.46 percent detained women were victims of physical torture by the police therein. Moreover, 12.14 percent of detained women were subjected to psychological torture by the police. Because of their socio-economical helplessness, labor community, followed by the business community, was an easy prey of the police. It was also pointed out that body parts most frequently targeted for battering included buttocks, foot soles, back, front and back of thighs, palms and wrists. The most common tool used to inflict severe pain is the cane-stick and a broad flat leather slipper (dipped in mustard oil to inflict maximum pain) more commonly known as Chhithar. This full-sized fury is a big symbol of fear for the many.

Actually, the post-9/11 scenario is embroiled with a situation marred with violence & torture and the violation of public rights in war against terror is not an uncommon phenomenon. The developed nations of the world have incorporated various institutional methods for safeguarding public rights and their media is also playing an important role in upholding this check.

Western media gives importance to societal issues like public rights and no government agency can dare to flout it. However unlike them, protection of public rights was not given any priority by the past governments in Pakistan. And, it’s a welcome step that Shahbaz Sharif government is going to introduce sufficient checks to remove public complaints against the gubernatorial police. Actually, lawyers’ movement has given impetus to the issue of rule of law and now the democratic regime should develop necessary paraphernalia to implement this manifest desire of the nation.

This situation requires immediate steps-both administrative as well as political, to put some institutional check and balance in it. The government should take concrete steps to introduce credible checks on police excesses and that can only be done by introducing vibrant institutionalized mechanism. Media will a handy tool to support this cause.

It is a universally held acclaim that true democratic system cannot be build-up without first strengthening the Police system, which could effectively maintain law and order as effective administration is worthless without it. The ruling clique should strive to make police system professional, service-oriented and accountable to the people, having inbuilt mechanisms to curb illegitimate political interference; while enhancing police accountability through civilian oversight.

There is a dire need to make torture a heinous crime now. Until and unless the use of torture is not criminalized through law, there are fewer chances to stop this grave violation in the future.