by JAVERIA YOUNES
“I was beaten black and blue and administered electric shocks in my private parts till they bled, they would also insert chilli powder in them. I was forced to stands for days with my hands tied to the pole. The police officers used to hit the soles of my feet with bamboo sticks. I don’t know if I should consider myself lucky to be alive to tell the tale of torture for there is not a single night since the past three years that I have slept peacefully. “
This is not the tale of a Gitmo inmate; rather it is the account of an innocent Pakistani who suffered for no fault of his own. This is the story of Fiaz, 27, son of an industrial worker and daily wage earner who makes his living washing cars at a service station in Hattar Industrial Estate, Hazara Khyber Pakthun Khuwa (KPK) province. On 12 August, 2013 he was returning home from work when two police riders intercepted him and asked for his identification. For not having his ID card with him at the time he became suspect in the eyes of the police. They offered to extend him a favour in exchange for greasing their palms. Yet Fiaz’s poverty landed him in the lock up of the Hattar Police station, where he was kept for three days, unrecorded. The police used third degree torture on Fiaz; beating him with bamboo sticks, kicking and slapping him, beating him on the soles of his feet so he was unable to walk, using abusive language towards him and depriving him of food and sleep. Though Fiaz was later released the physical and psychological scars are permanently etched on his soul
Torture is not construed as a crime of the state in Pakistan. Rather, it is an accepted and expected norm in the investigative process of the ever-degenerating criminal justice system. That is why International Day in Support of Victims of Torture – commemorated throughout the world in a condemnation of atrocities in the name of maintaining law and order – garners little in the way of popular interest and support.
The significance of the day is lost in a country where the majority of the common people do not associate torture with being illegal or unconstitutional. The legislators themselves have been dragging their feet in enacting anti-torture laws, citing a deteriorating law and order situation as if torture will have any impact on the terrorism and terrorist factions in Pakistan.
Police custody is legally custody of the state and is the most dangerous situation for an individual to be in. Deprived of constitutional rights, the accused is at the mercy of their captors. Political interests and personal vendettas may be gratified by deep pocketed beneficiaries using the police as proxy forces to subdue their opponents. The purpose of torture is not to get information. It is to inculcate fear. The lack of protection for an individual from torture and abuse of power by police and other law enforcement agencies is a matter of deep concern in a free society. In a state where the death of the sister of founder of the nation, Qaid e Azam, was allegedly caused by torture, one can hardly expect the common man to escape such a brutal fate.
Use of torture as an investigative tool is the legacy of British Raj when the police force was entrusted to oppress the populace and maintain the writ of the state. Despite the advancement in medical and legal jurisprudence in torture worldwide, criminal forensics in Pakistan remain rudimentary at best. Police routinely employ torture as a whole and sole means of investigation; instead of beginning by investigating the circumstances and evidence, the police generally start their investigation by arresting and extorting confessions from innocent bystanders.
With no official data available on incidents of torture it is perhaps the least documented of all human rights abuses in the country. However, a few organisations like the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) are viewed as credible sources that regularly report and document cases of custodial torture. Baseer Naweed a senior researcher at the AHRC Pakistan desk has worked tirelessly to bring to light cases of torture. According to Mr Naweed, a day against torture has no significance in the society that is sadistic in its core. The people of Pakistan have become immune to deaths in custody and no voice is raised against the perpetrators of torture. The common man is so tied up with making ends meet that he has no will to stand up for his fellow being.
This societal acceptance of torture is unfortunately not limited to middle or lower income groups. Many senior lawyers and judges feel that torture is sometimes necessary to deal with hardened criminals – yet how to define who is a hardened criminal? If the police are given this power it is akin to allowing law enforcers to become prosecutors and judges.
The lower judiciary is largely untrained to treat cases of torture in custody. It is surprising to find few case laws and legal precedence on a menace so rampant. Advocate Zain Sheikh, a reputed constitution law expert, cited that the reason that the judiciary has not addressed the problem extensively is because victims fail to report in time, resulting in evidence being lost. He also cited the silence of the press on the issue; except for a few cases of gross misconduct, most torture cases go unreported by our media. Furthermore, even if the culprit is reprimanded, the police exact revenge by filing fake cases against the victim.
Due to unbridled power afforded to law enforcement agencies and unquestioned state impunity Pakistan has become a police state where might is right and the voice of dissent is unacceptable. A victim will thus rather not report the incident, even if there are legal safeguards to protect him from torture.
Furthermore, the failures in policing laws have created legal lacunas that hinder reprimanding police officers. Internal inquiry by the police is a farce that does little to curb the tide of custodial torture. Those who routinely indulge in torture during investigation do so with no fear of any action initiated against them. A plethora of opposing laws in a country where concurrent criminal justice systems are working complicates the matter further resulting in only more inefficiency at the level of the police.
Civil society, lawyers and NGOs will have to work in unison to push for an Anti-torture Act to curb the tide of torture. With the promulgation of draconian laws such as the Pakistan Protection Act, it is imperative for each member of Pakistani society to stand up for their fundamental rights and freedom. If we don’t speak now, our future generations will never know what it feels like to be free.