Torture must be clearly defined and the 14-day physical remand abolished, the executive summary of a study on custodial torture in Pakistan states.
The study, Custodial Torture and Human Rights: Designing a Policy Framework for Pakistan, was presented by lead researcher, Rabia Chaudhry, at a policy dialogue on Thursday at the Centre for Public Policy and Governance at the Forman Christian College University (FCCU).
Chaudhry said that the situation in prisons was improving but solitary confinement was a grey area. “It is condemned but there is no legal barrier to prevent it,” she said.
She said that money was doled out at all levels of police stations and jails…“be it for better food, a lower number of occupants in the barrack or providing other luxuries.”
She said that the most common techniques of torture were sexual abuse, electric shocks, pulling out nails and/or teeth, rubbing chillies in the eyes and ordering push-ups. “The delay in making entries in the police station’s daily diary gives police officials time to torture anyone they arrest,” she said. “However, most torture takes place at ‘safehouses’ away from police stations.”
Additional Inspector General (Training) Sarmad Saeed said, “We want to eradicate torture at our thaanas (police stations).”
Denying that police pull out nails or teeth, Saeed said that the only form of torture by police is chhitrol, beating with leather straps.
“However, this is done ‘scientifically’ [sic] to ensure no permanent physical loss is inflicted,” he said. Such torture is part of the ‘social fabric’ and has also become a part of thaana culture, he said.
“Police officers lack resources to investigate. An investigating officer is expected to investigate no less than 50 cases simultaneously,” he said. Over 80 percent of the police budget goes into salaries while only 2.5 percent is allocated for training, he said.
“Rs56 is spent each month to protect each citizen,” he said. He stressed that more money, manpower and training was needed. “This ill [custodial torture] cannot be cured by a single medicine,” he said.
Peter Jacob, national secretary of the National Commission for Justice and Peace, said that torture was also used by other state agencies. “One cannot ignore enforced disappearances and extra-judicial killings when speaking about custodial torture,” he said. He said that while Pakistan was signatory to the Convention against Torture (CAT), there was a need to translate the pledge into practical reforms.
“Women suffer the most in custodial torture,” said advocacy manager at South Asia Partnership Pakistan (SAP-PK), Zakia Arshad. Having worked with marginalised segments of the society for more than 20 years, Arshad said women belonging to religious minorities were victimised the most during custody. She said practices like verbal abuse and rape threats were standard. At times women were even told to take off their clothes. She said even though police officials were generally ‘careful’ not to inflict physical torture on women, they endured much mental torture.
Hussain Naqi rejected the claim that custodial torture was part of the police culture and thus difficult to eliminate.
“It is practiced only because it serves the interests of certain people,” he said. “Torture is a barbaric act which has no justification.”
IA Rehman, secretary general of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), said, “Inhuman treatment begins as soon as a person is handcuffed and paraded in front of people before a crime is proven.”
He said that when police use custodial torture, many people confess to crimes they have not committed. Kamran Arif, the HRCP Co-chairman, said, “Unless torture is eradicated, there is little room to ensure justice.” He lamented that scientific methods of interrogation had not been incorporated in police’s investigation methods. He said this either showed a lack of resources or a lack of will to reform.
The dialogue ended with participants recommended that a campaign for raising awareness of legal rights, legal reforms, strict action against officials found guilty of custodial torture and induction of forensic experts in police force.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 6th, 2012.