LAHORE: The government may be promising a change in the ‘thana’ culture, but the masses find the recurring incidents of torture by the police, misuse of authority and rampant bribery extremely alarming.
On April 13, at the Naseerabad police station ASI Muhammad Sadiq, investigation moharar Muhammad Javed and Constable Shabbir Ahmad allegedly tortured three suspects who were booked under Section 371 (selling and buying sex/prostitution) of the Pakistan Penal Code.
The cops reportedly used a cane to thrash the suspects and a video of the incident went viral. Soon after, a case was registered against the policemen under Section 155-C of the Police Order and they were arrested. Just a week ago, a policeman thrashed a man in front of the Lahore General Hospital as the victim’s father pleaded for mercy. In January 2017, officials of the newly established patrolling force, Police Response Unit, brutally beat students on Multan Road in Hanjarwal.
Last year, then Lytton Road SHO Maqsood Gujjar was also caught on video, torturing and humiliating a hotel employee. He was accused of torturing a hotel employee when working as SHO Johar Town.
Rai Nasir Abbas, when posted as SHO Hanjarwal, was also seen assaulting a citizen in 2014. He was consequently suspended and a case was even registered against him. A year later, he was posted as SHO Hanjarwal again.
Observers say the police excesses and reports are too long to list. The reported cases are actually far less than the actual number of incidents.
Former police officers, experts working on police reforms and human rights activists term the governemnt claims of changing ‘thana culture’ rhetorical and without substantial actions.
Asad Jamal, a lawyer, human rights activist and author of Police Organisations in Pakistan, said the steps being taken were merely superficial and actual thana culture was far from being rooted out.
Former police chief Sarmad Saeed Khan said thana culture, which entailed torture and violence, was a subculture of society. “We need to change the culture and only then can mattes improve in the police.”
He also urged political independence of the police department, adding their strength needed to be increased.
Sarmad said the force needed to be trained on using latest policing tools and methods to change thana culture.
Saroop Ijaz, a lawyer and human rights activist, says there is an absence of political will to end thana culture.
He is one of the coauthors of the Human Rights Watch’s 2016 report called “This Crooked System” that highlights human rights violations by police in Pakistan.
He said it was more important to understand why the police act out in such a manner. “Powerful segments of society influence the police to torture for their own vested interests,” Ijaz said.
He said police needed to be independent, modernised and efficient. “With empowerment, accountability is also equally important. Unfortunately, the political government does not want the police to be neither independent nor accountable and this is most obvious in Punjab,” he said, highlighting the removal of some Police Order 2002 provisions which empowered the force.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 16th, 2017.