Woman's death in custody poses questions

Published: March 27, 2018
Police say inquiry underway; officer booked for woman’s death yet to be arrested. PHOTO: FILE

Police say inquiry underway; officer booked for woman’s death yet to be arrested. PHOTO: FILE

ISLAMABAD: After it emerged that a woman had died in custody under mysterious circumstances, the Islamabad Police have launched an inquiry against cops handling her.

Vero Bibi had reportedly died on the morning of March 14 while she was in custody of the CIA police.

Police say they had arrested the woman for her alleged involvement in a theft and that she had died out of ‘fear of arrest’.

The next day, a case of ‘unintentional murder’ (manslaughter) was registered at the Khanna police station against the officer who had arrested her, ASI Tasneem Ahmed of the CIA police.

The case, registered on an application filed by the CIA police themselves instead of on the complaint by a family member, read that Vero was ill when she was arrested from the Zia Masjid area within the remits of the Khanna police.

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“Because she was sick at the time, her arrest was prima facie inappropriate,” the police application read, adding, “The ASI arrested her while she was sick, and she died due to fear of police arrest.”

A post-mortem for Vero, conducted at the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS), ruled out the possibility of torture.

“The doctors found nothing on her body except a few minor bruises. There was no injury, no bone fracture, or joint dislocation. Probably she died of myocardial infarction [heart attack],” explained PIMS medico-legal officer Dr Irshad.

After being booked, the officer named in the FIR was suspended. However, the officer has yet to be formally arrested.

While CIA police maintain that the woman died soon after her arrest on March 14, some insiders told The Express Tribune that the FIR lodged at the Khanna police station and the account contained therein was a mere cover-up.

They claimed that the woman had actually been picked up by the police from Nankana Sahib in central Punjab. Moreover, they claimed that the victim was reportedly kept overnight at the CIA police office. This violates police standard operating procedures which dictate that female suspects can only be held at the women police station.

When contacted, Nankana police confirmed that officials from CIA police Islamabad had visited the woman’s native village near Mangtanwala in Nankana. However, they did not disclose whether the woman had been arrested from the village or from the Zia Masjid area in the capital as claimed in the police report.

Unusually, the first information report (FIR) of the incident registered at the Khanna police station failed to mention the exact house address where the woman or her family lived or were she had been arrested from. When the Khanna police were asked about these discrepancies, they said that they too were unaware of the arrest.

“Khanna police had nothing to do with this case. It was registered on an istighasa (complaint) by CIA police,” said an officer.

SP-CIA Zubair Sheikh stated that the woman was never brought to the CIA office.

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“She was arrested and died soon afterwards on the spot and was taken straight to the hospital,” he said while maintaining the contents of the FIR.

He claimed the woman was part of a gang which looted houses while posing as domestic workers. “Her husband is also in police custody. We have also recovered stolen property from them,” the SP claimed.

When asked about the ASI who had been booked for manslaughter, SP Sheikh confirmed that the officer had been suspended but not arrested yet.

Asked if he could pinpoint the house where the woman and her family lived and where in Khanna had she been arrested from, the SP said he would have to check.

However, there was no word from him afterwards.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 27th, 2018.

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