We watched in disgust as a mob in Sialkot lynched a suspected criminal while the police stood idly by, watching the carnage. The shooting at point-blank range of an unarmed civilian by Rangers on June 8, in Karachi’s Benazir Bhutto Park may be even worse. In this case, law enforcement authorities were not just malicious bystanders but active participants in the violence. Nineteen-year-old Sarfaraz Shah was confronted and then shot by Rangers, who claimed that he was a robber who refused to surrender, although the footage of the incident does not support these claims. The video showed Shah beg for mercy as Rangers personnel surrounded him. His pleas to be taken to a hospital went unanswered, as he bled to death.
The incident is shocking — there is no law in the world that allows such cruelty to be meted out to a robber. The Rangers said that Shah was armed but all the police were able to recover was a toy gun. Too often we hear tales of police brutality and shrug it off. We should not reserve our outrage only for those instances when police inhumanity is captured on camera. The incident has attracted the attention of the prime minister and various political parties, all of whom have vowed to hold the Rangers officials accountable. Let us not fool ourselves into thinking that this response has been engendered by anything other than the fact that the ruthless murder was filmed. Police and paramilitary officials who think their badges give them immunity from prosecution are a dime a dozen and the sad part is that they are right. When eyewitness testimony is the only evidence available, police ‘encounters’ always end up with innocent people dead and the police spared.
An investigation needs to be conducted by an independent commission, not by the Rangers, which should arrive at its findings within a reasonable period of time. These findings should be made public, so that the guilty people can be punished. However, prosecution of the officials responsible is only the start of the solution. The police and Rangers need to have instilled in them values that are expected to be upheld by the guardians of the law.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 10th, 2011.