LAHORE, Aug 27: A study on police torture that was launched here on Tuesday made startling revelations about massive flaws in the criminal justice system in Pakistan that led to subhuman treatment to people, including women and children, in violation of basic rights enshrined in the constitution.
The report indicated that 55 per cent of the complainants who went to police stations in select districts of Punjab had to bribe police to get their FIRs registered, while 92 per cent of the complainants said investigation was changed despite requests not to do so.
The survey was conducted by the Democratic Commission for Human Development (DCHD), a civil society organisation, in three districts of Punjab – Faisalabad, Multan and Rahim Yar Khan. Its report was launched in collaboration with the Foundation Open Society Institute (FOSI) at a hotel here on Tuesday.After launching the study, the DCHD also started its nationwide campaign against torture, vowing to motivate all stakeholders, including the general public, against it.
The report carried revelations that pointed at gaping holes in the criminal justice system in Pakistan. A whopping 57 per cent of complainants said they were tortured during investigations, while 83 per cent said police were abusive and misbehaved them at the time of arrest. Fifty per cent of the accused said their families bribed police to save them from torture, while 72 per cent said their defence witness’s statement was not recorded.
The report launch brought together a large number of lawyers, civil society activists and police officials.
Former Additional IG Punjab Azhar Hasan Nadeem said rule of law was necessary to achieve the goals of fair trial. He said the goal of criminal justice system was to prevent crime and conviction of criminals.
He said in a society where extrajudicial killings were encouraged and the corrupt was respected the right to fair trial would remain elusive. He said good policing could be ensured with community policing and by giving political autonomy to police.
The author of the report, Wajahat Masood, said despite government claims to change the thana culture, the incidence of torture was rising. He said police could not act in isolation, as there was a desire to strive for social justice in the society.
He said the current criminal justice system was based on authoritarian rule and there could be no improvement unless the masses are recognised by the state as citizens and not the subjects.
Lahore High Court Bar Association President Abid Saqi Bhatti said the culture in the subcontinent was elitist, which was given by the British. He said the transfer of power was purely from one elite segment of the society to the other. The entire criminal justice system was flawed and was not based on social justice. The entire foundation of the 1861 Act was alien and Pakistan adopted it as it was, rather in worst form.
DCHD Executive Director Tanveer Jahan said the study was completed in several months. The selection of sample, identification of complainants and accused, selections of researchers and later adoption of research methodology were explained.
Jahan said the study took more than 2,600 interviews with the accused or complainants so that a large and diverse sample could be adopted. She mentioned key findings of the study that pointed out violations of the rules conforming to right to fair trial.
She said over 80 per cent of women complained that they were forced to stay at police stations overnight. Over 40 per cent of the accused complained of torture at police stations.
She said there was a need to press upon the government to bring a meaningful legislation to root out the menace of torture.
FOSI legal consultant Kamran Arif presented an overview of the criminal justice system in Pakistan. He said torture was rampant in police stations across the country and procedures of fair trial were not being followed according to international standards.
He said since Pakistan was a signatory to the UN and other international conventions against torture, the responsibility of the state to legislate and look into this matter was even greater. The launch ceremony was followed by a consultative meeting to brainstorm the response to the menace of torture. Representatives of police, prisons department, media, civil society and lawyers attended.
Three studies that are basis for the campaign against torture were presented. The campaign is being run in collaboration with FOSI.
Ms Jahan said the proposed campaign had main components like legal research and media. She said police and key stakeholders like doctors and lawyers would be engaged during the campaign. The media would also be engaged to create awareness.
The group said it was important to peruse the overall criminal justice system while discussing torture. A participant was of the view that there was a need to legislate differently against torture. He said while formulating a response everybody concerned should be engaged.
Police official Azra Perveen said citizens usually did not trust police and did not cooperate with them at all. She said police were being portrayed negatively as far as torture was concerned and that the public should also learn to cooperate with them.
AIG police Hussain Habib said there was a need to depoliticise police and introduce reforms. There was a need to give proper training to field police to ensure conviction of criminals and protection of the innocent.
Rabia Chaudhry from the Centre for Public Policy and Governance presented her study and said public-police liaison and implementation of the Police Order 2002 was key to tackling the menace of torture. She said police should be more independent and taught modern methods of investigation to stop the use of the third degree method.
Maryam Arif from the Institute of Peace and Secular Studies presented her study on torture. She said she interviewed 234 people from police and public. She said 83 per cent of the people said they were not aware of any law against torture. She said defining torture clearly and to have a meaningful legislation against it was vital to curbing it.