Punjab police living up to their brutal reputation?

September 29, 2014


.— AFP file photo
.— AFP file photo
.— AP file photo
.— AP file photo

ISLAMABAD: Ali Khan Swati had only heard of police brutality; on TV, in newspapers and from anecdotal chats with politically-inclined family members and friends.

But the 25-year-old was not prepared for what befell him when he stumbled onto a Punjab police checkpoint, near the H-9 weekly bazaar, on Wednesday.

Ever since Imran Khan and Dr Tahirul Qadri brought their protests to town, the capital has been overrun with policemen from different parts of the country.

Know more: Police brutality in Lahore

Most notorious among them are the contingents of the Punjab police, sent to Islamabad to maintain order and fear on the streets.

Punjab police have an unsavoury reputation when it comes to highhanded tactics. Citizens of the capital, who are used to the courteous ways of the Islamabad police, usually find the unnecessary violence of the burly brutes from Punjab appalling.

Youths face abuse at the hands of belligerent law-enforcers

But nothing could prepare Mr Swati for what he was about to experience at the hands of these ‘guardians of the peace’.

His car, which is adorned with a Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf flag, was flagged down by a policeman at a checkpoint. Swati stopped and duly submitted to an inspection of his vehicle. When the policeman opened the boot, he was confronted with a stash of flags and buntings.

“Coming back around, he reached in the driver’s side window and pulling the keys out of the ignition, asked me to step out,” said Swati, who is an MBA student at a local university. “I had left my home in Sector I-8 and was on my way to F-11. It was around 10pm,” he recalled.

“That’s when he kicked me in the stomach. While I was still reeling from this blow, he began pushing me toward a prison van parked nearby. I began to run, because I wanted the kicking and shoving to stop,” he said, adding that all around him, he could see policemen rounding up young men on motorcycles and cars.

Once inside the prison van, he requested the policeman guarding the door that he needed to call home and explain what had happened. The policeman, an official of the capital police, obliged and that was how Ali Khan Swati’s parents found out that their son was on his way to Ramna Police Station.

In the meanwhile, Swati had told his captors he was related to former Senator Azam Khan Swati. Upon hearing this, the policemen took him out of the prison van and, telling him to get back in his car, got in the back seat and made him drive to the police station in sector G-11. This was around 11:30pm.

Half an hour later, three prison vans showed up at the police station to unload some 30 to 35 prisoners, all young men. Outside the station, a few worried parents paced restlessly.

Inside, in the small lawn, Ali Khan Swati and the other prisoners were kept on their feet for hours.

He said they were not allowed to drink water, use the toilet or move from the spot. All the while, they were taunted and abused by the Punjab policemen.

“Then they shoved us into a small cell that already had three other occupants. I was among the 15 who spent the night standing while another 17 sat until nearly 7:30am,” he said.

They found some respite when the station house officer, Jamshed Khan, returned to duty in the morning and let them out. “He was polite and allowed us to mingle,” he said.

The bunch that had been rounded up was a motley crew. There were four 10th graders, aged no more than 15 or 16. They had been returning from the Centaurus mall in a cab after an evening out when they were picked up. Ali Swati also recognized a chaat wallah, often seen at D-Chowk. The police had also booked both his sons and a nephew, who were also in their early teens.

“Two grade 18 government officers were also with us. They were over 30 and were the centre of attention for everyone. The Punjab policemen had roughed them up good. Their clothes were completely torn and their bodies were marked all over with bruises,” Swati said.

Mohammad Rizwan is another hapless citizen who suffered at the hands of the brutal policemen from Punjab. He and two friends - supporters of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (Fazl), were returning from prayers at the Lal Masjid in G-6 when they were picked up and bundled into a prison van.

Around 2pm on Thursday, the youngsters and some 25 others were taken to the Islamabad High Court. Ali Swati and five others were released after posting bail, set at Rs5,000.

Officers at the Ramna Police Station, when asked for a comment, told Dawn, “We had orders to make more arrests. We picked up anyone and everyone we could get our hands on,” he said.

A senior official, asking not to be named, said that the police department was worried by complaints of brutality against Punjab police personnel, adding that these complaints were being “looked into”.

Published in Dawn, September 29th , 2014