KARACHI: Over time the nature of torture has changed, with the release of severely injured but alive victims being replaced with the dumping of bodies one after another, said provincial assistant coordinator of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan Abdul Hayee at a round-table conference on Thursday.
Earlier, he said, there was a chance of receiving a severely injured yet alive person. “Now we are receiving body after body, be it of a political or a social activist, which in itself is a warning by the perpetrators, for people like us, to mend our ways”.
Mr Hayee and many other prolific representatives of rights organisations and media presented their views at the conference on the ‘Convention against torture in Pakistan: towards implementation and accountability’.
The event was jointly held by the HRCP and Geneva-based World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT).
About the ongoing operation by the law enforcement agencies in Karachi, he said: “The way they are picking up suspect after suspect is questionable, as no one knows for sure what happens to the suspects afterwards.”
About the HRCP role, he said: “Irrespective of the general perception that we have taken a back seat, I’d like to say that we are very much active and take action where necessary. Yes, over time our activists have been tortured and killed in the line of duty, as happened in the case of Advocate Rashid Rehman, but we will continue to fight as we don’t have the luxury to be lax.”
The speakers observed that Pakistan had signed and later ratified UN Convention Against Torture (CAT), but so far violence seemed to have got out of hand with no signs of containing it under the law.
There was a dichotomy in what the state committed internationally and what it implemented, said Waqar Mustafa, project coordinator with the HRCP and OMCT. “For instance,” he said, “even after signing and later ratifying the UN’s CAT, an ordinance like the Pakistan Protection Ordinance gets easily passed in the assembly, without getting criticism from various quarters.”
In the same vein, Nicole Burli, legal expert at OMCT, said this dilemma was not specific to Pakistan, “an implementation gap can be seen globally though it differs from region to region. A report is usually expected from a state after the ratification of a convention, detailing their findings and how they have controlled various kinds of torture. But a lot of states are not forthcoming.” The state, she added, could only be motivated to do so by pressure from civil society. There were many instances, she said, where those being abused did not know their own rights which could be highlighted by the media.
During a session titled, ‘Media: expectations, interest and responsibility’, two journalists spoke about the role of the media in reporting torture and what it takes to do such stories.
About the right to exercise their freedom, journalist Shahzada Zulfiqar from Quetta said that 150 dailies were published from Balochistan but they did not have the kind of freedom they would like to enjoy. Considered eyes and ears of the state, the media itself was in need of much-awaited help, he added. “To begin with, there are set rules regarding what a journalist in Balochistan can report on. These rules are not relayed by the editors, rather by law enforcers or militants. Not obliging any of the state or non-state organisations, which simply means if you do your job right, can mean being bumped off by any one of them,” he added.
Speaking about the media in general, he said, “Most news organisations, especially TV channels, are run by businessmen who have corporatised the profession. This means they’re divided in groups, they have their allegiances, and so the news would only make it to the channel if it serves the interest of the owner. It is shameful but gradually becoming a norm.”
As an example, he cited the recent incident in Kasur where a Christian couple was torched by an angry mob after they were accused of blasphemy. He said: “This form of severe torture was not considered ‘news-worthy’ enough to be shown on a news channel. The only news channel that did end up speaking to some rights activists, were thanked profusely by them in return.”Chairman of the Jeay Sindh Mahaz Abdul Khalique Junejo said: “So far, Pakistan has not seen any radical change. If anything, it has become radicalised, for which the state is responsible.”
“Forty-two journalists have been killed so far in the province. My suggestion is to create a media watchdog that can monitor the kind of stories reporters do and take action when necessary,” he added.
He also highlighted the passage of the PPO and said that it should have been discussed and dissected but it didn’t happen.
Muqtada Mansoor, a columnist, argued that interpretation of an incident became more important than the incident itself. “That is why, many a time people don’t understand the consequences of some incidents or think the torture is justified, because those analysing it don’t know it themselves,” he said.
Speaking about the state’s responsibility, Sindh HRCP vice chairperson Asad Iqbal Butt summed up the discussion. “A law is necessary. It is a tool for the citizens to use, when they have no other way of getting out of a situation.”
A crime control agency, having rights activists, should be represented in tehsils and districts, he said, adding that in case the perpetrators who inflicted torture were caught and proven guilty, they should be put behind bars for five years and fined with a penalty of Rs700,000. “Rehabilitation of a person, mental and physical, should also be carried out,” he said.
About the PPO, he said: “It usually works against a political government to let such a law passed; one which could be used against them in future. But they are also bound, as the strings are pulled by people who want these political parties to be bound by such laws.”
Published in Dawn, November 7th, 2014