ISLAMABAD: “In the Faisalabad District alone, more than 3,000 reported cases of police torture and fake encounters have come to light during the last ten years,” said Dr Khurram Sohail Raja, the head of forensic medicine at the Punjab Medical College, Faisalabad.

The doctor was speaking at a seminar on the prevention of torture organised by Potohar Organization for Development Advocacy (PODA), a local non-governmental organisation on Thursday.

Dr Raja worked for 16 years as a medico-legal official and carried out 1,500 post-mortems over 20 years.

His presentation to the audience included hair-raising images and video clips featuring victims of police torture, which compelled an audience member to leave the room and another to ask the presenter to skip the slides.

Hair-raising tales of police torture shared at a seminar

“But unfortunately, this is the reality we have to deal with each day,” Dr Raja said, while apologising for the disturbing nature of the images.

He said that during the course of his work, he has come across victims who were hung from ceiling fans and lashed. Most victims, he said, suffered permanent damage to their shoulders.

He cited the example of a young man, working as a teacher, who was tortured for five days for jumping a red light. The victim, Dr Raja said, spent the next two months in a psychiatric ward.

The doctor also discussed the case of Nasir Abbasi, a relative of PML-N MNA Shahid Khaqan Abbasi who was picked up by the police on charges of attempting to murder the former chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry.

“His bloodstained corpse was brought to us for post-mortem. His genitals had been electrocuted and after the police had killed him, they hanged him to pass it off as suicide,” he said, adding that the case is pending with the Lahore High Court.

National Commission on Human Rights Chairman retired Justice Ali Nawaz Chowhan, recommended a complete overhaul of police laws to address the problem of torture.

“The law must declare torture to be a sin,” he said.

Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) Project Coordinator Waqar Mustafa highlighted the lack of accountability for the perpetrators of torture. “Torture is institutionalised and even human rights activist, lawyers and journalists have become victims of police brutality,” he said.

Former chairman Parliamentarians Commission for Human Rights, Riaz Fatyana, lamented that the government had failed to legislate on the issue. He emphasised that new techniques of investigation must replace torture.

Mr Fatyana cited the examples of shooting of foreigners by Frontier Corps officials in Quetta, five years ago and the police killing people in Model Town, Lahore last year.

“The government has failed to introduce police reforms,” he said.

National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW) chairperson Khawar Mumtaz said that Pakistani society has accepted torture and no longer confronts the issue. “I find it disturbing that 44 women are on death row. The state must work towards reducing the level of violence,” she said.

Johan Sorensen, who heads the European Union Delegation, Pakistan’s Political Section, saw shortcomings in implementation of international standards on police methods of extracting confessions. She pointed out that Pakistan had ratified the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

“Torture cannot be justified and it does not work. Victims will say anything to end the suffering. The government must end this reprehensible and immoral practice,” Mr Sorenson said.

He called for educating the police and judiciary on the issue.

NCSW member Tanveer Jahan and Bushra Khaliq from an NGO called Anti –Torture Alliance explained that documenting torture is difficult, especially when it is carried out by the armed forces.

The speakers called for rehabilitation of torture victims, especially those rendered psychologically unfit to resume normal lives.

Published in Dawn, July 31st, 2015

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