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No more torture

June 26, 2019

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THE use of torture by law enforcement and security officials in Pakistan has often been described, and quite rightly so, as endemic. In fact, as a cruel joke goes, the police here use the ‘third degree’ with such reckless abandon that a suspect will ‘confess’ to anything just to make it stop. The news pages and TV screens regularly feature accounts of those in custody relating nightmarish run-ins with the law, where police officers have tortured them psychologically or physically. In many instances, death in custody is the result, as in the case of an undertrial prisoner in Karachi a few days ago. The family of Sagheer Tanoli say he was tortured by police and later on died, though prison officials assert that he was brought to jail in an ‘injured’ condition. Such accounts are far too frequent, pointing to the fact that the ‘thana culture’ in Pakistan is a euphemism for torture and violence. Today, as the world observes the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, state and society in this country need to reaffirm their intention to stamp out torture, especially torture carried out by those in uniform.

As experts have pointed out, while Pakistan has ratified the Convention against Torture, the country lacks a specific law criminalising this odious practice. Lawmakers have come up with draft bills, but none of these have been passed. While it is true that there are good laws aplenty in Pakistan — though scant enforcement — a law against torture would be a significant step towards eliminating violence within jail cells, in homes and elsewhere. Moreover, police and security forces have to be sensitised to the fact that violence against those in custody cannot be justified under any circumstances, and that scientific methods need to be applied to solve cases. Torture in custody at the hands of officials of the state is partially responsible for the brutalisation of society. Indeed, torture breeds more violence and lawlessness in society, which is why this vicious cycle needs to end. Efforts to pass legislation that criminalises torture must be speeded up, while at the same time police and paramilitary forces must undergo training which reinforces humane treatment of persons in custody. Moreover, any official found condoning or encouraging the use of violence must face the law. Unless condemnation of torture comes from the very top of the power structure, such brutality is unlikely to go away.

Published in Dawn, June 26th, 2019