Senate body summons Punjab IG over custodial death of robbery suspect

Updated September 06, 2019

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Officers say with police brutality cases back in the spotlight, punishments for low-ranking officials not enough. — Punjab police website
Officers say with police brutality cases back in the spotlight, punishments for low-ranking officials not enough. — Punjab police website

ISLAMABAD: The death of a man in the custody of the Punjab police has once again exposed the police’s reliance on torture, illegal detention and the operation of private torture cells.

The Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights has taken notice of the alleged torture and death of an ATM robbery suspect in police custody. Its chair, Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar, has directed the inspector general of police (IGP) Punjab and the Rahimyar Khan district police officer to appear before the committee on Sept 12.

The committee has also sought a report into the case from the Ministry of Human Rights.

Officers say with police brutality cases back in the spotlight, undertakings and punishments for low-ranking officials is not enough

Nearly 10 years ago, the Supreme Court took suo motu on a widely aired incident in which police brutality was seen outside the Bhawana police station in Chiniot tehsil.

During the hearing of that case in March 2010, the SC judges had observed that police torture was rampant, particularly in Punjab and Sindh. They said the practice dishonoured human dignity and told the Punjab government to shut down private torture cells operated by the police.

The court had also sought comprehensive reports from the capital police and provincial police containing affidavits from police officers declaring that there were no private torture cells in their jurisdictions.

In response to the court order, the provincial and capital police obtained undertakings from all station house officers (SHO), subdivisional police officers (SDPO), superintendents of police (SP) and the in-charges of other departments, including the investigation wing and Criminal Intelligence Agency (CIA), (then the Central Investigation Department), that they would not torture suspects in custody, set up private torture cells under the pretext of investigations and detain suspects illegally, police officers stationed in Islamabad, Punjab and Sindh told Dawn.

The undertakings were taken on separate stamp papers on which officers took oaths not to operate any personal or secret torture cells under the pretext of investigations, they said.

They also took oaths not to subject any suspect to torture during investigations and to respect human rights, the law and morality in dealing with suspects and during the investigation process. They also took oaths that they would not detain anyone, including suspects, illegally.

But police all over the country, including in the capital, have continued with such actions, the officers said.

They referenced the illegal detention of six people in private torture cells for more than two weeks by the Naseerabad police in Rawalpindi, which was revealed on Tuesday and led to the registration of a criminal case against three police officials.

While investigating the rape and attempted murder of a four-year-old child in the capital, a CIA team picked up four suspects, including two nephews of the victim’s father, in June, the victim’s father previously told Dawn.

He alleged that his nephews were tortured by police in order to get them to confess, which caused them to suffer from nosebleeds for several days after they were released from custody.

In May, a former SHO of the Golra police station and an assistant sub-inspector were booked under criminal charges and arrested on directives from the Islamabad High Court for illegally detaining innocent teenagers.

The officers said such actions would not be countered by any kind of undertaking or by punishing low ranking officials. They said to those involved in such practices and in abusing their authority, it would only amount to a piece of paper.

Besides, they said, SHOs, SDPOs and SPs were rotated frequently.

The officers said senior officers are quick to take credit when it comes to good performance, and police press releases often start off by mentioning directives from the IGP or deputy inspector general of police, followed by the constitution of teams by senior superintendents of police and SPs that they recovered narcotics or stolen property, or made arrests.

They said if these officers are taking the credit for good work, they should also take responsibility for police misconduct, including police brutality, the operation of torture cells, illegal detention and abuse of authority.

They added that such practices would continue until senior officers are held responsible and made to serve punishments like low-ranking officials are.

Officials such as SHOs, SDPOs and SPs who carry out such actions are appointed, but when cases come to light low-ranking officials from constables to inspectors are the ones punished while officers of the Police Service of Pakistan remain innocent despite being in supervisory roles.

They claimed departmental and judicial inquiries do not deal with senior and low-ranking officials equally but according to their status, thereby allowing such practices to continue.

Published in Dawn, September 6th, 2019