LAHORE: Punjab police have barred on-duty personnel from using smartphones, making videos and uploading them on social media.

The order follows surfacing of several videos during the last couple of weeks showing policemen torturing suspects in custody or the suspects in critical condition. But a senior official dispelled the impression that the ban had been imposed on taking mobile phones to the police stations. He said it was meant to stop all kinds of video recordings by on-duty police personnel at sensitive places and buildings to avoid any untoward incident.

Inspector General of Punjab Police retired Capt Arif Nawaz Khan issued a circular to all the field police officers, including regional police officers, district police officers, city police officers and divisional SPs to follow it in letter and spirit. It reads, “The competent authority has observed that the police officials are using mobile phones while on duty instead focusing on their assignments at the sensitive places during deployment. Clear instructions in this regard have already been issued to all field formations. Frequent violations of the standard operating procedure have reflected badly on the performance of the supervising officers. In future no officer bellow the rank of station house officer (SHO) or in-charge of a deployed duty will use cell phone while on duty”, reads the official order.

It further stated that it has been strictly forbidden to make a video of police officers on duty or upload a video of police officers performing their duties in any part of the province.

“Any violation in this regard will entail strict departmental action not only against the delinquent official but also against his supervisory officer”, reads the IGP letter.

Additional IG Operations Punjab Inam Ghani regretted that some elements were twisting facts to defame police force by linking this new official order to recent deaths in custody.

“We have not put any ban on general public to take mobile phones to police stations”, he said adding that the written circular issued by the Central Police Office itself speaks of the true spirit of the initiative taken.

He said there were 712 police stations across the province and it was shocking to find out the way some elements interpreted the official letter which even didn’t carry any word of ban on the police stations of Punjab.

He said the instructions were issued for the force deployed at the sensitive duties during Muharram and at the police pickets as there were numerous complaints that the police officials were found using mobile phones instead of focusing on their assignments.

He said during investigation in terrorism cases in the past, many on-duty police personnel were found using mobile phones.

This complaint was also documented when some policemen were found using cell phones during a suicide blast at Data Darbar in Lahore.

Rawalpindi City Police Officer Mohammad Faisal Rana explained that the ban on use of cell phones in police stations was only for the police offices and staff members, while visitors and plaintiffs were exempted from the ban.

However, in Rawalpindi, mobile phones carried by visitors, including females, are deposited at the entry gate of the Police Lines where offices of City Police Officer, SSP Operations and SSP Investigation are located.

In this situation plaintiffs have to face difficulties while keeping in touch with their families as sometimes they had to wait for several hours to get an appointment with a senior police officer.

During the last couple of weeks, at least four cases of deaths caused by alleged police torture had come to light. Videos had gone viral on social media of some suspects in a distressed state while in police custody.

Muhammad Asghar from Rawalpindi also contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, September 10th, 2019