The International Day in Support of Victims of Torture on June 26 this time coincided with two incidents of alleged custodial torture and death, respectively, of two individuals in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa which resulted in public outcry.
These incidents have enhanced the importance of enactment of an exclusive law to criminalise custodial torture and deaths as so far successive governments have been shy of legislating on this issue.
In one of the incidents a video surfaced on social media showing some policemen torturing and stripping a man in custody. The man Radiullah alias Amarae, an Afghan national residing at Tehkal area, was shown in a video few days ago using abusive language against police officials apparently in state of intoxication.
Later, scores of policemen allegedly raided his residence, apprehended him and then severely tortured him while also stripping him inside a police station.
So far only three low-ranking cops have been charged and arrested in the case. They have been sent to prison on judicial remand by a magistrate on June 27. Two SHOs allegedly involved in the incident have so far not been charged in the case.
The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government has now ordered a judicial inquiry into the matter and requested the Peshawar High Court to assign the inquiry to a judge of the court.
In another incident, a teacher named Irafnullah of Khyber tribal district had gone missing early in June and his family members also addressed a press conference requesting the law enforcing agencies to help in his recovery. On June 22, his body was found on the outskirts of Peshawar along with three other bodies with the Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) claiming that they were terrorists and killed in an encounter.
His death resulted in public outrage on social media as well as in Khyber district with people demanding a judicial probe into the incident.
Pakistan is a signatory to the UN Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT).
Pakistan ratified the convention on June 23, 2010, during then government of Pakistan Peoples Party.
However, an Optional Protocol to UNCAT, which was adopted by the General Assembly on Dec 18, 2002, and had entered into force on June 22, 2006, has so far not been ratified by the country.
The Optional Protocol is aimed at establishing a system of regular visits undertaken by independent international and national bodies to places where people are deprived of their liberty, in order to prevent torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
The convention, which came into force in 1987, provides for monitoring of its implementation by state parties through a body of independent experts called as the Committee against Torture.
The UN General Assembly adopted a resolution on Dec 12, 1997, proclaiming to observe June 26 as International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, with a view to eradicate torture.
While Pakistan has yet to enact a law in line with UNCAT, Prime Minister Imran Khan on June 26 preferred to highlight rights violations in India-held Kashmir.
Pakistan’s Constitution prohibits custodial torture. Article 14(2) of the Constitution states: “No person shall be subjected to torture for the purpose of extracting evidence.”
While no definition of torture is given in Pakistan Penal Code, its section 337-K prohibits causing of hurt for extracting confession and this offence is punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment.
During the government of retired General Pervez Musharraf the Police Order 2002 was introduced, which prohibited torture in police custody through section 156.
The said section provides that whoever, being a police officer, inflicts torture or violence to any person in his custody, shall on conviction be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to five years and fine.
The Police Order was replaced in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa through Police Act, 2017, which was enacted in early 2017. Through section 119 (d) of the Police Act, the previous provision of prohibiting custodial torture was retained. So far any effort by individual lawmaker to enact a law on custodial torture could not be materialised.
In March 2015, the Senate of Pakistan had passed the Torture, Custodial Death and Custodial Rape (Prevention and Punishment) Bill, 2015, which was tabled by Senator Farhatullah Babar. In the constitutionally stipulated 90 days the said bill could not be passed by the National Assembly under Article 70 of the Constitution.
On Feb 13, 2017, the Senate passed a resolution for referring the said bill to a joint sitting of the Parliament, but it could not be passed till the then National Assembly completed its five-year tenure in 2018.
On the same subject, Senator Sherry Rehman on Feb 10 this year introduced a bill in the Senate. The title of the Bill is: “Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention and Punishment) Bill, 2020.
It proposes sentence from three to 10 years imprisonment with fine of up to Rs2 million for those who commits, or abets or conspires to commit torture.
This Bill also recommended sentence of life imprisonment with fine of up to Rs3 million for the offences of custodial death or custodial sexual violence. Experts recall that federal minister for human rights Dr Shireen Mazari had made a commitment for enacting the required law in early 2019, and it was now the government’s responsibility to fulfil that commitment.
Published in Dawn, June 29th, 2020