BEATINGS, rape, sleep deprivation, electric shocks, even waterboarding — the Punjab Police is notorious for employing a gamut of torture tactics while ‘interrogating’ suspects. Individuals in custody — inevitably those without money or influence — are barely considered human beings, let alone citizens with constitutionally protected rights. As a result, many are left broken in body and spirit after being detained by law enforcement; some succumb to the brutality. In this sordid environment, where violation of the right to due process is routine, the police leadership has introduced a pilot project in Faisalabad district modelled after the ‘Miranda Warning’ as practised in the US since 1966. In that country, cops are bound to communicate the Miranda Warning/ Rights to individuals when taking them into custody. These inform the accused person that they have the right to remain silent and refuse to answer self-incriminating questions. The impetus behind adopting the procedure in Faisalabad, according to a senior police official quoted in this paper yesterday, is to address the practice of custodial torture and deaths.
Faisalabad is certainly an appropriate place to launch such a project. A study conducted by Yale University and the Justice Project Pakistan on 1,867 medico-legal certificates dated between 2006 and 2012 from the district, confirmed 1,424 allegations of police torture with physical evidence. Yet not a single case, by the time the findings were made public in 2015, had been investigated or the cops responsible prosecuted. This impunity indicates a sociocultural acceptance of torture as a legitimate means of investigating crime. While the move to introduce the practice of Miranda Warning/ Rights constitutes at least an acknowledgment of the rights of people in custody and is a shift in the correct direction, it will likely prove insufficient to tip the scales to any significant degree. Torture is endemic because it stems from a particular mindset shaped by an authoritarian subculture within law enforcement; also, the politics of policing are premised on the institutional weakness of law-enforcement agencies. Perhaps most crucially, torture is yet to be expressly criminalised in Pakistan. There is no mention of it in the PPC or the CrPC. While the Police Order 2002, under which the Punjab Police functions, does stipulate penalties against police officers who inflict “violence or torture” upon anyone in their custody, there is no definition of torture, which is a critical omission. Lawmakers must step up to make torture unacceptable, with severe repercussions for those who resort to it.
Published in Dawn, September 23rd, 2022