ISLAMABAD: The Senate on Thursday passed four bills, including one that — for the first time — criminalised torture of under-custody accused, as PTI lawmakers continued protest the arrest and alleged torture of Senator Azam Swati.

The bill to provide protection to a person during custody from all acts of torture perpetrated by public officials — The Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention and Punishment) Bill, 2022 — has already been passed by the National Assembly and could set in motion a long overdue process of reform to ensure transparent investigations into future allegations of torture and hold accountable to those responsible.

“It is the duty of the State to provide protection, either directly or by means of Institutional mechanism, to its citizens against all kinds of torture and right to fair trial... Despite constitutional provisions and guarantees, there is no precise definition or penalisation of the acts of torture within the criminal law regime of Pakistan. Therefore, the object of the bill is to criminalise and prevent acts of torture, custodial death and custodial rape committed against persons held in custody by public officials, and to provide redress to the victims of such acts,” the statement of objects and reasons read.

It also recalls that Pakistan is a signatory to the UN Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT) and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), both of which protect the right to dignity of any person who has been held in custody.

PTI lawmakers continue protest against senator’s arrest, alleged torture; Sherry seeks Swati’s production orders

Under the bill, which will become an act of parliament after the president’s assent, any public official who commits or abets or conspires to commit torture shall be punished with the same punishment as prescribed for the type of harm provided in Chapter XVI of the Pakistan Penal Code. The offence shall be cognisable, non-compoundable and non-bailable.

“Whoever commits or abets or conspires to commit the offence of custodial death, shall be punished with the same punishment as prescribed in section 302 of the Pakistan Penal Code,” one of the sections reads. The bill also prescribes punishment for custodial rapes.

The house also passed the Criminal Laws (amendment) Bill seeking further to amend the Pakistan Penal Code, 1860, and the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898, the anti-dumping duties bill and the Inter-Governmental Commercial Transactions Bill, brought through supplementary agenda.

The inter-governmental commercial transactions bill is aimed at providing for a mechanism to carry out a commercial transaction under an inter-governmental framework to promote, attract, and encourage foreign states to have economic and business relations with Pakistan.

The opposition lawmakers who were denied the opportunity to speak soon after the recitation from the Holy Quran gathered close to the Senate chairman’s dais chanting slogans against the government and demanding release of Mr Swati.

The chair promised to give time to PTI lawmakers to speak after disposing of items of the agenda, but soon after the passage of the four bills, adjourned the House proceedings to meet again on Friday.

The PTI senators continued their protest and tore apart copies of the agenda.

In a related development, Federal Minister for Climate Change Senator Sherry Rehman surprised many by seeking issuance of Mr Swati’s production orders.

“Leaving aside likes and dislikes, including partisan divides, production orders should be issued for all parliamentarians, including Senator Swati. Citizens, too, should not be arrested or “disappeared” and be produced before magistrates in 24 hours,” she tweeted.

Published in Dawn, October 21st, 2022

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