A Deafening Silence On Torture Day (June 26)
“I was beaten black and blue and administered with electric shocks and chilli powder was inserted in my body. I was forced to stand for days at a time with my hands tied to a pole. The officers would hit my soles with bamboo sticks. I do not know if I should consider myself lucky to be alive to tell this tale of torture, for there is not a single night since the past three years when I have slept peacefully.”
This is not the tale of a Gitmo inmate, rather it is the account of an innocent Pakistani man who suffered due to no fault of his own. This is the story of Fiaz, aged 27, son of an industrial worker, who makes a living through washing cars at a service station at Hattar Industrial Estate Hazara, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK).
On August 12, 2013 he was returning home after finishing his job when two police officers intercepted him and asked for identification. He was not carrying his identification card, which he did not have at the time, making him a suspect. Fiaz’s poverty landed him in the lock-up of the Hattar Police station, where he was kept for three days, unrecorded. The police tortured him – beating him with bamboo sticks, kicking and slapping him, beating him on his soles making him unable to walk, using abusive language towards him and depriving him of food and sleep. Even though he was later released, the physical and psychological scars have been permanently etched on his soul.
Torture is not construed as a crime of the state, rather it is considered an acceptable and expected norm in the investigative process of the degenerating criminal justice system of Pakistan. That is why the Anti Torture Day commemorated throughout the world to condemn the atrocities in the name of maintenance of the law and order does not garner popularity.
The significance of the day is lost in the country where the majority of common people do not consider torture to be illegal or unconstitutional. The legislators themselves have been dragging their feet in enacting anti-torture laws citing deteriorating law and order situations as if torture will have any impetus on terrorism.
Police custody, which is a legal custody by the state, should ideally be constitutionally safe but is actually the most dangerous state for an individual to be in. Deprived of all his or her constitutional rights, the alleged accused is at the mercy of the captors. Deep-pocketed beneficiaries using police as proxy-forces to subdue their opponents, often gratify political interests and personal vendetta. The purpose of torture is not to get information, instead it is to inculcate fear. The lack of protection for an individual from torture and the abuse of power by the police and other law enforcing officers is a matter of deep concern in a free society. In a state where the founder of the nation Quaid e Azam’s sister was allegedly tortured to death, one can hardly expect a common man to escape such a brutal fate.
The use of torture as an investigative tool is a legacy from the British rule, when the police force was entrusted to oppress the populace in order to maintain the writ of the state. Despite the advancement in medical and legal jurisprudence in torture worldwide, criminal forensics in Pakistan remain rudimentary at best. Police officers routinely employ torture as the sole means of investigation and instead of beginning by investigating the circumstances and evidence, the police generally start their investigation by arresting and extorting confessions from innocent bystanders.
Torture is perhaps the least documented human rights abuse in the country with no official data available on the incidents. However a few organisations such as the Pakistan desk at the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) have been viewed as a credible source regularly reporting and documenting cases of custodial torture. The senior researcher at AHRC Pakistan desk, Baseer Naweed, worked tirelessly to bring cases of torture to light. According to him, Anti Torture Day has no significance in a society that is sadistic in nature. The people of the country have become immune to the death occurring in custody and no voice is being raised against the perpetrators of torture. The common citizens are so tied up with making ends meet that they do not stand up for their fellow beings.
The society’s acceptance of torture unfortunately is not limited to the middle and lower income groups – many of the senior lawyers and judges also feel that torture is sometimes necessary to deal with hardened criminals. The dilemma lies in defining who is a hardened criminal. If the police were to decide who is a habitual criminal and who is not, then this would be akin to allowing the law enforcers to become the prosecutors and judges themselves.
The lower judiciary is largely untrained to deal with the cases of torture in custody. It is surprising to find little case-law and legal precedence on a menace so rampant. An expert of constitutional law, Advocate Zain Sheikh, explained that the reason the judiciary has not addressed the problem extensively is because of the failure of the victims to report in time, resulting in evidence being lost. He also explained the silence of the press on the issue – according to him, apart from a few cases of gross misconduct, most torture cases go unreported by the media. Furthermore, even if the culprit is reprimanded, the police take revenge by filing fake cases against the victim.
Due to unbridled power afforded to law enforcement agencies – and unquestioned state impunity – Pakistan has become a police state where might is right and the voice of dissent is unacceptable. Therefore victims prefer not to report the incident even if there are legal safeguards to protect them from torture.
The lack of uniform policing laws has created legal gaps that hinder reprimanding of the police officers. Internal inquiry by the police is a farce that does little to curb the tide of custodial torture. Those who routinely indulge in torture during investigation do so with no fear of any actions initiated against them. A plethora of opposing laws in a country where concurrent criminal justice systems are in operation, complicates the matter, resulting in more inefficiency at the police department.
The civil society, lawyers and NGOs will have to work in unison to push for an Anti Torture Act to curb the tide of torture. With the promulgation of laws such as the Pakistan Protection Act, it is imperative for each member of the Pakistani society to stand up for his or her fundamental rights and freedom. If we do not speak now, our future generations will never know what it feels like to be free. To quote from the famous text of Pastor Martin Niemoller,
“First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of CourtingTheLaw.com or any other organization with which she might be associated.