Anything for a confession

March 15, 2020

Officials say police resort to physical violence as a shortcut to judicial procedures

As debate on how to put an end to custodial torture gains impetus, torture in police custody is still rampant across Pakistan. Custodial torture, though publicly condemned, is typically perpetrated by the same police force that is responsible for upholding and enforcing the law.

“It is a nightmare for me. What I experienced a year ago still haunts me,” recalls Fahad Zubair, a man in his early twenties and a resident of Sheikhupura. “I have not once slept a sound sleep since then. I still feel the effect of police bashing on my body,” he says. 

He says he was fast asleep at his house, located in the vicinity of the Ferozewala police station, when a police party barged into his house. The police raid was a bolt from the blue. “We all woke up in a state of shock,” recalls Zubair.

He says the police misbehaved with his father as well as female members of the family. “I could not bear the insult and asked them as to why they were doing so. They gave me a good thrashing there and then before they took me to Samanabad police station.” Till that time, he says, he was totally unaware that he was being implicated in a false narcotics case by the police at the behest of his opponents.

“The police stripped me and hung me upside down before subjecting me to all sorts of severe torture at the police station. My father was compelled to watch this,” recalls Zubair.

Later, he says, he was informed by the police that he had been arrested in a narcotics case. “The police extorted a huge bribe from my father promising to show a smaller quantity of contraband recovery from him in the case so that he might be granted bail by the court,” he says. “I was then sent to jail.” Shortly afterwards, he was set free by the court on bail. He then approached the CCPO Lahore and sought justice.

On the orders of the CCPO Lahore, a thorough investigation was conducted, first by the SSP (Discipline) Lahore and then by the SP CIA to establish the truth. He was found innocent and the policemen responsible for his ordeal were handed departmental punishments. He never got back the money his father had had to pay to the police.

“The culture of police torture can only be eradicated if the police are not pressured to make recoveries from the accused,” says Azhar Hameed, the additional inspector general of Punjab Police (Investigation)

Azhar Hameed, the Punjab Police additional inspector general (investigation), says torture in police custody cannot be tolerated. “A policeman should always keep in mind that by resorting to torture or third degree, he is committing an offence. However, I am not in agreement with the notion that police resort to torture when they formally take the accused into their custody after obtaining physical remand from the court. Police are very careful during this period as they know that the lawyer for the accused can approach the magistrate against the police if the torture is perpetrated.”

Hameed says that complaints regarding police torture usually surface mostly before the police get physical remand from the court. He says there should be a mechanism like in developed nations whereby the statement of the accused before the police officer is acceptable in the eyes of the court.

“I have come to the conclusion that however carefully you bring new reforms to the prevailing colonial police system, the culture of police torture can only be eradicated if the police are not made to make recoveries from the accused.”

Azhar Hameed says complaints of police torture in various cases usually prop up where police have to produce quick results for making recovery of weapons of offence or property, extracting information about associates under pressure from their high-ups. He says the cops are tuned to effecting recoveries and have an overwhelming tendency to unleash physical violence as a shortcut to judicial procedures.

Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Sharaq Kamal claims that torture is usually used in cases where the police find it the only way to seek a confession, besides managing quick recoveries. “In these circumstances, they have the pretext to subject the accused to third degree.”

Ahsan Abbas, an advocate of the Lahore High Court and a human rights activist, says that there has been no respite in the cases of police torture despite deliberations to introduce new reforms to the police system. Such complaints keep on surfacing, he says.

The main methods of torture, he says, include use of a blunt objects, prolonged standing, rolling, hanging, psychological tactics and inflicting burns on the victims’ skin. “Most of the victims have to suffer severe beating including use of sticks to inflict injury, slapping, kicking, punching and hitting with leather strips.”

Several methods of psychological torture are also employed by the police, he says. These include naked parades, cultural humiliation, witnessing others’ physical torture and solitary confinement. Most of the incidents of police torture occur either at police stations or private places. Videos of the victims are also made when they are subjected to torture in police custody, especially when they are stripped, says Abbas. This he says, helps blackmail the victims later on.

The writer is a journalist based in Lahore. He has worked both for the print and broadcast media.

Anything for a confession