The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has accused Pakistan of encouraging police excesses and torture in the Gilgit-Baltistan region and called on the state to immediately ensure accountability and put in place a mechanism of checks and balances to prevent such incidents and prosecute those involved in crimes of this nature under the rule of law.
In its report, the AHRC said that police excesses and torture are not a new phenomenon in urban and remote regions of Pakistan and added that with the police in charge of the department of prosecution, there is blatant and free license to indulge in acts of torture to get incarcerated people to accept guilt even when they may not have committed a particular crime.
To substantiate this view, the AHRC cited the police torture case of one Shabbir Hussain, a resident of Chalat Bala district in Gilgit-Baltistan, where he was severely thrashed and bruised for refusing to heed a Jirga verdict. Hussain, the AHRC said, had a dispute with his cousin Fida Ali on the use of common space between their houses. While Mr. Shabir was in Dubai, the dispute was presented before a Jirga of local elders who ruled against him.
Because of the Jirga verdict, Shabbir was required to make major changes inside his house. This took time, infuriating Fida, so he lodged a complaint at the Chalat police station. According to the police account, Shabir was asked to visit the police station several times, but he refused.
According to the AHRC report, on June 26, 2016, the police entered Shabbir’s home and arrested him without a warrant. He was illegally detained and beaten with long sticks by Constable Iftikhar and Station House Officer (SHO) Iqbal. He was only released from police custody after local notables intervened. The AHRC said that no FIR was lodged against Shabbir, yet he was tortured and detained for interrogation at the Chalat police station.
In the Gilgit Baltistan region, performance of law enforcement agencies is said to be very poor. There are no adequate checks and balances on society on the part of the government. As a result, police officers do not follow the rule of “no torture” during an investigation. Both police officers and/or magistrates do not follow the rules for remand. Most officers are not capable, having insufficient background in the law.
The AHRC says that with the police handling the prosecution department in Gilgit Baltistan entirely, tortures of individuals are not reported, and more often than not, police officers prosecuting cases in court are ignorant of the law, which in turn results in many criminals getting acquitted. What comes as a surprise to the AHRC is that torture is not considered a crime in Pakistan, and that even victims think it is a routine matter and don’t report it.
In Pakistan, Article 14 of the constitution recognizes and protects the dignity of the citizen, prohibiting the use of torture by law enforcement agencies. The police who are duty bound to protect citizens cannot be allowed to perpetuate acts of torture upon persons in their custody. Their primary duty is to detect crime, bring the criminals before a court of law and not to punish them. The Gilgit Batistan region is not represented in the Pakistan Constitution.
The state asserts its power through law enforcement agencies to subjugate the populace who do not have any fundamental rights under the de facto administration. The victims of torture have no right of reprisal and thus suffer in silence.
According to the AHRC, the reality is that there is an archaic colonial system of policing in Pakistan and particularly in a region as peaceful as Gilgit Baltistan, and therefore, because of this, the area becomes crime infested sooner than later. Harsh incidents of police torture are still a rarity, but the AHRC warns that the trend is increasing.