Deaths in police custody have been on the rise in Pakistan, especially the province of Punjab. According to police records, five prisoners have died in police custody over the last three years. Analysts believe that conditions in lock-ups are a major contributing factor. Last week alone in Punjab, there were three incidents involving death in custody in Lahore, Gujjarpura and Rahimyar Khan.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has taken serious note of four incidents involving suspects’ deaths in police custody. “The latter case, in which Salahuddin Ayubi, a mentally disabled man accused of robbery, died allegedly as a result of custodial torture has, understandably, led to public outrage. Yet torture and ill treatment in custody are entrenched practices that are considered at best ‘acceptable’ and, at worst, ‘necessary’. Moreover, there are invariably delays in the post-mortem reports that should follow on the heels of any allegations of custodial death. Earlier, in August, HRCP investigated reports that two young Hindu boys in Mirpur Khas – accused of murder – were allegedly tortured to death while in custody.”
According to the global watchdog Human Rights Watch, “despite the establishment of model police stations, there has been little meaningful change in the system of imprisonment. Suspects spend an unnecessary amount of time lying lock-ups and waiting for authorities to proceed in the charges against them.”
The HRCP met with “police authorities in Punjab and Sindh, and reiterated that the use of torture and humiliating, inhuman or degrading treatment is unacceptable – irrespective of the accusation or charge. HRCP has been reassured by the authorities in Punjab that they are willing to work closely with the Commission to protect human rights standards as an integral part of police procedures. The inquiry into Salahuddin Ayubi’s death in custody is a positive sign, but respect for the inviolable human rights of those in custody must be embedded into police training and structures – matched by the necessary resources – if the police are to serve as protectors rather than antagonists. Moreover, such efforts need to be bolstered by an enforceable legal framework that criminalises torture, something on which the state must not procrastinate any longer.”