Concerns regarding police custody deaths

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.”

Death of a veteran political activist

On August 25, veteran trade unionist, political activist and writer Biyyothil Mohyuddin Kutty, passed away in Karachi. Mr Kutty was born in Tirur (present-day Kerala’s Malappuram) on July 15, 1930 and migrated to Pakistan in 1949. Kutty was associated with the Pakistan-India People’s Forum For Peace and Democracy.

Kutty “was jailed during the dictatorships of Gen Ayub and Gen Zia as well as during the country’s first democratically elected government of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. His association with Mir Ghous Bux Bizenjo remained unaltered until the veteran Baloch politician breathed his last 30 years ago. He edited late Bizenjo’s auto­biography and had been latter’s political adviser for decades and secretary to Mr Bizenjo when he was Balochistan’s governor.”

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan held a reference in Kutty’s memory in Lahore. “HRCP’s Secretary-General Harris Khalique said that Mr Kutty’s profound interest in different facets of life was matched by his deep interest in humanity and the human condition. As a sharp-eyed chronicler of Pakistan’s politics, he is of course known for having edited In Search of Solutions: An Autobiography of Mir Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo. Mr Khalique also recalled Mr Kutty’s involvement in the World Social Forum held in Pakistan in 2006, adding that, as a veteran activist of the left, Mr Kutty had never sought to cast himself as a political leader – he remained a political worker till his last breath. HRCP’s Honorary Spokesperson I A Rehman, a long-time comrade of Mr Kutty, recalled his remarkable contribution to people’s understanding of Balochistan – its aspirations and the challenges it faced. Mr Rehman also said that Sixty Years in Self Exile: No Regrets was not just Mr Kutty’s autobiography, but also the story of Pakistan and its social and political frustrations. He remembered Mr Kutty as being driven by passion and the sense that injustice was not something to sit back and accept. Concluding the reference, Dr Mehdi Hasan, HRCP’s Chairperson, said that it was critical that Pakistan’s youth be made aware of the significance of Mr Kutty’s life and work and the principles by which he lived.”

‘Pakistan’s Enforced Disappearance Nightmare Continues’

The government of Pakistan’s appointed Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances admitted in June 2018 that it had received 5,177 cases of alleged enforced disappearances since its inception in 2011. According to a news report “During the past 15 years, families of separatists, members of ethno-nationalist political parties, peace activists, members of Islamist factions, and critics of the military have frequently accused authorities of either orchestrating enforced disappearances or failing to help in finding their loved ones. The northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province together with the merged areas of the former Federally Administered Tribal Areas have the highest number of cases. The commission’s data says that out of 2,157 reported cases in the region, the commission has resolved 967 cases and is still working on 983.”

According to Amnesty International’s March 2019 report titled ‘Enduring Enforced Disappearances,’ “Enforced disappearances have long been a stain on Pakistan’s human rights record. Despite the pledges of successive governments to criminalize the practice, there has been slow movement on legislation while people continue to be forcibly disappeared with impunity.”

The United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance “has more than 700 cases pending from Pakistan. The number of cases of victims of enforced disappearance recorded by victim groups are much higher. Victim groups and the civil society have serious concerns with regards to the effectiveness of Pakistan’s COIED, primarily that it is not using its powers to investigate and hold the perpetrators accountable and that it does not have civil society or the victim groups representation on its board.”

Today, August 30, on the International Day of Victims of Enforced Disappearances, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan expressed “solidarity with all victims of enforced disappearance the world over. Our thoughts are also with those Kashmiris who have been forcibly disappeared as part of the state crackdown in India-held Kashmir.” 

HRCP called “on the Pakistan government to carry through its long overdue promise to criminalise enforced disappearances under the Pakistan Penal Code. The state must also acknowledge allegations that the official data sorely underreports the numbers of forcibly disappeared persons – something that many victims’ groups and human rights organisations have consistently pointed out. This makes it all the more necessary for the findings of the 2010 Judicial Commission on Enforced Disappearances to be made public. HRCP draws urgent attention to the need for Pakistan to sign and ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. ‘Internal political instability or any other public emergency’ are no grounds for justifying enforced disappearances. Equally, the internment centres to which numerous forcibly disappeared persons have been traced, must be declared unconstitutional. As such, these centres are black holes and have no place in a democratic structure that entitles a detained person to know what they have been charged with, the right to a fair trial and the right to remain in contact with their families and with legal counsel.”

‘Why does Naya Pakistan keep lying and getting caught?’

All Pakistan’s establishment cares about is what plays out in the Pakistani media and social media which is why they keep trying to spread lies and then get caught.

Just the other day, this happened when the High Commission of Pakistan to Sri Lanka tweeted a press release claiming that Sri Lankan President Sirisena supported Pakistan’s position – not India’s – on Kashmir.

Screenshot of press release below

However, immediately thereafter the Media Division of the President of Sri Lanka tweeted a statement refuting what Pakistan had said and saying that Sirisena, while meeting the High Commissioner had made no comment on India and Pakistan or Kashmir.

Screenshot of statement below

Why do we these things that will only hurt our relationship with our neighbors like Sri Lanka?

HRCP: Human rights in Baluchistan

The media situation in Baluchistan is “alarming” according to Pakistan’s human rights watchdog, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP). At a press conference in Quetta, veteran human rights activist I.A. Rehman “regretted that the so-called mainstream media gave Baluchistan the same treatment as the state media did. “The government of Pakistan has always treated Baluchistan as a conflict zone,” he said, adding that’s why truth did not come out of Baluchistan.”

At the provincial launch of its State of Human Rights in 2018, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) noted “that, in a year of general elections, it was perhaps inevitable that the progress and observation of human rights issues might be suspended, if not forgotten altogether. The elections themselves were plagued by allegations of pre-poll manipulation and vote rigging as well as some appalling outbreaks of violence, notably in Mastung and Quetta, which left at least 180 people dead. The report notes that sectarian violence in Baluchistan has disproportionately targeted the Shia Hazara community. In Quetta, they remain confined to Hazara areas: their movement is restricted as is their access to markets and schools. The state’s response has been to establish security convoys that accompany members of the community when they leave Hazara areas, but this does not guarantee their security and is, arguably, a short-term solution to sectarian violence in the province.”

Further, “citing the Baloch Human Rights Organization and Human Rights Council of Baluchistan, HRCP’s report states that at least 541 partial reports of enforced disappearance had surfaced in 2018. In August 2018, the chairman of the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances said that ‘merely 131 cases’ of missing persons in Baluchistan were being heard. The lack of more comprehensive official data on enforced disappearances – and the Baluchistan media’s apparent powerlessness to report on these – is a poor reflection on the state’s political will to eliminate this searing problem. The report also notes that malnutrition is still a serious threat to children’s health in the province, to the extent that a nutrition emergency was declared in Baluchistan in November 2018 by the provincial health minister. While a Nutrition Cell was established to address chronic malnutrition, the state must prioritize and sustain its efforts to protect one of Baluchistan’s most vulnerable segments.”

Also, the report highlighted “the alarming frequency of mining accidents in Baluchistan, HRCP’s report documents at least three major accidents in 2018, in which at least 57 miners were killed in 2018 alone. It also points out that, in September, the Supreme Court asked the Baluchistan government to file a reply on a petition moved to highlight the deaths of over 300 mine workers since 2010. Despite this, there has been no concerted effort to monitor and enforce occupational health and safety in Baluchistan’s mines.”