March 14, 2021
The murders of Usama Satti, Sultan Nazeer and Waqas Ahmed at the hands of the police are emblematic of a system that is content with its history of ‘justifiable’ use of force against citizens. Here Voicepk.net’s exclusive research, from January 1, 2020, to December 31, 2020, reveals terrible numbers that show the extent of police violence across the nation. A total of 109 instances took place in one year, but this is just the tip of the iceberg, as these were the cases reported in the mainstream media. Tragically it seems, that in 2021, the pattern is expected to continue. Yet if the media makes efforts to bring forth this violence and brutality, there may be some hope in holding the law enforcement agencies accountable.
Research and Report by Asra Haque & Rehan Piracha
Saleemullah Nazeer is angry, still trying to digest the murder of his cousin. It has been difficult to move on for him and his family, and yet their questions still linger in the air.
“How many such cases have happened already?” he demands, his voice wavering with emotion. “How long will the police continue gunning down people like this?”
For Nazeer his feelings of guilt after his cousin was murdered have been a taxing experience. His life seems to have changed completely after the incident and he swings between helplessness, depression and anger.
Sultan Nazeer’s murder took place in January 2020 – probably marking the first major case of extrajudicial killing by the police that year. A young university student from Hazara, who was eking out a living as a trader in Karachi’s Saddar area, Sultan was falsely accused of being a criminal by the SITE-A police in order to protect the two personnel involved in his murder.
“We all know about the Usama Satti incident in none other than the capital city, and how he was killed in a fake encounter,” says Nazeer. “There have been so many such incidents recently – is there any end to them?”
Saleemullah seeks answers to questions that no one is ready to answer. He is not wrong when he accuses law enforcement agencies (LEAs) of murdering with impunity, and neither is he overstating the swathe of extrajudicial killings in the past few weeks alone.
In January 2021, the national English daily newspaper Dawn reported 10 encounters, 10 incidents of deaths in encounters or in custody, and 11 incidents of physical torture or violent intimidation by the police.
Out of the six encounters reported from Sindh in Dawn, four turned deadly (including the shootout that claimed Sultan Nazeer’s life) while one death occurred in police custody. Two encounter killings were reported from Punjab, both of which involved fatalities, while one death was the result of police manhandling that resulted in the accidental death of a biker.
Dawn reported on one fatal encounter, the murder of Usama Satti, in the Islamabad Capital Territory. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa metro reported one encounter killing in the same time period.
The spate of violent deaths in January 2021 is not uncommon it is not a new phenomenon that the public is dealing with. Torture and brutality have been an age-old practice by Pakistan’s law enforcement agencies, where hundreds are killed each year. Survivors can live with intense effects – being either physically injured as a result of an attack gone wrong, or immense psychological effects.
In fact, the Pakistani police have become a symbol of fear for the common person that can strike anytime for any reason – either at the behest of a political higher up, or based on their own judgement.
Encounters aside, there is police brutality in general – an almost routine practice. More than often there are no warrants or authorization, and victims can be picked up and detained, sometimes for weeks on end.
In some cases, these individuals are only brought forward through writs of habeas corpus, so that they can be brought to court.
To gather some of the most recent statistics, Voicepk.net scoured through Dawn’s national and metro newspapers for reports that surfaced during 2020 and managed to collect around 109 reports regarding police violence that resulted in the death of individuals, 89 pieces on encounters, and 80 articles on torture, intimidation and other abuses of authority.
It should however be noted that our research does not reflect the true extent of this practice, but merely provides a basic understanding.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) on the other hand monitored five national newspapers: English dailies Dawn, The News, Express Tribune, and Urdu dailies Jang and Nawai Waqt. The HRCP tabulated 146 reports on encounters that resulted in the deaths of 225 individuals, and 19 articles on custodial deaths which claimed 23 victims (not including dead convicted or under-trial inmates in prisons).
The Police Perspective
Meanwhile, Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Operations of the Punjab Police, Sohail Sukhera, provides information of approximately 270 encounters that have taken place in Punjab during 2020.
In the past year, approximately 34,000 law enforcement personnel were punished for offences per the police department’s accountability mechanisms, amounting to some 17 per cent of the personnel enrolled in the Punjab Police force. He says that the punishments include dismissal from service, demotions, censures and holds on promotions.
When it comes to cases of custodial deaths and extrajudicial killings in encounters, Sukhera states that as per procedure the involved personnel are first arrested and then a first information report (FIR) is generated. Each death is investigated according to departmental procedure – to lodge their complaints, the deceased’s kin approaches the courts, the media and/or the police itself with varying results.
While Sukhera gives an impression of a smooth and efficient police system to maintain law and order, even among their rank and file, he gives no explanation as to why, despite the existence of such a system, such instances of extrajudicial killings, encounters and custodial torture and deaths are rampant at the hands of police personnel.
Experts suggest that Pakistani police may have a few reasons of their own. Either it can be to extract confessions, demonstrating efficiency in the investigation. It can also be to extort bribery.
Advocate High Court Shabbir Hussain, from the AGHS (Asma Jahangir) Legal Aid Cell says that there can be various reasons why the police behave in such a manner.
“Take personal enmity for example,” says Hussain. “There have been instances where someone is framed over a false accusation, only because the police officer has differences with that person. That person can be brought in to the police station, be tortured, or be killed in an encounter. There may also be political reasons. An influential person may have prompted the attack, or a similar such situation may have occurred.”
He adds that the police have very obsolete methods of investigations and extortion of confession is a major reason why there is so much torture in the police custody. Slapping and beating are considered so normal, even members of the public put up with it.
Hussain recounts an incident a few months ago, where some Dolphin police officials happened to shoot at someone who was the wrong person and ended up killing him.
“It also points to lack of training and incapability of being able to handle situations,” says Hussain. “In a tense situation, they just open fire.”
Dr Khurram Sohail Raja, an expert in forensic medicine and toxicology, has spent a decade conducting more hundreds of autopsies and thousands of medicolegal cases. According to his observation, he says that encounters may seem like a lot, but under the last government, there were a lot more.
“The number of encounters are not as prevalent, and the reason is mostly political,” he says. He also says he has observed that many of those who have died after being in police custody did so indirectly – for example, because of a heart attack.
“They would have undergone enough torture to have resulted in a death if they have had an underlying illness,” he says.
Advocate Shabbir Hussain says that this kind of police violence is a Colonial-era hangover. He explains that violence was used to suppress the natives. “If our police code is from 1860, what else can we expect?” he asks.
While firearms that are used in encounter killings, for torture in police custody some of the most gruesome methods are used, for example, beating with a baton or whip, standing for hours with arms outstretched, hanging by the ankles (strappado), twisting the genitals, burning with cigarettes, and punches in the abdomen. Even sexual abuse of those held, both male and female, is common. Such brutality results in depression and anxiety, impaired memory and concentration, headaches, and sexual problems.
In some cases, the police are also alleged to extort money from families of prisoners under threat of ill-treatment.
In Figure 1, statistics show that February and March were the deadliest months of 2020, as seen in the figure above. There was, however, a startling drop in reports of police encounters, extrajudicial killings, torture and abuse and authority in April. This is in part due to a great number of police personnel being deployed for pandemic-related duties, and strict lockdown measures that resulted in a significant drop in the crime rate and hence the probability of violent police encounters with offenders. Moreover, the chart also hints at media trends – with the outbreak of COVID-19 in Pakistan around the end of March, the media diverted more focus to news related to the spread of the disease.
Province-wise, the Punjab police proved to be the most trigger-happy as well as the deadliest, with 56 custodial deaths and encounter killings reported in the past year. Sindh followed with 27 reported killings, while the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police appeared to utilize gun violence far less as compared to Punjab and Sindh, but outdid themselves in torturing and intimidating citizens.
The fewest cases emerged in Balochistan, with two extrajudicial killings reported in January and July of 2020. While collecting data, Voicepk.net did not include reports of civilian deaths, whether deliberate or collateral, by paramilitary forces – mainly the Levies – as controversy surrounds their categorization as law enforcement agencies. Moreover, as the province is severely underrepresented in media, articles on police brutality are few and far in between.
Province-wise, some interesting statistics have been revealed.
Punjab police proved to be the most trigger-happy as well as the deadliest, with 56 custodial deaths and encounter killings reported in the past year. Sindh followed with 27 reported killings, while the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police appeared to utilize gun violence far less as compared to Punjab and Sindh, but outdid themselves in torturing and intimidating citizens.
The lowest number of cases emerged in Balochistan, with two extrajudicial killings reported – one in January and the other in July 2020.
It should be noted however that while collecting data, Voicepk.net did not include reports of civilian deaths, whether deliberate or collateral, by paramilitary forces – mainly the Levies – as controversy surrounds their categorization as LEAs. Moreover, as the province is severely underrepresented in the media, articles on police brutality are few and far in between.
New year, new killings
The turn of the new year brought with it another series of staged encounters which saw the unjustified murder of innocent citizens and raised questions about whether the police can hold their own accountable. From January 1 to March 10, a total of 29 encounters, 27 encounter killings and custodial deaths, and 22 incidents of police torture (such as physical abuse and illegal custody) were reported in five English-language daily newspapers.
Punjab excelled in all three departments, with 13 encounters, 16 deaths and 15 case police brutality. Sindh followed with 11 encounters, eight deaths and four cases of police brutality. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa reported three encounters and deaths, and two cases of torture. In Islamabad, there was only one encounter and one death, while two cases of torture were recorded.
The new year also saw the most shocking incidents of police violence that saw the deaths of innocents and a systematic campaign by the relevant law enforcement departments to malign the deceased in order to justify their murders. In the cases detailed below, while two families have expressed their contentment that they see justice within their reach, they still question why their loved ones had to pay a price they had not even exacted in the first place.
Usama Satti – killed over ‘mistaken identity
Twenty-one year old student Usama Satti had dropped off his friend at the National University of Science and Technology (NUST) in Sector H-11 of Islamabad when his white car converged onto the Srinagar Highway, on his way home to Sector G-13. It was the early morning of January 2, around 2 AM, when he was suddenly assailed by a barrage of bullets from behind. His car stalled – it is unknown if he had been killed by the first five bullets that had pierced his back, but his attackers made sure of it by rounding up to the front and firing, another bullet managing to rip through his chest.
Half an hour earlier, Mudassir Iqbal, Shakeel Ahmed, Mohammad Mustafa, Saeed Ahmed and Iftikhar Ahmed of the Critical Response Team of the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS), accompanied by an assistant sub-inspector, were alerted to a robbery that occurred in Shams Colony in Sector H-13. The four suspects, who were reportedly armed, had managed to flee the scene of the crime in a white car and were last seen heading for the Srinagar Highway. Officers were advised to cordon off the area. They spotted a small white car and began tailing, signalling to the driver to pull over. The chase lasted about five minutes when, understanding that the driver was not going to heed, the officials raised the barrels of their guns and fired indiscriminately.
The car finally stalled, and the five personnel disembarked their vehicle, shooting into the car from the sides as they rounded up to the front, raining down bullets at the clearly unresponsive driver. Around 22 shots were fired before they realised they had the wrong target – slumped over his steering wheel was Osama. Other police officials responding to the chase and the subsequent encounter arrived at the scene and quickly apprehended the five ATS officials after determining that the lifeless body hunched over in his car was innocent.
Three hours later, Osama’s father, Nadeem Satti, received a call from the police that his son was killed in an encounter. He barely had time to mourn, much less be rightfully offended that the police were adamant on writing off his innocent child as a menace to society. Instead, Nadeem Satti had to steel himself for a messy legal battle.
During the investigation, it was claimed that Osama had been previously booked in two criminal cases: the Ramna police station had lodged an FIR under sections 9-A Narcotics Control Act after recovering six grams of meth from his possession on October 12, 2018. In the second case registered at the Secretariat police on July 23, 2018, Satti was charged under sections 420, 468, 471 and 201 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) for allegedly using a tampered Honda Civic with a LW-0160 license plate.
Upon Nadeem Satti’s request, the investigating officer for the case was changed, and due proceedings unearthed strong evidence that the police department was actively trying to protect its own by tampering evidence and unjustly framing the deceased man. Following the extrajudicial killing, the involved personnel failed to shoot pictures and footage of the crime scene to preserve evidence and tried to cover up the murder by reporting it as a criminal encounter to their superiors. Furthermore, it emerged that the accused had sent Rescue 1122 responders on a wild goose chase by deliberately giving the wrong addresses in order to buy time to remove crucial evidence.
Eyewitnesses claimed that the officers had laid Osama down on the road rather than take him to a hospital if there was a chance he was still alive, as if they had done what they could to ensure he did not survive. Furthermore, a police surgeon at the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS) while performing the autopsy failed to mention that Satti suffered a bullet wound to the chest – this was later corrected during court proceedings.
Following the trial, the court indicted five ATS officials for the murder under sections 148, 149 and 302 of the PPC, and section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA). Furthermore, three superintendents of police, a deputy superintendent of police and two station house officers (SHOs) were also removed from their post for abetting the murderers.
Sultan Nazeer – caught in the crossfire
On January 3, Saleemullah Nazeer booked a Bykea ride for his cousin Sultan to take him from a funeral in Garden to his home in Metroville in Karachi’s SITE. He was scheduled to reach home at 9:41 PM, according to the taxi service’s app. The next day, Saleemullah received a call from Sultan’s family. They said they had been dialling for Sultan all day yesterday after he failed to show up yesterday.
Saleemullah contacted the Bykea rider that had picked up his cousin the day before. The man on the other end of the line told him that they were on their way when they found themselves in the midst of a shootout at Habib Bank Chowk in SITE. The two were separated and the bike owner managed to escape unharmed. The following day, the rider visited the spot where he had been separated from his client and inquired about yesterday’s incident from a nearby fuel station. The workers at the pump told him that the police had gunned down a robber.
Alarmed, Saleemullah visited the SITE-A police station and was made to wait for two hours only to be told that constables Jahangir Khan and Shabbir Ahmed had gunned down a criminal, his cousin, that day. Jahangir had also been seriously wounded during the shooting, they had stated. Saleemullah vehemently objected to this claim: why would a criminal book a taxi service to go about mugging people? Moreover, police had claimed that they had recovered a bike from the deceased’s possession, which his family also claimed was a blatant lie as Sultan did not know how to ride bikes.
Sultan originally hailed from Khanabad, Hunza, and had settled in Karachi some years back. He ran a garments shop in the Saddar area while also enrolled in a B.Com programme at a local university. As a former Boy Scout, his family, friends and peers testified that he was a good, well-behaved and responsible man.
In the days that followed, Sultan would be laid to rest back in his home town while an investigation would be launched into the circumstances of his death on January 3. Investigators found not a shred of evidence to corroborate initial claims by the SITE-A police that the youth was a robber – Sultan did not even have a criminal record. In the CCTV footage of the shootout at Habib Bank Chowk, it became apparent that Sultan fell victim to a stray bullet, and was wrongly labelled a criminal.
Although a case was registered under section 302 of the PPC and 7-ATA, yet both Jahangir Khan and Shabbir Ahmed remain at large. Sultan’s family had expressed their concerns regarding progress in the case early one, when even after the FIR was registered, no police representative had since approached the family to record more information or at least update them on where the investigation stands. Over a month later, Sultan’s murderers have yet to be apprehended.
Waqas Ahmed – gunned down to ‘teach him a lesson’
On January 20, Punjab Highway Patrol (PHP) assistant sub-inspector Shahid Manzoor Muhammad flagged down a black Toyota Corolla, driven by Muhammad Waqas Ahmed and with three other men inside, on Samundri Road. According to a statement from one of the passengers Waqas slowed down the car but accidently ran over ASI Shahid Manzoor’s foot. Enraged, the official began cursing and threatening the car’s occupants, and pointed his gun at Ahmed when he barked back. Frightened, the driver sped away and the ASI, Ghulam Dastagir, Usman Hameed and Mohsin Sufyan gave chase.
According to the account, Ahmed eventually stopped his car at a market near Pharala when their pursuers eventually caught up to them. Ahmed put up his hands in surrender but ASI Shahid Manzoor did not intend to take him in alive. A bullet to the gut sent Ahmed to the ground, and the police officials proceeded to stomp and batter the incapacitated man.
Ahmed’s friends raised alarm, drawing a crowd that the policemen managed to scare away by aerial firing. Holding the passengers at gunpoint, the complainant stated, the police then put Ahmed’s body back into the driver’s seat and then took the three witnesses into custody. They were only released after the intervention of the Faisalabad City Police Officer (CPO).
A statement by the CPO however offered a different version of events. ASI Shahid Manzoor had attempted to flag down the car but when it did not stop, the police official as well as three other personnel gave chase. After multiple warnings, the officers then shot at the moving vehicle which then rolled to a stop at Pharala. Its occupants quickly abandoned the vehicle and fled on foot, while Ahmed remained inside, critically wounded. Officers quickly dispatched the injured driver to a hospital but he did not survive his wounds.
The resulting inquiry revealed that the fatal shooting was completely unwarranted, as neither any weapon was found in the possession of the deceased and the other passengers, nor was there any sign of retaliation or resistance by the occupants of the car. Police had also chalked up a crucial mistake in noting the time of the incident in the FIR to a computer error, which they state was immediately rectified. Moreover, the police had failed to include 7-ATA in the initial FIR, which was only added later upon the insistence of the family.
Muzammil Hussain, Waqas’ brother-in-law, provided that the case is now being tried by an Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) in Faisalabad. So far, the deceased’s family is hopeful for justice owing to senior officials’ cooperation in the case due to increased scrutiny over police accountability following the extrajudicial murders of Usama Satti and Sultan Nazeer.
One of the main issues is the impunity that the police have been receiving over years and years.
In 2018, for example, The National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) has recorded over 1,424 cases of police torture and summoned 13 policemen including three SHOs who have been found involved in torturing citizens. These cases were reported from 2006 to 2018. But this kind of focus on such cases may have also been a one-off.
Despite international pressure, Pakistan has no law which criminalises torture. But its constitution does prevent violence as a whole.
Mainly it is Article 14 (2) of the Constitution — “Dignity of Man” — which is used and interpreted to constitute as protection against torture.
Meanwhile Section 337-K of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) provides punishment for torture – 10 years in prison, but torture remains undefined. Pakistan ratified the UNCAT (United Nations Convention Against Torture) in 2010, but the draft of the anti-torture law was never approved. When it comes to killing someone, a case is registered under Section 302.
There is also a provision in the PPC – “Mistreatment of Authority”, but lawyer and Country Head of Human Rights Watch, Saroop Ijaz, says that this is very rarely used to convict anyone.
Media narratives matter
Usama Satti and Muhammad Waqas Ahmed’s cases may have gone down the same route as that of Sultan Nazeer, and may have joined the list of many possible innocents who were falsely painted as violent criminals whose death at the hands of law enforcement personnel was a necessary evil. As it so happened to the inquiry into Nazeer’s murder, the accused would have also had the support of their colleagues and escape due punishment.
However, Satti and Ahmed’s family were able to see justice in part due to the media’s fixation on the murders and igniting debate on police accountability. In Nazeer’s case, the road to justice is long and far as long as the whereabouts of the youth’s killers remain unknown. But for now, at least, his family can find solace in that the Scout’s name stands clear.