June 26, 2022
By Rehan Piracha & Xari Jalil
Former senator of Pakistan Peoples Party Farhatullah Babar has lamented that Parliament has become ineffective in enacting legislation to criminalise custodial torture despite several attempts over the years.
The PPP stalwart was speaking at Voicepk’s webinar on Custodial Torture: Legislation & Implementation.
The other panelists included Dr Naseem Baluch, chairman of Balochistan National Movement (BNM), Sher Mohammad, senior lawyer and former vice-chairperson of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), and Sohail Yafat, criminal defence investigator of Justice Project Pakistan (JPP). The webinar was hosted by Xari Jalil, editor of Voicepk.
Farhatullah Babar dilated on parliamentary efforts towards legislation for ending impunity for torture in the country. Pakistan is a signatory to the United Nations convention against torture since 2010 but it has failed to enact legislation to criminalise torture for several years.
“A bill against torture was passed in Senate in 2015 after Pakistan ratified the convention against torture in 2012,” Farhatullah Babar said, adding that PPP was in a majority then in Senate. However, the anti-torture bill was not taken up in National Assembly and it lapsed, he added. “The bill was not even presented in the parliament’s joint sitting in 2017,” Farhatullah Babar pointed out.
The former PPP senator said Senator Sherry Rehman’s bill on criminalisation of torture was passed in Senate in 2021 but has not been passed by the National Assembly ever since. “It seems parliament has become ineffective in enacting legislation against custodial torture,” Farhatullah Babar said.
The PPP leader said there were certain forces above the judiciary and the parliament that wanted impunity against torture. “The Parliament and the judiciary have tried to criminalise torture but efforts have not yielded results,” he said.
Farhatullah Babar revealed that certain laws allowed torture in Pakistan. “The Action in Aid of Civil Power regulations and subsequent provincial act allows indefinite detention of suspects,” he revealed. “It seems parliament has become ineffective in enacting legislation against custodial torture,” he added.
The PPP leader said internment centres in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa were Pakistan’s Guantanamo Bay. “Even parliamentarians cannot visit internment centres,” he revealed, narrating that government officials had once told him that even parliamentarians did not have permission to visit or inspect internment centres under the law.
Meanwhile, torture survivor Dr Naseem Baluch spoke about his two harrowing experiences of abduction and torture by state agencies. He said his abductors suspended him for hours in a torture cell at an undisclosed location. “I was lashed regularly and they would torture me day and night to keep me awake all time,” he said.
Dr Naseem Baluch said he was subjected to electric shocks to divulge any information about his alleged collaborators whom he knew nothing about. The torture took a toll on his mental health. “It was a place where one begins to think of as a grave,” Dr Naseem Baluch said. He said there were festering wounds on his wrists and ankles from his cuffs and shackles and he could still see scars left from cigarette burns and suffered from nightmares.
Sher Mohammad, senior lawyer and former vice-chairperson of HRCP, said he along with late human rights icon Asma Jahangir had challenged the draconian Action in Aid of Civil Power regulations issued in 2011. “But then Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Chaudhary dismissed our petition,” he said.
Sher Mohammad said they filed a new petition against the draconian law that was still pending before the Supreme Court. He regretted that cases of torture remain untouched in courts. Referring to the acquittal of 74 military court convicts by the Peshawar High Court in 2019, he said it was unfortunate that those acquitted were still languishing in jail in violation of the law. “As per law, those acquitted in a case cannot be kept in jail pending an appeal,” Sher Mohammad pointed out.
The senior lawyer said there was no provision for legislating special laws for specific territories under the constitution. “There is no difference constitutionally in territories of Karachi, Lahore and North Waziristan,” he pointed out. He said no torture victim has gotten justice from the courts in Pakistan.
Sohail Yafat, criminal defence investigator of JPP, and also a torture survivor said the country was living in a state of denial over custodial torture, adding that he was part of an important survey on torture cases in Faisalabad. “Torture victims were mostly unaware of legal redressal and protection available to them,” he said. “They didnt know of theor rights.”
Yafat said police tortured suspects in custody to grease money from complainants.
“Police torture has led to permanent physical disabilities of many victims,” he revealed. He said the media and the society depicted police officials accused of torture as heroes, referring to former police officials Rao Anwar and Abid Boxer, accused of extra-judicial killings and torture. In actuality, those officials who carries out the torture were sadists who enjoyed inflicting pain.
In his conclusion, Farhatullah Babar said custodial torture was result of a security-driven state and would continue till Pakistan became a welfare-oriented state. He praised Voicepk for holding the webinar, adding that civil society should keeping raising its voice against torture incidents in Pakistan.
According to Sher Mohammad, the only way out for citizens and civil society was to agitate against the culture of torture and impunity in the country.
Sohail Yafat concluded by saying that public service messages and awareness campaigns were needed to counter custodial torture in the country.
However, Dr Naseem Baluch said the current situation in Balochistan did not give any hope that state authorities would refrain from torture.