October 16, 2022
By Asra Haque
In 2020, a report was issued by Voicepk.net explaining worrying figures regarding reported incidents of violent police action.
This year, we decided to follow up with another statistical report looking at data from 2021, to see whether law enforcement agencies (LEAs) maintained their record of the use of deadly force as the first option rather than a last resort.
It was discovered that the police force across the country, not only continued with their violent ways but also exceeded numbers – nearly double of 2020’s figures.
In this report, we have given new data according to an expanded list of categories of police violence which details the other forms of brutal practices that law enforcement has a long history of engaging in without impunity.
Before proceeding with the report, it is important to first outline the methodology behind the collection and collation of data.
As in our previous report, Voicepk.net collected articles from the national English language newspaper Dawn from January 1, 2021, to December 1, 2021, which were then categorised according to the type of police violence being reported. However, in our 2020 report, only three types of violence were listed, i.e. extrajudicial killings (which included encounter killings and custodial deaths), police encounters, and finally police torture (which included custodial violence and illegal detention).
For this report, the categories have been expanded for a much more detailed and nuanced understanding of the different forms of violence LEAs tend to engage in.
This year we have in the list extrajudicial killings – which include encounter killings, custodial deaths and collateral deaths; police encounters; police torture, which in this report pertains to any form of physical violence against an individual or group of individuals while in police custody.
The fourth category is illegal detentions which this year are treated as a separate category. More than often illegal arrests may not entail any physical harm to the individual or group, yet it does cost them in terms of mental, financial and legal well-being.
The fifth category is collateral injuries, which refer to any physical violence of an unrelated party as a result of police action.
For this report, we have also collected articles pertaining to police involvement in criminal activities, police misconduct, and use of excessive force (for example using teargas and water cannons for crowd control), however, these will not be discussed in depth due to the lack of clarity in defining these as officially sanctioned actions.
Due to various restrictions, including lack of time and manpower, and due to inaccessible or non-functional online archives for other newspapers, the report squarely relies on cases of police brutality reported in a single English language national daily, Dawn. As such, the report cannot claim to represent the absolute extent of this issue, however, we may assume that these cases are only the tip of the iceberg. The data contained in this report merely scratches the surface of a long sustained history of what appears to be sanctioned violence by LEAs against citizens.
It should also be noted that there is also an overlap in some of the cases between the number of incidents and the type of violence. For example, a news story may detail an incident in which a suspect was illegally detained along with being tortured, which resulted in his death in custody. This would mean that in one incident, at least three forms of police violence were recorded: illegal detention, torture and extrajudicial killing. In this report, we will be recording such incidents as separate tallies.
DATA IN COMPARISON
It should be noted that the inclusion of these instances of violence perpetrated by law enforcement increased the total tally significantly. In 2020 Voicepk collected a total of 109 news articles regarding the deaths of individuals due to police action, 89 articles on encounters and 80 on torture.
The tally swelled this year, with a total of 154 articles of deaths allegedly at the hands of law enforcement, in which 194 were killed in encounters (eight of whom were collateral) while 23 died in custody, revealing a grim death toll of 217 in 2021. A total of 167 reports pertained to encounters (in which 19 innocent persons were injured as collateral), 55 on torture, 29 on illegal detention, and eight on injuries sustained by innocent passers-by in police encounters. With the addition of reports on misconduct, criminal involvement, excessive force and negligence, and noting overlap in numbers for encounters and deaths in encounters, a total of 326 instances of police brutality reported in Dawn were recorded for 2021.
Statistics for 2020 show that February and March were the deadliest months with the highest cases of encounters and extrajudicial killings emerging during this period. July followed, with a disproportionately higher incidence of extrajudicial killings than any other month that year. Incidents of torture, illegal detentions and other abuses of authority were highest in the period between January and March, reaching their peak in March.
There was, however, a startling drop in reports of police encounters, extrajudicial killings, torture and abuse of authority in April, 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.
Month-wise number of cases (2020)
Province-wise, Punjab police proved to be the most trigger-happy and the deadliest, with 56 custodial deaths and encounter killings reported in the past year.
Sindh followed with 27 reported killings, while the Khyber Pukhtunkhwa (KP) police appeared to utilize gun violence far less as compared to Punjab and Sindh, but outdid themselves in torturing and intimidating citizens.
In 2020, at least two cases of extrajudicial killings were recorded in Balochistan. This year, no news articles in Dawn pertaining to police violence emerged from the province, even though there was an abundance of reports of violence perpetrated by paramilitary forces, whether deliberate or as collateral. However, Voicepk chose not to include these cases due to controversy surrounding the status of the Levies and Frontier Corps as law enforcement agencies.
Also, as noted in the previous report, Balochistan is severely underrepresented in the media, which may also be a primary cause for the absolute lack of reported cases of police violence from the province this year.
Month-wise number of cases (2021)
In 2020, the Punjab Police once again emerged as the most violent out of Pakistan’s provincial forces, accounting for 169 out of 325 articles, more than half (52%) of the total. Sindh Police followed with a little over half of the Punjab Police’s tally, engaging in 85 different incidents which constituted 26.2% of the total. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Police’s share was 14.8% of the total with 48 reported incidents, while the Capital Police was reportedly involved in 22 incidents (6.8% of the total). Only one article emerged from Azad Jammu and Kashmir, while no stories were reported from Balochistan and Gilgit-Baltistan.
As per these numbers, an average of 27.16 cases of police violence were reported each month in 2021. The daily average amounted to 0.9 meaning that one incident was reported every day last year.
Province-wise reported cases (2020)
December emerged as the deadliest month, with 22 cases of encounters and 20 cases of extrajudicial killings, custodial deaths and accidental deaths reported. A total of 34 people were killed during December, out of which 30 were gunned down in encounters, three died in custody and one was an accidental civilian death during an encounter.
March followed with 20 cases of encounters and 20 cases of deaths at the hands of law enforcement personnel, in which 23 were killed during shootouts and two in police custody. June reported the third highest number of reported incidents of encounters and extrajudicial killings, with 18 suspects killed in the exchange of fire with police, five in custody and two innocent persons dying in encounters reported in 18 different incidents.
CATEGORIES OF CASES
A total of 167 encounters were recorded throughout the year, with the Punjab Police engaging in 78 firefights. Sindh followed with 85, KP with 48 and the Islamabad Capital Territory with 22 cases.
In a first, Punjab constituted less than half the total number of encounters that occurred in 2021, while Sindh also contributed to over one-third of such instances. A total of 165 instances were recorded for this year.
This category included all deaths of alleged suspects during or as a result of encounters, and in custody. Passers-by who was also killed in the crossfire during encounters have also been added to this tally.
Punjab contributed to over half the casualties recorded in 2021, with 80 different instances of which just one was a bystander. Sindh followed with 55 instances, of which five were innocents killed during the crossfire – the highest number of innocent deaths among the provinces.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa recorded 19 extrajudicial killings, in which one was a bystander, while six including one bystander were killed in Islamabad.
A total of 217 people, eight of whom were collateral, were recorded in 2021.
This category, as explained earlier, refers to acts of physical violence against civilians and suspects by law enforcement personnel.
Voicepk.net collected 56 articles regarding police torture, with Punjab contributing 37, followed by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa with 11, Sindh with 6, and Islamabad and Azad Jammu and Kashmir reporting one incident each.
Eight such incidents were reported in December, the highest that year, with May and August close seconds with seven reports each. June followed with six incidents, followed by five each in April and November, four in July and September, three in February, and two each in January, March and October.
26 articles on alleged illegal detainments were tabulated, half of which were reported from Punjab. Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa recorded five incidents each while three articles on illegal detentions were reported from the Federal Territory.
The highest number of incidents were recorded in January, with seven articles. Four incidents each were recorded in April and May, while three were reported in October. January, February, July, September and December reported two incidents of illegal detentions each, with only one reported in November.
For this category, Voicepk.net collected reports of passersby injured during encounters.
A total of nine incidents were reported in 2021, with Punjab recording six incidents, Sindh two and Islamabad one. A total of 14 innocents were injured during exchange of fire between police and hostile suspects, six in Sindh and one in Islamabad, amounting to a total of 21 wounded civilians.
Three such incidents were reported in September in which five people were injured. On the other hand, March recorded the second highest number of incidents at just two, with six passersby injured. In October, only one incident was reported in which three civilians suffered injuries. One incident involving one injured innocent were recorded in April, July, August and December.