October 7, 2023
By Maryam Missal
The Punjab Police have recently requested an exemption from releasing information regarding incidents of violence against women in the province under the Access to Information Act, 2013 after a petition was filed in the Information Commission.
In June, the Sustainable Social Development Organization (SSDO) took action under the Right to Information (RTI) and formally submitted a request to the Punjab police, seeking the release of quarterly data pertaining to crimes against women and children. Regrettably, this application was met with silence from the Punjab police. Following this, SSDO escalated the matter by filing a petition with the Information Commission.
In response, the Punjab Police stated that while they acknowledge the request, they are unable to release the data as it may create panic in the public.
According to official documents, the Punjab Police argue that the public dissemination of such information instils fear within society and complicates the apprehension of the accused individuals. They further stated that a (Non-Profit Organisation) NGO was granted access to information in the case of Syed Kausar Abbas vs. Punjab Police under the Right to Information Act.
However, the applicant allegedly violated their agreement not to publicize the information, causing widespread panic through various television channels. In light of this, the AIG (Gender Crimes) has urged the DIG Legal Punjab to pursue an exemption from disclosing such information under Section 13(h) of the Access to Information Act, 2013.
In a statement to press the Chief Information Commissioner Mehboob Qadir Shah clarified that Section 13(h) of the Act does not apply to granting an exemption in this particular case. He explained that there are eight specific exemptions listed under section 13, none of which are pertinent to this scenario.
Section 13 (h) reads that a public information officer may refuse an application for access to disclosure of the information shall or is likely to cause harm to the effective formulation of or be free and frank provision of advice within the government.
SSDO Pakistan’s Executive Director told Voicepk.net that he sends out a request, quarterly or monthly, to the police department of each province and federal capital to provide available statistics on rape cases, gender-based violence (GBV), violence against children (VAC) cases, trafficking cases, and other crimes that are related to human rights.
The data collected is then formulated into a research which is then published to the official site of SSDO and is available to the public, according to Abbass, The purpose of this research is to monitor the crime ratio and keep track of progress in the circle of human rights.
“The purpose of obtaining this data is to see how actively provincial police is catering to these cases and to analyse statistical evidence of these (GBV, VAC and trafficking) cases. Additionally, it is our right as citizens to question the performance of law enforcement agencies,”
said Abbass in a conversation with Voicepk.net.
The Executive Director of Shirkat Gah, Farida Shaheed, emphasized to Voicepk.net that it is not the act of reporting the crime that generates panic in society; rather, ‘the crime itself creates panic in society,’ she affirmed.
Expanding on her statement, Shaheed emphasized that reporting and sharing crime data is crucial in addressing the issue. Without access to such data, the problem cannot be effectively tackled, and the true extent of the issue remains hidden.
Women protection officer, Rubina Shaheen, at Asma Jahangir Legal Aid Cell, while speaking to Voicepk.net, said that when information is revealed to NGOs, they can provide support to the victim, both financially and legally.
She further added that through collaboration with law enforcement departments, the data available with NGOs can be verified and authenticated. Shaheen shared that this data later helps the stakeholders and lawmakers draft new policies and propose amendments based on the available statistics.
Shaheen’s stance was supported by Abbass, who stated that the data collected for the research also assists us in lobbying for and proposing amendments to current laws, enabling them to better address these cases.
Voicepk.net made several attempts to reach out to the police officials who deal with gender-based crimes but individuals were restricted from speaking due to departmental policies.