Custodial deaths: How ‘thana culture’ undermines the credibility of police?

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The late Salahuddin Ayubi, a suspected ATM thief and supposedly a mentally challenged person based in Rahim Yar Khan was lucky enough to get a judicial inquiry ordered by the CM Punjab Usman Buzdar but not all the accused met the same fate and not all the cases of third-degree torture at the hands of police surfaced on social media.

With the recent announcement of new SOPs by police authorities banning the use of video-recording enabled cellphones within the premises of police station would further lessen the incidents exposing the worst torture by law enforcers.

Let alone the torture cases police, especially in Punjab, is already highly politicized by the political bosses mainly the landowners in rural areas taking the shape of elected representatives and at urban locations, different politicians, industrial giants, and those having affiliations of some kind with the ruling elite mainly wield power corridors.

The torture incidents are justified with the claims of obtaining confessional statements and other information related to the case but factually malfunction of investigation procedures, and ill-driven policies failing to criminalize such offenses can be thought as more responsible for the riddle.

The worst part that is associated with custodial deaths, prevalent thana culture is the lack of proper inquiry and accountability. Those who investigate these crimes, if got public attention somehow, are also amongst the same police force and the clarity of investigation then totally relied on the mercy and goodwill of investigating officials.

In such a scenario the follow up of the terms and conditions of Police Order 2002 that advocate the years-long imprisonment and fine for those inflicting custodial violence is secondary to the discussion.

Changes required to renounce the prevalent incidents of custodial deaths
  • A robust inquiry launched by a third party probably another institution less vulnerable to the trust-deficit can be authorized to investigate the incidents of worst police torture and subsequent deaths of those becoming the victim of torture.
  • Revision of Police Rules is required to legally renounce the culture of violence and custodial torture at the hands of police.
  • The government needs to pass the 2015 Torture, Custodial Death and Custodial Rape Prevention and Punishment Act.
  • The officials violating the proper code of conduct must be fined heavily for their criminal acts committed against those in custody.
  • The problem with Pakistan is not mainly the absence of laws to handle offenders but the implementation of laws. Those sitting in the corridors of powers must devise plans to cope with the issue of implementation.
  • The facility of closed-circuit cameras must be in presence across police stations especially in the torture cells with proper monitoring authenticating the working of these cameras.
  • Local-Level accountability can also help mitigate the issue as decentralization of power offers more convenient ways to deal with the issues at various fronts.
  • Police Order 2002 offers 5 years imprisonment to those violating the code of conduct while holding the accused in custody but changes are required to make such punishments more rigorous.

Police reforms are necessary to implement in letter and spirit to confront the issues of public trust deficit on the law enforcers and to change the way how the state treats its lowest and more vulnerable citizens.

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