Reprieve | Pakistan Police Torture Project
When a YouTube video emerged last summer showing Pakistani policemen taking turns to beat prisoners in their custody, it sparked a surge of anger among Pakistanis around the world. In the weeks following, a notable pessimism set in as bloggers and commentators mused on the inevitability of police abuse in Pakistan. But for those working towards a fairer Pakistani justice system, including my team at legal action charity Reprieve, these are exciting times — with plenty of reasons for hope.
YouTube, Facebook and Twitter are enabling citizens and police alike to communicate and disseminate information like never before, even with limited resources. This means cases of police abuse are better disseminated, increasing debate around an issue that many were previously too scared to raise. Yet there are also many positive stories to be told about the police– real-life day-to-day anecdotes that encourage citizens to trust officers more, and inspire police to be the best they can be.
Positive stories are important because, despite their reputation, many members of the Pakistan Police Force are hard-working, trustworthy pillars of society – the embodiment of the childhood career ambitions of so many. This is despite numerous inadequacies in their employment, notably the low level of financial reward that comes with such responsibility.
Of course there are exceptions. Some corrupt officers demand bribes and abuse those in their custody, and it is these stories that may now be taking permanent residence in many people’s minds. The recently published report by the Asian Human Rights Commission on the incarceration and subsequent torture of Ruby Masih in August 2010 is available to all at www.ahrchk.net/ua/mainfile.php/2010/3595. Following police occupation of her Karachi home, Ruby filed a First Incident Report against those police responsible, which led to her being arrested, allegedly gang raped and held incommunicado for 50 days. It has also emerged that 50 year-old father-of-five Akbar Khan was apparently beaten to death by police in Harbanspura Precinct in February 2010, after allegedly being found to possess a small amount of hashish.
These incidents are crimes committed by corrupt officers and should be treated as such. Yet the fact that they are increasingly emerging into the public domain is the crucial first step. While all police forces struggle to control officers who would abuse their power, it is the persistent cover-ups which have roused so much resentment in Pakistan. And for this, sunlight is the best disinfectant. We’ve seen how the media attention surrounding the Sialkot killings generated debate, demonstrations and much-needed criticism of the officers involved; the police were subsequently disciplined.
That’s why we at Reprieve’s Pakistan Police Torture Project are trying to shine a light on the Pakistan Police Force, for better or for worse. Based in Birmingham in the UK, we are collecting witness statements of both British Pakistanis and Pakistani nationals who have passed through police stations and prisons across Pakistan and Azad Kashmir. With lawyers in the UK and Islamabad, and experience representing those held in Guantanamo Bay, Reprieve is well-placed to assist those who have suffered at the hands of authority. We have helped release many prisoners, including Moazzam Begg and Binyam Mohamed, and taken important confidential testimony about the so-called ‘War on Terror’ from countless more. Personal stories about encounters with the police, both positive and negative, help us to assist prisoners in seemingly hopeless situations.
With your help we can assist people like Ruby, Akbar and the families of those poor boys murdered in the summer of 2010 in Sialkot, and eventually restore trust and transparency in the police force in Pakistan Help us to create pride in a country where so many positive stories still remain to be told.
Our ultimate aim is to have torture abolished and restore trust in the Pakistan Police Force, thereby making life easier for all Pakistanis, British or otherwise. If you too want this, please contact us or visit www.reprieve.org.uk/pakistanpolicetortureproject.