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Faisalabad Leads Charge against Custodial Torture

New policy aims to inform accused of their rights and improve investigation practices to reduce reliance on interrogation

by Sumeera Riaz

File Photo. Asif Hassan—AFP

Police in Faisalabad have taken a lead in ensuring the constitutional rights of accused after introducing a new policy modeled after the Miranda Warnings of the U.S. to end complaints of custodial torture/death during interrogations.

Under the Miranda Warnings, enshrined in U.S. law in 1966 after a Supreme Court decision in the Miranda v. Arizona case, police are required to inform all individuals of their rights at the time of their arrest, including the right to a lawyer; the right not to self-incriminate; and the right to stop cooperating with a police investigation in the absence of legal counsel. In the case, defendant Ernesto Miranda’s conviction was reversed after the court determined he had been coerced into a kidnap-and-rape confession after several hours of interrogation without being informed of his rights.

Pakistan has long been accused, by various human rights organizations, of the widespread use of torture during criminal investigations. Criminal suspects from marginalized groups are at particular risk of being beaten with batons; subjected to injuries and sexual violence; prolonged sleep deprivation, and severe mental anguish, including through the forced observance of other detainees being tortured. While Pakistani law does not expressly require any Miranda Warnings to be delivered to accused, Article 10(1) of the Constitution requires all prisoners to be informed of charges against them “as soon as may be”; Article 10A guarantees the right to a fair trial; and Article 14(2) safeguards prisoners against torture for the purpose of extracting evidence. It is these clauses that police in Faisalabad are relying on to improve their performance and ensure the rights of prisoners.

According to the pilot project introduced in Faisalabad, police in the city would be required to have all accused sign a document spelling out their rights, with an emphasis on ensuring torture is prevented and legal counsel provided. The pilot project’s architect, Faisalabad City Police Officer Omer Saeed, told Pakistan Standard authorities felt the need to implement measures similar to the Miranda Warnings after two recent cases of custodial torture—despite a stated zero tolerance policy for torture by Punjab Inspector General of Police Faisal Shahkar—led to the dismissal of investigation officers and a station house officer. Subsequently, last week, all police stations in Faisalabad were directed to stop relying on interrogation for evidence and start utilizing modern forensics to ensure the conviction of accused.

“Police believe that in this era of mobile technology, CCTV, DNA and forensic testing, it is the need of the hour to move forward from the traditional way of interrogation, which may earn a bad name for the department,” said Saeed, stressing that the right to counsel was a fundamental right of every citizen. He said the lawyers’ community should ensure that none of their clients are coerced into signing any document, adding the District Bar had been informed of the new police policy. “The lawyers’ community has agreed to be a part of this process and give us continuous feedback on it,” he said.

Implementation in true spirit

Punjab Law Minister Khurram Virk told Pakistan Standard that “Miranda Warnings” were already enshrined in the Constitution, but had not been implemented in their true spirit. “Faisalabad district, in leading the initiative, will serve as a model for other urban cities of Punjab to follow,” he said. “Collection of evidence doesn’t permit torture in any manner, and we aim to spread this gradually to other cities as well,” he said, noting authorities had acted to suspend or dismiss any officers found to be guilty of torturing prisoners in custody. “We aim for zero tolerance of torture under police custody and any official found guilty will be brought in court of law,” he added.

In many cases of custodial torture, police and victims say physical force was specifically used to extract confessions in violation of law. This has been blamed on archaic training for cops, who are not sensitized to the at-times lengthy process of forensic analysis and prefer quick convictions through confession. Punjab Prosecutor General Khaleequz Zaman told Pakistan Standard the new policy aimed at curbing this practice by emphasizing the legal requirement of every accused being presumed innocent until proven guilty.

“Investigation is the duty of police to get all relevant evidence admissible per law that connects the accused with the [crime],” he said. “Torture during investigation, however, is not permissible under any law,” he said, adding that under law police were required to produce all accused before a magistrate within 24 hours of arrest and the new policy would help the court establish confessions were not coerced.

“The duty of a prosecutor is not merely to prove the guilt of an accused; it’s also to see whether [the accused] is innocent,” he said, adding recent guidelines issued by the Punjab inspector general were consonant with this. A major concern, however, remains of torture being perpetrated during judicial remand, when accused are detained in prisons pending trial. This, said CPO Saeed, has also been factored into the policy.

Custodial concerns

“All detainees, after physical remand, end up in prison so feedback from jail authorities is also important,” he told Pakistan Standard. “A project, Smart City, is being built up to centrally monitor the lock-ups and SHO rooms [via CCTV],” he added.

Sarah Belal, executive director of the Justice Project Pakistan NGO fighting for rights of prisoners, said if implemented, Miranda Warnings could prove extremely beneficial for accused. Describing as “very encouraging” attempts to reform police in Faisalabad and ensure due process rights, she said the policy could go even further to boost public trust.

“Though the data on torture cases posted on the Punjab police website is a good step to ensure transparency and accountability, it would be very helpful for them to also share the methodology of collecting and compiling it in order for everyone to gain a better understanding of those statistics,” she told Pakistan Standard.

It is too early to say whether the new policy would actually see a decline in cases of custodial torture and safeguard the rights of accused, especially in a country like Pakistan where continuation of much-heralded reforms is more aberration than norm. It is also undeniable its ambit is currently restricted to Faisalabad, leaving millions in the rest of Punjab at the mercy of at-times brutal, outdated practices. However, any steps to bring Pakistan’s policing in line with its Constitution and various international treaties the country is a signatory are a welcome development—no matter how late or limited.

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