PAKISTAN: The real need to make torture a heinous crime under Pakistan law 

June 26, 2009

An Article on the menace of torture in Pakistan by the Asian Human Rights Commission

PAKISTAN: The real need to make torture a heinous crime under Pakistan law

Torture in custody is a common phenomenon in Pakistan because of the rogue legal system and impotence of the rule of law. The laws of the land are silent on the issue of torture by the law enforcement agencies. The Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) has no specific section to deal with torture; it deals only about the word “hurt” and, even, in the definition of ‘hurt’ the state authorities, who are mainly responsible for exercising torture, are not mentioned in any way.

The criminal procedure code (CrPc) also does not mention any clause for punishing perpetrators of torture. The existence of a rogue legal system has meant that serious issues of torture are disregarded. Therefore, law enforcement authorities are given a free hand to use torture as the easiest way to make money and obtain confessional statements which favour the police and other law enforcement authorities.

Pakistan signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) on April 17, 2008 and pledged before the UN Human Rights Council to stop the menace of torture in Pakistan and rectify its laws according to the CAT. After signing the CAT, it was hoped that at the very least, the authorities in Pakistan would revise the system of interrogation while in custody and make amendments in the Pakistan Penal Code according to the definition of the UN Convention against Torture. However, no serious effort has been made by the government which has replaced the military rule through votes.

During the last year, particularly after signing the CAT, more torture cases were reported than before and the torture was carried out by some of the cruellest methods imaginable. In some cases law makers were implicit in their utilization of the police for torturing their opponents. In the last year, there were reports of more than 1,300 people being tortured and yet, there are several hundreds cases of torture that have not been reported. This is according to an NGO, Lawyers for Human Rights.

Pakistani legislators are not concerned with torture and do not discuss the issue, even after receiving so many cases through the media and from human rights organizations. The fact that legislators have evaded the issue of torture and that they have never discussed it in an elected forum shows the indifference of law makers on this issue.

The police, as a law enforcement agency, are the main source of torture for the ordinary citizens. The lack of police reform mechanisms has perpetuated the cycle of abuse in Pakistan. Anyone who is arrested must endure physical and/or mental torture. The investigating officers at each police station are much more eager to get confessional statements through brutal show of force. However, to-date, no police officer has ever been punished for an act of torture, though; they have been suspended or transferred if the case against them is proven. The failure to criminalise torture in custody in the law provides impunity to the police.

Since the establishment of the new government under President Zardari, effective investigations of torture have not been implemented. This is in spite of the government’s assurance that they will remedy the matter. Article 4.1 of the 1984 UN Convention against Torture says that every signatory state must ensure that all acts of torture are offences under its criminal law, yet there is no prohibition against torture in Pakistan’s domestic law. Due to the lack of mechanisms put in place to address acts of torture, arbitrary arrests and grave human rights violations continue to be carried out.

The military and state intelligence agencies like, Inter services Intelligence (ISI), the Military intelligence agency (MI), the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), the Pakistan Navy, and the Frontier Constabulary (FC) are prominent agencies among other agencies that are notorious in torturing people in custody. These agencies run their own torture cells in different cities and even in privately hired houses. There are reports that women are raped in police stations during the process of interrogation in order to get their confessional statements. (There is a reported case of a girl raped in custody by police officers and her sister kept nude in a lock up).

The ‘war on terror’ has enabled Pakistan authorities to exercise uncontrollable power. Impunity grants them the power to torture without accountability. The Pakistani authorities have colluded with foreign law enforcement agencies in obtaining forced confessions. The military government of General Mushraff enjoyed this situation and has taken the advantage of the ‘war on terror’ as the best way to form torture centres in military cantonments throughout the country.

Torture in military cells

There are 52 identified torture centres in Pakistan. Those persons arrested are held for prolonged lengths of time without their whereabouts being revealed. The ‘safe houses’ maintained by the inter services intelligence (ISI) are the main torture centres that operate openly in central places in different cities including Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan. These places are not only known to prime ministers and ministers, but to every politician. Interrogations by security forces have consisted of brutal beatings, the withholding of food, burning with cigarettes and the use of instruments of torture. Incidents of rape and sodomy are frequently reported. After being interrogated for periods of time that range from weeks to years, intelligence agencies dispose of their victim by road sides later to be arrested by police. Police in Pakistan are known for their abuse in interrogations and exercise a free hand in dealing with those in their custody. Please also see the link:

Several persons who disappeared after their arrests by plain-clothed men bearing no vehicle registration numbers from different parts of the country, particularly from Balochistan and Sindh provinces, were kept incommunicado for several months in army torture cells and brutally tortured in order to obtain knowledge about their links and involvement in the nationalists movements. Those persons who were released were then thrown out on road sides and after testifying before the courts and the media about their torture in army camps they were later abducted again by state intelligence agencies. The agencies warn them that their family members would have the same treatment as they themselves.

The Killing of witnesses of torture

Three persons, who were abducted by state intelligence agencies in 2007 from different parts of the country and severely tortured for months while in military torture cells, were again abducted in April 2009. The three activists were members of the provincial government concerning missing persons. This second abduction was an attempt to stop them from providing testimonies about criminal offences done by state agencies in military cells. They were abducted by plain-clothed men bearing no vehicle license plate number and shortly after being taken away they were found dead.

Running sex slaves in army cells

There are also reports about missing women, who were arrested by the law enforcement agencies and held incommunicado in different army torture cells. According to a list, compiled by one NGO, the Anjuman Ittehad Marri, 179 women are missing from Balochistan province after their arrest. Some male inmates of the army camps have testified to the media that they themselves saw some women who were screaming in the cells, particularly, in the army centre at Karachi city, the capital of Sindh province. Mr. Munir Mengal, managing director of Baloch voice television, was introduced in the army camp of Karachi to a 22 years old girl, Miss Zarina Baloch, for sexual purposes. According to Reporters without Borders (RSF), the girl told Munir Mengal that she was arrested in Balochistan province and was being held in the military camp for sexual purposes.

Outsourcing Torture

The “war on terror” has intensified the use of torture in Pakistan. Those suspected of going against the government or allegedly conducting terrorist activities have been arbitrarily detained and tortured. The ‘war on terror’ has meant that in the name of national security torture has become legalized. Human rights are denied in which coerced confessions become admissible under provisions of the Anti-Terrorist Act. In its efforts to protect Pakistan’s national security Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence has worked with the United States and the U.K. The ISI has provided assistance to the US and UK for combating their counter-terrorism operations. Cases have been documented in which British intelligence agencies, one of which was MI5, allegedly colluded with the Pakistani authorities in detaining and torturing British Muslims. Interrogation procedures that have been aided by Pakistan’s ISI have been utilized for extracting information. In the case of the ISI torture is taking place by proxy. After acts of abuse in the hands of ISI agents, interrogation is then turned over to MI5 officers.

The outsourcing of torture for the United States takes the form of a classified directive that was created after September 11, 2001 authorizing the CIA to detain and interrogate suspected terrorists. The CIA secret detention operation has been aided by foreign governments. This is precisely where Pakistan has been instrumental in providing the U.S. with suspected terrorists and a place to conduct its methods of torture.

Britain is condemned in a highly critical UN report for breaching basic human rights and “trying to conceal illegal acts” in the fight against terrorism. The report is sharply critical of British co-operation in the transfer of detainees to places where they are likely to be tortured as part of the US rendition programmed. It accuses British intelligence officers of interviewing detainees held incommunicado in Pakistan in “so-called safe houses where they were being tortured”.

It adds that Britain, and a number of other countries, sent interrogators to Guantánamo Bay in a further example of what “can be reasonably understood as implicitly condoning” torture and ill-treatment. It said the US was able to create its system for moving terror suspects around foreign jails only with the support of its allies.

Cases of Proxy Torture

According to Human Rights Watch, Marwan Jabour a 30-year old Palestinian living in Lahore, Pakistan was held in secret CIA detention for more than two years. Jabour was arrested by Pakistani authorities in Lahore, Pakistan, on May 9, 2004. He was detained there for a short time and then was transferred to the capital, Islamabad. In the capital in a secret detention centre he was beaten and stripped naked and chained to a cell for over a month. Jabour’s whereabouts were unknown while in custody. Jabour was tortured by Pakistani authorities and then interrogated by what he believes were Americans. While being interrogated he was threatened multiple times with physical harm. Jabour was then transferred out of the Islamabad detention centre on June 16, 2004 by plane to where he believes was a secret prison in Afghanistan. Jabour was also detained in secret detention centres in Jordan and Israel. Access to this case is available at Another case that depicts the clandestine operations of torture is the widely publicized case of Binyam Mohamed, a British resident held in custody for two years for allegedly being involved in planning al-Qaida terrorist attacks in New York. He was seized at Karachi airport in May 2002 and held illegally by Pakistani authorities. Mohamed states that he was interrogated by the MI5 as well as American agents. He spent a two and a half year period as a “ghost detainee” in countries such as Morocco and the CIA’s “Dark Prison” in Afghanistan. During his time in custody he was severely tortured. Mohamed was then transferred to Guantanamo Bay from 2004 to 2009. He recently has been released and is living in the UK.

The case of Mamdouh Habib shows once again that the ‘war on terror’ gives license to torture in order to extract information needed in the name of national security. Habib, a 49-year old Egyptian born Australian citizen was arrested in Pakistan in October 2001 on grounds of planning the September 11th terrorist attacks. He was subjected to severe physical torture, including electrical shocks, while in U.S. custody in Pakistan, Egypt and Afghanistan, consequently giving false confessions. Habib was then taken to Guantanamo in May 2002, where he was put through psychological torture, which included sexual and religious humiliation. His false confessions that were taken while being tortured were used by other countries, and later by the interrogators at Guantanamo. Habib was later freed in January 2005 and sent back to Australia, where he was reunited with his wife and four children.

There are countless other cases in which those who are thought to have links to terrorism are imprisoned for years without being charged. Proxy torture needs the complicity of other governments in order to accomplish its goal of breaking down its victim. This is illustrated in the case of a 34-year old Canadian citizen and engineer, who was detained at JFK Airport in New York in September 2002. After being jailed and interrogated, Maher Arar was shackled and put on an executive jet, on which the American crew called themselves the “Special Removal Unit.” Jordan and Syria were complicit in torturing Arar. In Syria he was kept in a rat-infested, grave-like underground cell. After being subjected to months of torture and interrogation, the Syrians concluded that Arar had no links to terrorism, which they have stated publicly. Arar was finally released in October 2003, with no charges having been brought against him, and he is now living in Canada with the trauma he endured.

Torture is seen to be vital in order to combat the war on terrorism. As the cases above reveal human rights are suspended in the interests of national security. Torture takes many forms and operates in the farthest regions of the world. Governments aid other governments in supplying the means of torture. Take the case of a woman doctor, Aafia Siddiqui who is thought to have ties with terrorists. Dr. Aafia Siddiqui was arrested by Pakistan authorities and held in an Afghanistan prison. She is still being held without any charges brought against her, and remains in a psychological facility in New York where her lawyer and children are denied access.  There are endless numbers of people who vanish and are held incommunicado for years. To sanction torture as acceptable and to permit perpetrators to operate with impunity allows a cycle of torture to perpetuate and thus halts any attempts for bring justice. See the following links for a complete account of this case:

Cases of Torture

Love marriage greeted by the police torture of a family

Six members of a family, including three women and one young girl, were arrested on the instructions of a member of the Punjab provincial assembly (and Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N) in retaliation for a love marriage. All have been tortured severely by police in custody, with one man unable to walk. A seventh member of the family, a sixteen-year-old girl, has not been seen or heard of since her arrest, when she was sent away in a car with the parliamentarian. The Asian Human Rights Commission believes she is in danger of being raped. Two men and one woman remain in Adiala Jail, Rawalpindi. For a more detailed account of the case see:

A chilling tale of police torture

Mr. Shafiq Dogar was subjected to various forms of torment, including rape, thereafter red chili powder was put into his anus. Dogar’s wife, Riffat Rani and her younger sisters, 12 and 19, were also beaten by policemen and by law maker Iftekhar Baloch and arrested on trumped up charges, and since their release, have been threatened by Iftekhar Baloch.

Patterns of impunity and corruption emerge from the details of relentless abuse which we are able to provide here. In the chronology below, a disturbing relationship comes to light between Kulsoom’s family–wealthy mill-owners and a provincial assembly member–the lower judiciary and the police, the latter two working under the direction of the former, somewhat like hired thugs. It is particularly unpleasant to note that in each case the lower judiciary has acted as little more than a safe haven for the officers, who at one point had to push Dogar into court in a wheelchair because he could no longer walk. Please see the following link about details of the police torture with chronologies:

The groom and his brother in law are sodomised in police detention, please see the following link;

Police gang rape a teenage boy in custody and distribute footage on the Internet

The law enforcement community in Pakistan has been shamed once more by an incident in which three officers arrested a boy, beat and raped him in custody, and distributed a video of the rape. A year later the boy is still in remand and the policemen have not been charged. Please see the link:

Political expediency in dealing with torture

A case that highlights the severity of torture concerns eight persons who remained in police custody for more than 30 days on the instruction of a religious leader and a prominent politician, Mr. Pir Pagara, a leading faction of the Pakistan Muslim League. The eight persons were forced by police officers to strip naked and behave like dogs and bears. Ropes and chains were tied around the victim’s necks and they were beaten. No investigation was made into the matter. When the government of the Pakistan Peoples Party came into power it started an investigation into the matter. But when Pir of Pagara decided to join the government and got ministries in the provincial cabinet of Sindh the investigation was stopped and no case was filed against the police officers of the three districts who were involved in the torture. At the end, all police officers got impunity through the political expediency from the ruling party.

A high police officer runs the private torture cell

A high ranking police official, Senior Superintendent (SSP) Shafiq Gujjar, of the Punjab police, who was appointed by the newly elected Chief Minister of the Punjab province, Mr. Mian Shahbaz Shareef. Mr. Shafiq, used police officers of four different districts to keep Mr. Hanif, a labourer in illegal detention for the return of some money to which he was witness/guarantor. The officers involved continued to deny his arrest even after 15 days following an investigation by a newspaper reporter. Aware of the fact that the SSP Shafiq had been appointed by the chief minister of the province, the reporter Mr. Mohammad Ahmed Noorani of ‘The News’, a daily newspaper, obtained the assistance of another senior journalist, who contacted the office of Mian Shehbaz Shareef, the chief minister, and talked about the illegal detention of Hanif under the custody of SSP Shafiq. The chief minister denied the arrest of any such person and praised the police officer in question. However, after realising that the journalists were fully aware of the arrest and even place of detention, the victim was released in the early hours of July 13, 2008 on his instructions. The victim was arrested 450 kilometers away but was released from a private residence, just eight kilometers away from the chief minister’s residence, where he had been detained in the private jail of a notorious drug dealer of the province named Shoukat Khokhar. The victim was severely tortured in three different police lock ups for the return of the money. The victim is the father of five small children including one disabled child and previously suffered kidney disease for which he underwent an operation two years previously. After release, the victim, Mr. Hanif, said that every police officer was asking me to return the amount to SSP Shafiq, by taking his name categorically.

Volunteer Police force tortures boys

On May 7, 2009, officials of the Mujahid Squad, a semi police force, and the South Cantt Police subjected four youths to severe torture and manhandled women in Nishat Colony, Cantt, sparking a strong protest against the police. Four young boys, Raja Jameel, Syed Wajid Ali, Yasir and one unknown boy, were trying to resolve an altercation between a shopkeeper and his customer. In the meantime, an official of the Muhafiz Squad came there and exchanged harsh words with the young boys instead of resolving the issue. The boys asked a ‘Muhafiz’ not to scuffle with them over which he allegedly said “he is a ‘Badmash’ and he can do whatever he wants.”

The boys said he was wearing the police uniform and, therefore, they could not scuffle with him over which the (policeman) stripped off his shirt and started beating the boys. He also called the police force, which came by van. The policemen first thrashed the boys and then threw them into the police van. The police also dragged the mother and wife of Raja Jameel when they attempted to get the boys released. No arrest was made and Muhafiz forces still impersonate themselves as the police.


The Convention against Torture (CAT) prohibits torture, and requires parties to take effective measures to prevent it in any territory under its jurisdiction. This prohibition is absolute and non-derogable. “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever” may be invoked to justify torture, including war, threat of war, internal political instability, public emergency, terrorist acts, violent crime, or any form of armed conflict. Torture cannot be justified as a means to protect public safety or prevent emergencies. Neither can it be justified by orders from superior officers or public officials. The prohibition on torture applies to all territories under a party’s effective jurisdiction, and protects all people under its effective control, regardless of citizenship or how that control is exercised. Since the Conventions entry into force, this absolute prohibition has become accepted as a principle of customary international law.

As a result of the government of Pakistan signing the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and also Convention against Torture (CAT) acts of torture while in custody remain solely the responsibility of the Pakistan government. Violations of the ICCPR and the CAT must be placed on the government. Proxy torture in Pakistan a method frequently used to combat the ‘war on terror’ can not be made as an excuse to torture while in custody or to allow foreign forces to conduct torture practices.

There is a dire need to make torture a heinous crime in Pakistan law. Until and unless the practice of torture is criminalized through the law there are fewer chances to stop the grave human rights violations that are occurring in Pakistan. Torture will only end as the best tool for confessional statements when it is realized as a crime and therefore the concept of fair trial and justice can be achieved.

Document Type : Article
Document ID : AHRC-ART-032-2009
Countries : Pakistan,
Issues : Torture,