PAKISTAN: The Air Force is running a torture cell at its Air Headquarters where six members of a Christian family were tortured, a girl lost her legs 

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received a report of the torture of six persons from a Christian family by officials of the Pakistan Air Force. The arrest and torture continued for a period of 18 days and was due to the suspicion that they had stolen gold ornaments from the house of a Wing Commander in the Pakistan Air Force (PAF). A 14 year-old girl and her 16 year-old brother were tortured by the Wing Commander himself. As a result the girl is now disabled and neither she nor her brother is able to walk properly. A Session Court has helped obtain the victims’ release but has not initiated any judicial process against the officials of the PAF even after finding evidence that the family was tortured and being detained illegally in the PAF torture cell.

According to the information received from several sources, including Miss Jamila Aslam, the lawyer of the victims, the Ephlal Ministry (a Christian NGO), and the family members of the victims, the 14 year-old Miss Sumera Masih was serving as a maid in the house of Mr. Faheem Cheema, a Wing Commander in the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) in Islamabad. Her job duties ranged from babysitting to cleaning, and she worked from 8 a.m. in the morning until 9 p.m. at night. Around 8:30 p.m. on the night of March 30, 2010, she was asked by the wife of the Wing Commander to take early leave as their family would go out for dinner; however, after 9.00 p.m. Sumera was asked to go to her employer’s house because some gold ornaments and other valuable items were missing. She was beaten and threatened by the wife of the Wing Commander that if she did not return the stolen items, she and her family would be handed over to the police. After 10.00 pm she was allowed to return to the servant quarters inside the PAF colony. In the meantime the Wing Commander reported the theft of the gold ornaments and the other valuable items to the Margala police station in Islamabad by telephone without naming any suspects.

Later then, the Wing Commander allegedly directed the PAF police to detain Sumera and her family without informing the local police station. At 1.00 a.m. a van from the PAF police came; three persons exited and went into the servant quarters. They took Sumera and her father, Mr. Pervez Masih, to the PAF police station at the PAF Air Headquarters, sector E-9, Islamabad Chaklala, Shaheen Chowk. Two hours after the arrest at 3.00a.m., the PAF police returned to the house and took Perveen Bibi and Miss Sana, Sumera’s mother and 20 year-old sister, into custody and drove away. 40 minutes after this, the same PAF police officials came and took her 16 year-old brother, Mr. Imran Masih, with them. On April 7 her paternal uncle Kala Masih was also arrested by the PAF police while he was searching for the family.

The mother and her elder sisters were released after two days of being severely tortured in illegal detention with the warning, by Wing Commander himself, that if they informed anybody of these arrests they would not be released and would be punished heavily. According to her lawyer, the wing commander regularly visited the victims’ house to beat and torture the mother and sister to make them confess that they had stolen the ornaments.

In the meantime, Parveen Bibi filed an application before the Islamabad Superintendent of Police (SP) with the help of her brother who was living in another city. The SP had tried to investigate the case and directed the Federal Investigation Unit (FIU) to probe the matter of the theft of the gold ornaments. The girl and her family members were interrogated by the FIU, but according to the lawyer, they were not tortured by the FIU.

The SP also sent the case for legal process to a judicial magistrate in Islamabad, but he refused to take the case as PAF and armed forces were involved.

The lawyers, Miss Jamila Aslam and Miss Shamona Javed, have filed a case based upon the illegal suspension of the writ of habeas corpus on April 13 before the District and Session court judge, Mr. Mazhar Hussain Barlas. He immediately fixed the date for regular hearing and called the public prosecutor the next day for comments. The day after this, the court ordered all the arrested persons be produced before the court. Sumera’s father, Pervez Masih, and his cousin, Kala Masih, were produced before the court, but Sumera and her brother Imran Masih were not produced. The judge ordered that her father and uncle be released immediately but also asked the PAF police to produce Sumera and her younger brother on April 17.

On April 17 though, Sumera was not produced before the court. Station House Officer Mumtaz Sheikh told to the court that Sumera’s health prohibited her to come to the court. She was admitted to the PAF Hospital purportedly suffering from a viral infection. But the lawyer informed the court that Sumera had been severely tortured and could not walk, and furthermore that the PAF police were purposely avoiding producing her before the court. The court then ordered that she must be produced within two hours or a FIR would be lodged against the PAF police and the wing commander. In the afternoon Sumera was produced before the court; she was not able to walk and her father had to carry her in his arms. She was not even able to sit. She had been pressured and threatened by the PAF officials to say that she had a throat infection but the judge then asked why she was unable to walk if that was the case.

After assurance from the judge and lawyers, the 14 year-old maid told the court that every day she was tortured by the wing commander and PAF police officials at a torture cell. Whenever PAF officials were conducting torture, they would blindfold her and beat her about the back and spinal cord. When Wing Commander Cheema entered the room, he saw that she was not blindfolded and threw a glass plate at her head; after which she fainted. She said she did not know for how many hours she was unconscious but woke up to find herself at the PAF hospital. The judge ordered proper medical treatment for her at the PAF’s expense, but they have yet to make any such payment or provide treatment.

Furthermore, the PAF officials did not produce her younger brother Imran to the court, but on the strong reaction from the Session judge, PAF police released him the next day on April 18; but released him in such a way as to not make it seem as if he was in PAF custody. Imran Masih recorded in his testimony before the session court that the PAF police had hired him a taxi to bring him to Iqbal town in Islamabad; they had also planted a railway return ticket from Faisalabad, about 600 kilometers away, to make it seem as if he was coming from Faisalabad. When the taxi driver dropped him at Iqbal Town in Islamabad, the police were waiting for him; they arrested and produced him before the court. When the court asked of his whereabouts during past 18 days, he told the court that he was coming by railway. But the court was not satisfied by his answer as he was carried in by two police officers and could not walk properly. The court assured him to tell truth and that he was well protected. He then told the court that he was kept in a house at PAF Air Headquarters where officials of the PAF police and the Wing Commander Cheema tortured him to confess that his family and sister had stolen the gold ornaments from the house of the Wing Commander. He said that he was hung from a tree in the heat under the sun and was beaten severely at the back and legs. It was because of this that he was not able to walk. He said on the morning of April 18th that he was put in a taxi by PAF police officials with a return railway ticket from Faisalabad and was told that he should tell the court that he was in Faisalabad. He was told that if he said that he was at PAF Headquarters, his sister and other family members would not be released. The court then ordered for his release and asked the Margalla police to provide protection to the family because of this information.

At this moment the court asked the lawyers and the victim’s family whether to take legal action against the PAF police and the other officials for illegally detaining and torturing the family. The victims, after consulting with their lawyers, told the court that they are very poor and are Christians so they could not fight with such a powerful group as the armed forces. The court set aside the cases of habeas corpus as all the members of the family were recovered and did not take any action against the perpetrators.

During the court proceedings, Dr. Nusrat Saleem of the PAF hospital said in her statement when the judge asked why Sumera was not brought on the court orders was because of injuries sustained during torture, She continued to say that Sumera is barely able to walk and might not be able to walk for the rest of her life.

The victims are now hiding in another city because of continuous threats from Wing Commander Faheem Cheema and other officials of the Pakistan Air Force for revealing the torture cell at the PAF Air Headquarters.

The running of torture cells at PAF Air Headquarters shows that armed forces are running their own parallel extrajudicial investigation systems. The Asian Human Rights Commission had already documented that the Pakistan army is running 52 torture cells all over the country, please see the following link:

This case of torture by the members of the Pakistan armed forces is ample proof that courts are still under the influence of the armed forces and are unable to implement the law equally.
The Christian organisations assert that the worst kind of torture is reserved for them because of their religion and the fact that they are very poor. The Session court judge Mr. Barlas saved the lives of the family by taking prompt action to protect them from the PAF torture, but he should have taken action against the PAF and the Wing Commander, as it is his legal obligation, despite the fact that the victims did not want to pursue their own legal remedy.

It is a matter of deep concern, as to the legal procedures adopted by the judiciary, that when it was proved beyond any doubt that the Wing Commander Faheem Cheema and the PAF police officials conducted torture causing the two children to suffer severe injuries the Judge avoided taking any legal action against them. It is observed that in cases involving the armed forces the judiciary, including the Supreme Court, avoids taking legal action against the armed forces. It is because of this that the armed forces have rendered themselves above the law. In the cases of disappearances the family members of the victims’ have provided all the evidence of involvement of state intelligence agencies, including the Supreme Court, but the courts have never asked the officials of the armed forces to testify before the court.

The Judicial Magistrate of Islamabad has refused to take cases involving the armed forces even when the SP of Islamabad has forwarded him the application from the mother of Sumera for legal process. The rule of law then cannot be guaranteed when the judiciary itself refuses to take cases against the armed forces providing them with blanket impunity to torture and illegally detain people like Sumera and her family.

The torture case of Sumera, her brother, and their parents in the PAF Air Headquarters shows the total collapse of rule of the law where many military and paramilitary organizations are running their illegal detention centers and conducting torture. The judiciary also claims that it is independent, but the armed forces are kept out of their domain as if the judiciary does not involve itself in the supra-constitutional affairs of the armed forces. The same situation is seen in the media. They do not cover the atrocities of the armed forces because media houses know their power. In the case of Sumera, the media, particularly the electronic media, blacked out the court proceedings.

The Asian Human Rights Commission urges upon the President and Prime Minister to conduct an enquiry against the PAF officials for running torture cells in its air headquarters where the people are kept illegally and tortured. The government should also prosecute the Wing Commander Faheem Cheema and the PAF police officials for the illegal detention and the torture of the six members of a Christian family through which the whole family was in a state of trauma. In addition to this, a girl of 14 years has lost the use of her legs for life and a boy of 16 years is no longer able to walk properly.

The government should also follow its own pledge, made before the UN Human Rights Council in 2008 before becoming its member, that it will make the law according to the UN Convention Against Torture (CAT). It is shameful then to think that the government cannot protect religious minorities from more powerful groups, particularly from the members of the armed forces.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-074-2010
Countries : Pakistan,
Issues : Torture,