Church leaders back calls for Pakistan police reforms

Nobody is above the law, not even the police, says bishop
Church leaders back calls for Pakistan police reforms

A file image of part of the Faisalabad central jail in Pakistan. A new report by Human Rights Watch documents custodial torture, extrajudicial executions, and other serious human rights violations by the police in Pakistan. (Photo by Tariq Babur via Wikimedia Commons) reporter, Karachi
September 29, 2016
Pakistan's church leaders have backed calls by Human Rights Watch to reform the country's police force, which is notorious for its heavy-handed approach.

Father Abid Habib, former president of the Major Superiors Leadership Conference of Pakistan, experienced this culture firsthand when he was arrested in Lahore in 1998.

The Capuchin priest spent hours in lockup for protesting blasphemy laws following the 1998 suicide of Bishop John Joseph of Faisalabad who shot himself on the steps of the Sahiwal courthouse to protest the death sentence of a Christian man.

"I was trying to calm angry youth when police started the baton charge. The protest organizers fled and I was left alone", he told

"The arrested youth were glad to see me when I entered the lock up in blood stained vestments. The floors were dirty, so was the toilet. We had to wait for water for hours. We were treated like animals; they used punches and sticks."

Father Habib spoke of the "urgent need for reform" at every level. "The seniors officers urged juniors to take bribes in which they too have shares. Excessive use of violence is a norm in a police station," he said.

The New York-based rights group on Sept. 26 released a 102-page report, documenting human rights violations including arbitrary arrest, torture and extra-judicial killings.

The report is based on interviews with more than 30 police officers and 50 interviews with victims of police abuses, their families and witnesses as well as discussions with civil society and policing experts. The research focuses on the Sindh, Punjab and Balochistan provinces.

Human Rights Watch found that police in all three provinces frequently subject those in custody to torture and other ill-treatment, particularly during criminal investigations. Suspects have sometimes died as a result.

Those from marginalized groups — Afghan refugees, the poor, religious minorities, and the landless — are at particular risk.

"Pakistan faces grave security challenges that can be best handled by a rights respecting, accountable police force," Brad Adams, Asia Director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

"Instead, law enforcement has been left to a police force filled with disgruntled, corrupt, and tired officers who commit abuses with impunity, making Pakistanis less safe, not more."

The report further alleges that provincial police forces face improper pressure from politicians and local elites; a dearth of ethical and professional standards; and increasing public expectations.

Methods of custodial torture include beatings with batons and littars (leather straps), stretching and crushing legs with roola (metal rods), sexual violence, sleep deprivation and mental torture.

Bishop Joseph Arshad of Faisalabad and head of the Catholic bishop's National Commission for Justice and Peace, supported demands to overhaul police culture.

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"People must be treated according to the law. Our police stations are also plagued by the social attitude of the powerful suppressing the weak. Human dignity must be preserved. Nobody is above the law, not even police," he said.

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