Police brutality must end

Though the brutalization of adult citizens at the hands of the police is disturbing enough, there is something especially abominable about law enforcement officials torturing a child. Sobbing before the media last week, an eight-year-old boy revealed he had been forced to sit on a heater, as well as tied up and beaten while in police custody after being arrested on suspicion of being a swindler’s accomplice.

Though an inquiry has been called into the incident, and guarantees have been given that the police officials responsible will face exemplary punishment, the truth is that this tragic incident occurred because police brutality and the violations of children’s rights have been brushed under the rug for far too long in this country.

As such, it needs to be stated that the Sahiwal killings case still hasn’t been resolved. It has now been over a month since the Punjab Counter Terrorism Department shot and killed four innocent people, including a 13-year old girl. Meanwhile, the case of former SSP-Malir Rao Anwar, accused of staging fake police encounters of 444 people, continues to linger in the courtrooms.

As a consequence of failing to check police brutality, ordinary citizens are as afraid of the police as they would be of any gang of thugs. Meanwhile, criminal elements in the police force engage in acts of murder, torture, and extortion without facing any consequences. In this situation, expecting the police to be good for much other than protecting VIPs and acting as hired assassins would be too much.

In another incident last month, a 55-year old Gujrat brick kiln owner was tortured to death in police custody. Such incidents are continuing to take place despite the fact that police reforms were one of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI’s) foremost election promises.

Punishing bad eggs will not be enough. What is needed is a complete overhaul of the prevailing police culture which accepts law enforcement officials committing crimes against citizens. A zero-tolerance policy against torture, illegal detention and physical harassment of citizens will have to be adopted. Confessions obtained through torture must be considered inadmissible. This will require the enactment of proper laws and a legal definition of the crime itself.

There is no overcoming the trust deficit between the citizens of this country and its police forces unless the aforementioned steps are taken. And without that, the law and order situation in this country will always remain in jeopardy.  *

Published in Daily Times, February 23rd 2019.