FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 14, 2009
A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission
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.
According to the national manager of the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC), Ms Sadia Baloch, seventeen-year-old Zeeshan Budd was picked up on the evening of January 17, 2008, between his grandmother’s and his parent’s house in the jurisdiction of Shah Lateef Town in Punjab. The boy says he had asked to hitch a ride on a motorbike and had been arrested along with the driver, who was apparently wanted by the police. Police tell a different story: that they responded to a complaint about a stolen bike and mobile phone, and picked up the boy alone.
Ms Baloch says that Zeeshan was not informed of his charges, his family was not told of his arrest that night and he was neither sent to a remand home nor appointed a probation officer, which is required under Pakistan’s Juvenile Justice System Ordinance. Instead he was stripped at the police station, beaten and interrogated, during which the three officers raped him, including Head Constable Arif Sharr and Constable Mohammad Ashraf. Video of the rape was recorded on an officer’s mobile phone. When the police contacted the family the next day, Zeeshan’s grandmother Kulsoom Akhter agreed to pay half the requested bribe — Rs 50,000 — so that he’d be released. However the boy was kept, sent to court and the officers distributed parts of the video of his rape to internet cafes close to the boy’s family’s home.
The officers’ actions are a clear and severe violation of child rights and human rights. They contravene the Constitution of Pakistan, the Juvenile Justice System Ordinance and the UN Conventions of the Rights of the Child, which Pakistan ratified in 1990. (Under the Majority Act 1875, a child is defined as a person under 18 years of age; the voting age is 18 years and the national identity card is also issued at this age.)
Akhter appeared at her grandson’s court case with evidence of his rape, but a medical check up ordered by the judge was delayed for a week by the police, reducing the chance of medical evidence being found. Despite harassment and a smear campaign from police, and despite being ostracised in their community, Zeeshan’s relatives filed petition 601-602 in the Malir Court at the end of 2008, demanding that an FIR be lodged against the officers. In the meantime eight cases of robbery were taken against Zeeshan, still in jail, which his family claims are clumsily fabricated. A judge has ordered an investigation into his abuse, but the FIR report has yet to be signed.
Since its formation, the AHRC has publicised countless violent crimes committed by Pakistan police officers against detainees and there are common threads running through them all: they are usually creatively brutal, the victims young and poor, and the crimes barely covered up; officers appear confident that their actions will not be called into question. This can be seen in the case of a 17-year-old girl last year who was kept offsite by a police station sub-inspector after her arrest and raped repeatedly (AHRC-UAC-164-2008), and in the case of Hazoor Buksh, who had his penis severed by a drunk officer in 2007 (UA-032-2007) before being forced to claim that he did it himself with a broken tea cup in a suicide attempt. Zeeshan’s case is remarkable only for the security clearly felt by police when they publicised the torture themselves on video.
The AHRC insists that an FIR be lodged against Zeeshan’s rapists, and against the officers in the vicinity of the crime who did nothing to stop it. A thorough investigation must be launched. The boy must be released and he and his family offered protection for the duration of the case, and given appropriate rehabilitation and compensation.
But much more must be done. The many rapes, torture and murders that happen in police custody in Pakistan must stop. A scrupulous and unremitting sweep of the policing system is long overdue. Individuals entering into police custody too often emerge brutally scarred — emotionally and physically — and the government must determine how the situation has become so bad, and what can be done to rectify it. Officers themselves must be placed under observation, and those implicated in brutal crimes must be fired, not transferred. A nation-wide clarification of acceptable interrogation methods is necessary, and strict re-training is clearly in order.
Without a legitimate police force — which is often the front line of the legal process — a country is weakened and its citizens made vulnerable. Without law and order, vigilante justice and corruption thrive; Pakistan has a reputation for both. The fact that children can be brutally raped by police on camera and still nothing is done, should be a matter of deep shame.
The authorities need to combat this widely held notion, in and outside the country, that being a policeman in Pakistan simply gives you a greater license to commit crime.
About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.