From Alleged Robbery To Illegal Custody: The Horrifying Story Of Amir Masih’s Death
In closed-circuit television (CCTV) footage, two policemen of the Punjab police can be seen dragging a man into a hospital on a motorcycle. Later, the policemen can be seen bringing him out of the hospital in a wheelchair and putting him in a cab.
The man was identified as Amir Masih, 25, a poor gardener of Lahore from the minority Christian community of Pakistan who lost his life during illegal police custody.
The video went viral on social media and the mainstream media after which Punjab Inspector General of Police (IGP) Arif Nawaz Khan took notice of the incident and removed the investigation officer Zeeshan and ordered the arrest of five other officers.
According to the post-mortem report, there were torture marks on Masih’s hands and feet while bruises could also be seen on his back. The report further said that his ribs were also broken.
The trend of people dying in Punjab police custody continues unabated and it points towards lack of professionalism among police personnel while also exposing the loopholes within the police reforms process initiated by the current government led by Prime Minister (PM) Imran Khan.
According to Asia News report, the Christian man had become a father for the second time eight days before his death. Amir Masih worked as a gardener at the house of a Muslim landowner at PF Colony, Lahore. His wife Salma Bibi, a housewife, said that her husband was a “really kind and hardworking person. He earned Rs22,000 per month and was putting aside some money to send our children to school. The cruel police snatched his life away for no reason.”
On August 28, Masih was summoned by Shamali police station Deputy Inspector Zeeshan to defend himself against an accusation of theft. When he did not return home, his family members became alarmed and started searching for him.
They went to the police barracks, but the officers told them that Masih was not being held by them. On August 31, the family filed a complaint of his disappearance. On September 2, the deputy inspector called Munir Bhatti, the victim’s brother-in-law, to tell him to go to the police station and take back his family member who had been cleared of all charges. When they arrived at the station, relatives found Amir in a critical condition and transported him to the Services Hospital Lahore. He passed away a few hours later, the Asia News had reported.
The details of the Christian man’s illegal custody were revealed by Lahore Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) Investigations Inam Waheed during a parliamentary meeting held in Islamabad.
According to the DIG, an influential man lodged a burglary complaint with the police over the phone, alleging that Amir Masih had broken into his house. Following the complaint, the police called Masih to the respective police station and started torturing him without first fulfilling legal formalities by registering a First Investigation Report (FIR) against him.
“The victim jumped from a window in panic and was badly injured during the fall. No medical treatment was offered to him by the police after the incident,” the DIG said.
He further said that, unfortunately, the station house officer (SHO) and deputy superintendent of police (DSP) were also present in the police station but they failed to notice the incident.
The DIG investigation did not provide a satisfactory answer when a legislator, namely Ayesha Raza, asked him as to how many cases of police torture in Punjab went unreported since the media only reported such incidents when someone died in illegal custody.
The DIG admitted that police officials misused their power but such personnel were not spared by the department and were also blacklisted from getting promotions.
Shafique Khokhar, a human rights activist and journalist in Lahore who mostly writes on minority issues, was reached for comments in connection with this case. When he was asked whether people from minority groups faced faith-based discrimination in police stations during investigation, he gave an affirmative answer.
He said that the curriculum taught in our schools, colleges and universities promoted hatred among Muslims students against minorities, while adding that these students later joined different professional fields where they discriminated against people from minority groups.
He further said that various cases have already been reported where religious minorities faced hatred and discrimination at the hands of the police. He also said that police are not following their oath of safeguarding human rights and that is why people belonging to minority groups were vulnerable targets for police personnel.
“The reputation of Punjab police is the worst due to various administrative flaws. Only proper training and sensitisation of police based on social, ethical and human rights perspective could change the policing culture,” Khokhar concluded.
Some experts on police believe that class system in police department is also affecting the professionalism of the force as there is a huge communication gap between the rankers and elite officers. The rankers have more experience in performing normal police duties, like dealing with the public, due to their service structure.
On the other hand, the elite police officers who join the police by clearing CSS examinations are less aware of the system and they never value the suggestions given by rankers.
Meanwhile, Akhtar Hassan Khan Gorchani, a former police official, diplomat and intelligence officer, said he was assigned to the Police Service of Pakistan and he served in various capacities in the provinces of the Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Sindh as assistant superintendent of police (ASP) in Tank, Layyah, Jhang and Wazirabad.
In exclusive interview with Naya Daur, he said that the biggest issue with the police department was not only torture but also corruption, unethical practices, lack of discipline and misuse of power, which was hurting the image of the police.
He further said that the police department always takes cosmetic measures while focusing on training of officers hailing from elite cadre, while on the other hand, around 90 per cent of people in police custody had to deal with rankers.
“Raids, torture and lodging of FIRs are tasks performed by the lower staff of the police which is the backbone of this force, but we never focus on enhancing their skills by conducting proper trainings and educational workshops. Providing trainings to elite officers are cosmetic measures which have no fruitful results because the image of police is mostly developed by inspectors, constables and ASIs,” Gorchani added.
When asked what measures could be taken during recruitment process to reform the police, he said that a thorough scrutiny mechanism should be adopted for the recruitment process. He further said that there are thousands of young graduates and postgraduates in the country who are mostly jobless. He said it would be better to recruit them on an emergency basis to improve the image of the police, while adding that those rankers or officers who had a bad reputation should be forced to retire from service.
Replying to a query in connection with flaws found in the structure of the police system, he responded by saying that in the developed world police service starts at the constable level and personnel are promoted on the basis of their performance. But here in Pakistan, an inspector, constable and ASI, lacking the proper education and skills, are directly recruited in the force on the whims and wishes of influential people.
Responding to another query on torture culture among the police, he said that the government should form strict laws and ensure punishment for those police officials who are found involved in incidents of illegal torture during custody.
It is important to mention here that Akhtar Gorchani endorsed the claim of most people who faced discriminatory behaviour at the hands of the police due to their religious background. He said that when the whole society is radicalised on religious lines, one cannot expect the police to be an ideal force that is free from radicalisation.
He said that minorities faced discrimination in police stations based on their religious background. He concluded by saying that this problem exists because somehow the majority always believes that they are more valuable to society than the minorities, which is not true.
The author is a reporter based in Islamabad.