The Deeply Embedded Violent Behaviours And Practices In Pakistan
The dictionary would tell you that torture is ‘the action or practice of inflicting severe pain on someone as a punishment or in order to force them to do or say something.’
What the dictionary chooses not to concern itself with is the grotesque history of disregard for basic human morality that has made so many people enact physical and mental pain on other humans for their own gain. And yes, torture is always for one’s own gain. Torture has been used throughout history not just as a means to an end, but as a tool in and of itself, designed to belittle victims and make them appear servile and inferior to the one wielding the knife.
It was used in Ancient Greece to force confessions out of slaves, stemming from the belief that their words had no moral value, so confessions obtained as such were used as primary evidence in courts. Its use intensified during medieval witch hunts and the Spanish Inquisition, and continued into Nazi concentration camps and Soviet Gulags.
We know now that there is practically no country in Europe, the Americas or Asia that, in the period during and after World War II, did not have camps in which ‘those who were different’ were imprisoned and tortured.
On June 26, 1987, 33 years to this very date, the UN outlawed torture, denouncing it as a crime against humanity. However, torture remains a dark, almost unspoken part of our ‘modern, civilised’ society and there is no place where this is more stark than in my home of Pakistan.
In 2010, Pakistan signed the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, yet there is still precious little legislature that specifies that torture is illegal. Pakistan does not have any specific law relating to torture, though Article 14 (2) of the Constitution expressly prohibits the use of torture for extracting evidence. However, the ability of victims in the custody of law enforcement to exercise this right has been minimal as victims are forced to give concrete proof that can easily be denied by opposing police witnesses.
As of now, there are no independent investigating agencies who are able to inquire on claims against torture. It is also nearly impossible for a civilian to claim compensation as law-enforcement officers have a higher degree of authority in our country and, under existing circumstances, the terms of the compensation are decided by the perpetrator.
In 2017, Pakistan reported to the UN that torture had been ‘virtually eliminated’ and that there was no precedent for it in the nation despite the fact that 1,424 cases of torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by the police were documented. No official inquiry was launched by any government body into any of these cases. The report does not take into account many other sources of torture, including the writings of the former Pakistani leader General Musharraf who claimed to have handed over 369 prisoners to the US without due process, or that every single year, hundreds of fake confessions are forced out from innocent people through torture by law enforcement, causing innocent people to be sent to death row, ruing their lives forever. The culture of torture is so deep set in Pakistani law enforcement that the NAB denied access into its detention centres to the Chairman of the National Commission of Human Rights.
There is no crime however, that is more heinous than the taking of another human life, yet the Pakistani legal system executes people for archaic charges. In Pakistan, you can be executed for drug smuggling, arms trafficking, ‘military cowardice’, hijacking, sabotage of the railway system, stripping a woman’s clothes, espionage, adultery, homosexuality and blasphemy.
The death penalty has had a dark history in Pakistan, but when the law executes people for their sexual orientation or anti-religious beliefs, it is no longer a law but an act of tyranny. Life is sacred. The enlightenment thinkers whose great works shaped our ideas of morality and ethics tell us that torture and murder are purely evil acts and they must be treated as such.
Which is why I bring your attention to the few people who are fighting to change these archaic systems. PPP leader Sherry Rehman has a bill on the floor right now which seeks to finally criminalise custodial torture in Pakistan. It remains in limbo, but the people must pressure our politicians into passing it. We also have to do our best to support institutions that are working to end capital punishment in Pakistan, such as Justice Project Pakistan, an NGO working to get people off death row who have been imprisoned for years despite legal reasons for commutation of their sentences, such as mental illness or being underage.
Our current system is nothing short of broken. The government turns a blind eye as thousands of innocent people are tortured in detention centres and two different people with the same charges are given wildly disproportionate sentences. It must be fixed and amended in line with the international humanitarian standards. If we truly wish to follow the rules of Islam, let us remember the words of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH): ‘Verily, Allah will torture those who torture people in this world.’