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Trial by encounter: Arresting a criminal alive seems not an option for the police

Pakistan on 01 July 2013
Location : Pakistan | Source : Pakistan Today. Image Source: Flickr User The Knowles Gallery

Arresting a criminal alive seems not an option for the police which in the wake of the Punjab law minister’s statement are ‘reigning free’ across the province in a bid to ‘curb crime’.  

In the wake of the mounting criticism against the Punjab Police’s utter inability to control the deteriorating law and order in the province, Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah has presented a unique solution. According to him, the provincial government has given the police free reign in cracking down on criminals, to the extent of killing them on the spot in case of resistance.

Giving the police ‘free reign’ could have meant that the police take it upon itself to innovate new crime-control strategies, it has only translated into a simplified ‘solution’: shoot at sight.

Sanaullah has defended the police for incidents involving absconders who were gunned down in police encounters, saying, “If they were so innocent they should have appeared before the court for trial instead of absconding.” However, Pakistan Today has learnt that the recent spate of police encounters has widened its reach to include suspects, and even “suspicious” individuals in addition to known absconders, leading to the loss of many lives since the new government’s inception.

At 2am in the morning on June 25, Sub Inspector (SI) Usman and four other policemen had set up a checkpost in GOR-4 area. According to police sources, they were diligently performing their duties when four men on two motorcycles reached the spot, and refused to stop when asked to do so by the police. Not only that, they opened fire on the guardians of the law, in response to which the police fired back, killing one, while the rest fled taking advantage of the darkness. The police seized weapons and stolen valuables from the deceased’s possession.

Interestingly, a witness’s account, conveyed to Pakistan Today, paints a completely different picture: according to this source, three vehicles were parked at the checkpost, two of which belonged to the police and the third was a private car. According to the source, the police shot the man in the car without any provocation. While the police have successfully defended killing the ‘criminal’ owing to the ‘free reign’ so wisely granted by the provincial government, the divergent witness account poses a dilemma about the police’s honesty, especially in view of Sanaullah avowal on Tuesday that the government was hiring police officers strictly on merit.

Late at night on June 13, three unidentified men on a motorcycle with no registration number were passing by a police checkpost in Gulshan Ravi when they were asked to stop by the police. According to police reports, they did not stop and opened fire on the police, who retaliated. SI Mushtaq and Constable Javed were injured in the encounter. Police sources told Pakistan Today that instead of being taken to hospital for treatment, the injured police personnel were taken to a private clinic where they were not administered proper medical aid. Consequently, SI Mushtaq succumbed to his injuries. Meanwhile, police chased the suspects to ShiblyTown area, finally killing them in an armed encounter. The police seized three pistols, two daggers and a motorcycle without a number plate from them.

Several similar incidents have been reported in June alone: on June 1 in Multan near Kala Pul, three suspicious men who did not stop at a checkpost on the police’s orders were gunned down in retaliatory fire, while on June 14, in Saraye Asal near Panda Chowk, police were fired upon by robbers and killed one of them, while two fled. In both cases, the policemen miraculously escaped unscathed.

Further, at 5am on June 1 near Lahore’s Kahna Road, the police in an encounter killed Nawaz Masih, accused of injuring a taxi driver. Nawaz’s body was not taken to hospital for postmortem for several days, as the victim’s heirs claimed that he was being detained in jail, while he had actually been killed on the spot.

In Faisalabad, on June 1, a man accused of snatching a car and escaping was killed in a similar police encounter, while two of his accomplices escaped, and on June 7 a resident of the same city, Siraj Kohla, was tortured to death by the Shahdara Police, due to which cases have been registered against Faisal Virk and six other policemen.

Furthermore, on June 10, two young men, Adnan and Manzoor, died due to severe torture at the Sharakpur Police’s hands, leading to cases filed against the guilty sub inspector and 11 other personnel.

In light of the above incidents, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) Aslam Iqbal’s claims that the police were serving only to provide protection to the political elite hardly seems tenable: clearly the upholders of the law have been busy doing their job which seems to be torturing and shooting those who strike the policemen’s whim as ‘suspicious’.

In similar ‘summary trials’ conducted by the police, a man who had snatched money and a mobile phone from Mubashar was killed, while his accomplice fled. Upon being robbed near DHA Phase VIII, Mubashar called 15. Acting on his call, Nadirabad Police’s SI Muhammad Safdar tried to stop a motorcycle with no license plate. According to the police, the men on the motorcycle fired at the police’s patrol car, and one man, between 30 to 35 years of age, was killed in the encounter and a pistol was recovered from his possession.

Despite the provincial assembly opposition’s objections, a Rs 70 billion grant for the police has been approved. The opposition has raised concerns over innocent lives lost in arbitrary police encounters, pointing towards human right violations as these individuals are not being awarded a fair trial.

Yesterday alone, three accused were killed in separate police encounters in Lahore. According to details, police chased dacoits in H-block area of DHA early in the morning. The suspects started firing at the police, and in retaliation, the police killed one robber while three of his companions fled.

Further, in Gujarpura China Scheme, fire was exchanged between the police and robbers, leading to the death of two of them.

In a case hearing, Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry had said the police had embraced the role of a ‘pharaoh’ in Pakistan. According to him, the police were not meticulous in conducting investigations and so incomplete and misleading evidence was presented to the court for deciding cases. As a result, many criminals were still at large, and the crime rate stood dismayingly high: despite the several ‘criminals’ killed in encounters and three tortured to death by the police in the past month.

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