Hundreds 'killed' by Pakistan police every year

Last year alone, over 2,000 people were killed by police, many of them in illegal encounters where the attempted escape of victims was staged, a HRW report states.

Photo by: AP
Photo by: AP

Pakistani police officers beat and arrest a lawyer after a clash between lawyers and police in Lahore, Pakistan on Oct. 1, 2010.

Bilal Khan was alive on April 19, 2014, when his father saw him handcuffed and lying on a floor of a police station in Lahore, Pakistan. A few hours later, he was killed in what police said was an attempted escape.

Naeem Ahmed was accused of rape. He was arrested, and sent to jail in December 2013. Two months later, police informed his mother that he had been killed while trying to flee. 

A little after midnight on April 13, 2009, Muhammad Sarwar was taken into custody, along with his son, for being involved in alleged criminal cases. They remained with police for the next two weeks before being shot dead as they tried to run away.

These are just a few of many cases highlighted in a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report that was released on Monday that alleges police in Pakistan might be involved in hundreds of extrajudicial killings.

Around 2,108 people were reported to have been killed by police in 2015 alone. Many, "if not all" of them, were victims of faked encounters in which police take the accused to deserted streets and shoot them in the back.

Police accounts these encounters often allege an exchange of fire from both sides, but the HRW report reveals that these claims appear to be hollow.

"In the vast majority of these cases, no police officer was injured or killed, raising questions as to whether there was in fact an armed exchange," the report says.

Police officers told HRW that such encounters are used against hardened criminals who otherwise would slip through a weak judicial system. 

“Recently, there was a case in which a suspect known to be a pedophile and a rapist was killed in an encounter. The official version was that he was shot while trying to escape from custody. However, I am quite sure that the police killed him deliberately. The man was so widely despised,” a senior officer said.

It is also common for police officers to boast of such encounters.

Senior Superintendent of Police Rao Anwar even regrets not being able to kill more criminals because of the many suspensions he received during his career.

Pakistani police officers beat a protester in Quetta, Pakistan on Jan. 26, 2009, during a protest following the murder of a religious leader. Source: AP

HRW's findings - which are based on 50 interviews with victims, their family members and witnesses - say people are often killed in police custody because they fail to pay bribes.

Police gets away with such killings because there is no departmental inquiry into such cases. 

Law enforces also work hand in glove with influential criminals. The murder of Parween Rehman, a prominent Pakistani social activist, is a case in point.

Rehman was shot dead on March 13, 2013. For years, she lobbied against illegal occupation of land by powerful real estate developers on the outskirts of Karachi, where many of the poor inhabitants live.

Just a day after her murder, police claimed they have killed the perpetrator – a Taliban hitman.

But that didn’t make sense for Rehman’s family which succeeded in drawing attention of the Pakistan’s Supreme Court to the issue.

A subsequent judicial inquiry found that police’s version of events was indeed false.

"During the proceedings of the judicial inquiry, the investigating officer of the case told us that we should 'stop pursuing the case and make a deal,'" HRW wrote while quoting Aquila Ismail, Rehman's sister.

Nadeem Butt, a notorious local drug seller, is publically beaten by police in Lahore Saturday, Jan. 10, 1998. Source: AP

Pakistan's bloody war with separatist groups raging on in Balochistan province further complicates the situation.

Law enforcers have been given sweeping powers including the right to detain suspects for long periods under Protection of Pakistan Act, which was introduced in 2014.

People also face difficulties in registering complaints with police, known as First Information Reports (FIRs).

The situation is particularly distressing for women who have been raped.

For instance in 2014, only 106 FIRS were registered while the records of three major state-run hospitals showed that 383 Medico-Legal Exams were conducted for sexual assault cases in the same period.