Taking notice of increasing human rights abuses in a Punjab jail, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) has ordered the government and National Commission of Human Rights to form a complaint cell in the prison to stop the prevalent violations.
The court issued the orders during the hearing of a petition filed by the mother of a prisoner incarcerated in Rawalpindi’s Adiala Central Jail. The NCHR submitted an inquiry report in the court containing statements of prisoners “confirming” the custodial torture by jail authorities.
IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah, in his short order, stated that the inquiry report confirmed that the “phenomenon of custodial torture is an established culture within the four walls of the jail” and directed the federal government to take measures to put an end to such abuses.
“Prima facie, the Inspector General of Prisons, Punjab, and the Superintendent, Central Jail, Rawalpindi, are either involved in the human rights violations or have been negligent in the prevention of such violations,” the short order authored by Justice Minallah read.
“The commission and the federal government shall forthwith send a copy of the inquiry report to the government of Punjab…for taking immediate action against public servants responsible for human rights abuses or being negligent in the prevention of such abuses in the Central Jail, Rawalpindi,” it added.
The CJ asked the federal government to seek a report from the Punjab government regarding “criminal prosecution and disciplinary action against public servants responsible for human rights abuses”. It also sought a report explaining the impunity against custodial torture in the jail and directed the Punjab chief secretary to take measures to ensure no one was tortured at Adiala jail.
During the hearing, NCHR Chairperson Rabiya Javeri Agha informed the CJ that incarcerated children were faring worst in jail. She said the juvenile prisoners had nowhere to go even if they managed to post bail since the government failed to establish observation centres in line with the Juvenile Justice System Act 2018.
“These children have nowhere to go…if they go back to their homes in remote areas, they will eventually be declared absconders,” said the NCHR chairperson, while lamenting the lack of implementation of the juvenile justice act.
The CJ directed the government to make immediate arrangements for the under-trial minors.
“The federal government, in consultation with the government of Punjab, shall immediately take measures to accommodate the children identified in the inquiry report in an appropriate child protection center and ensure their welfare,” the order by CJ Minallah read.
According to NCHR lawyer Raja Haseeb, 25 out of 40 children were released on bail after the hearing following the submission of surety bonds.
“The commission has forwarded a summary to the law ministry for the said purpose as it requires money to post bails,” he said, adding a budget has also been sought for the establishment of the complaint cell at Adiala jail as per the court order.
The court order said: “The federal government shall complete the process for establishing and notifying human rights courts under section 21 of the Act of 2012 within 10 days from the date of receiving this order.”
Rights groups say widespread methods of police torture include beatings with batons and leather straps, stretching and crushing legs with metal rods, sexual violence, prolonged sleep deprivation, and causing severe mental anguish such as forcing detainees to watch other people being tortured.
On Aug. 1, the National Assembly passed the Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention and Punishment) Act, which will for the first time criminalise torture by security forces. However, it is still pending with the Senate Standing Committee on the Interior.
In 2020, a total of 65,467 cases were registered against the police and jail authorities for a variety of transgressions. These included 152 officers receiving penalties for deaths in custody, according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.