Pakistan: Human rights groups condemn custodial torture

Human rights activists have expressed their grave concerns over custodial torture inflicted on the accused for confession, and have urged authorities to regard principles of criminal justice to ensure a fair trial, and effectively implement Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention and Punishment) Bill, 2022. 

They referred to the case of Imran Rehman s/o Rehman Patras, a 32 years old father of two girls, who was allegedly accused of posting blasphemous material in a WhatsApp group and was arrested by the Federal Investigation Agency. An FIR # 04/2022 dated 14 September 2022 was lodged against Imran, and he was booked against charges under section 11 of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016, sections 6, 7, 8, 9 of the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997, and sections 295-A, 295 B, 298, 109/34 of the Pakistan Penal Code. He has been in jail for over two months now, and the authorities have severely tortured him and forced to make him to confess to an offense, he has not committed. 

Joseph Jansen, the chairperson of Voice for Justice said that the existing blasphemy laws do not guarantee a fair trial and religious freedom, and the accuser enjoys impunity despite presenting false evidence and false testimony. However, neither any law was amended, nor was any measure introduced to prevent misuse of blasphemy laws except procedural changes, which failed to stop abuses under these laws. He noted that Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are incompatible with international human rights standards. The accuser who levels blasphemy allegations against any person is bound to prove malicious intent, but this stipulation is missing in legislation and is not taken into account during blasphemy trials. It is sad that the mob violence on the pretext of blasphemy accusation is justified, and the weakness of the judicial system is blamed for extrajudicial violence, though the nature of the legislation leaves it open to misuse, and encourages mob violence against blasphemy accused. 

Abdul Hameed Rana Advocate said that Imran Rehman used to work at Lahore Metro Ticket Office. He is innocent and is falsely accused of committing blasphemy. He is under severe mental pressure as he is imprisoned in a room in jail where four out of six prisoners suffer from mental retardation. He added that the case against Imran Rehman is a blatant violation of FIA laws as no case can be registered against any person without issuing any notice in a proper manner and without involving the accused in the investigation allowing him to provide a defense against the accusation. The inquiry seems to be ex-parte and unfair and leaves an impression that Imran is victimized for belonging to a religious minority community. 

A human rights activist, Ashiknaz Khokhar said that the digital media and social platforms in Pakistan have become a source to make false accusations of blasphemy and target religious minorities. The blasphemy laws and the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act of 2016 are misused to curb freedom of expression, thought, conscience and religion, as evident in cases involving Imran Rehman, Shagufta Kiran, and Zafar Bhatti. The innocent blasphemy accused are made to face imprisonment for years. For instance, Zafar Bhatti is the longest-serving convicted blasphemy prisoner who was accused of sending blasphemous text messages. He has been behind bars since July 2012, and he was sentenced to death in January 2022. Another example is Shagufta Kiran who has been in jail since July 2021 on the accusation of disseminating blasphemous content in a WhatsApp group. These accusations have completely ruined the lives of the family members of the accused who have to face relocation, and financial constraints and are forced to lead unhappy lives under constant fear.