Pakistan’s parliament on July 12 passed a bill criminalising torture and preventing custodial killings by police or other government officials.
The Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention and Punishment) Bill, 2021 was adopted by the Senate, the upper house of bicameral parliament. It was moved by Pakistan Peoples Party Senator Sherry Rehman and Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari supported it.
It states that any public servant involved in torture would face up to 10 years imprisonment and a fine of up to Rs. 2 million. If a public servant, whose duty it is to prevent torture, either intentionally or negligently fails to prevent it, he/she will face up to five years imprisonment and a fine of up to Rs. 1 million, it adds.
“Whoever commits, abets or conspires to commit the offence of custodial death or custodial sexual violence, shall be punished with imprisonment for life and with fine, which may extend to Rs. 3 million,” it states.
In addition, if a public servant, whose duty it is to prevent custodial death and custodial sexual violence either intentionally or negligently fails to do so, he/she will be punished with at least seven years imprisonment and a fine of up to Rs. 1 million.
The fine will be paid to the victim or their legal heirs, according to the bill. If the fine is not paid, the public servant involved would face additional imprisonment of up to three years and five years, respectively, the Bill states.
The Bill also states that no one may be taken into custody to “extract information regarding the whereabouts of a person accused of any offence or to extract evidence”, adding that women may only be taken into custody by a female official.
A statement extracted through torture would be inadmissible in court, it notes.
“Every offence punishable under this Act shall be non-compoundable and non-bailable,” it says.
According to the statement of objects and reason of the Bill “Custodial torture and deaths” was a worldwide phenomenon inflicted upon individuals irrespective of gender, religion, financial status, or health conditions.”
“This type of violation of human rights was alarming in Pakistan where brutal atrocities were perpetrated by police and other law enforcement agencies. Pakistan needed to make torture and custodial deaths criminal as an important step in stemming widespread abuse and exploitation.”
Officials said, though there were provisions in the Pakistan Penal Code stipulating penalties for certain acts of torture, they were either vague or not comprehensive enough to be used for criminalising torture, or custodial deaths.
Senator Rehman after approval of the Bill said Pakistan was “finally on [the] way to criminalising torture”.