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Rights Watchdog Urges Pakistan To Criminalize Torture

Pakistani journalists protest against the arrest and torture of their colleagues by authorities in Quetta in June 2020.
Pakistani journalists protest against the arrest and torture of their colleagues by authorities in Quetta in June 2020.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on Pakistani lawmakers to speed up the adoption of a bill that criminalizes the use of torture, a practice that the rights group said was widespread in the South Asian country.

Although Pakistan's constitution prohibits the use of torture "for extracting evidence" and the country is a party to international treaties that prohibit it, HRW said, the country still lacks legislation that criminalizes the practice.

After Pakistan's lower chamber of parliament, the National Assembly, approved the Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention and Punishment) Act -- on August 1, the bill was sent to a Senate committee.

The Senate can now vote on the legislation at the earliest during its next session later this month.

"Pakistan's Senate should urgently pass a bill that would make torture a criminal offense," the New York-based watchdog said in a statement on August 23.

HRW said that it has long documented the widespread use of torture and other forms of abuse by the Pakistani police during criminal investigations.

Pakistani investigators commonly resort to beatings with batons and leather straps, crushing legs with metal rods, sexual violence, and prolonged sleep deprivation, the group said.

They also provoke severe mental anguish in detainees, including by forcing them to watch other people being tortured, HRW noted, adding that suspects from marginalized groups are at particular risk of police abuse.

"The first step to ending Pakistan's endemic torture problem is to criminalize it," said HRW's John Sifton.

"Justice and accountability in cases of torture will only be possible if parliament passes the torture bill and the government enforces the law by carrying out transparent and impartial investigations into torture allegations."

HRW also said that there have been "numerous credible allegations" of torture and ill-treatment of political opponents or critics of the government.

Such allegations should be investigated by authorities "independently of the political interests of the governing authorities," HRW said.

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