Pakistan Desk, Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong
In 2007 a young cook from Larkan distict, Sindh province was arbitrarily arrested, kept in custody for three days and brutally beaten. During one of these beatings the Station House Officer, while drunk, cut off the man’s penis. The man was about to be married and with his arrest and castration his marriage was lost and his future was devastated.
It would seem inevitable that an act of such random, extreme brutality by a policeman would be severely punished, and would set in motion a close examination of the region’s policing system. But the case was not resolved in court and the officer still has his job. Though the crime and lack of punishment might seem outrageous, the events linking the two were run of the mill. Sadly, this was just another day for law enforcement in Pakistan, even though it was an unforgettable and utterly destructive one for the victim, Hazoor Buksh Malik.
The story of Hazoor Buksh Malik
On 22 January 2007, police of the Market Police Station in Larkana city, Sindh province, arrested 24-year-old Hazoor Buksh Malik for not carrying his identity card while he was out shopping for his wedding, which was scheduled for four weeks hence. The police held Malik for three nights without charge during which time the duty officers frequently and seriously beat him. On January 25 the Station House Officer (SHO), Mohammad Tunio, turned up drunk and began to interrogate the young man.
Tunio and Malik had a history. Three years earlier, Malik had worked for the SHO as a cook. Tunio claimed that the cook had stolen 25,000 Rupees (USD 417) from his house and brought him to be tortured at the Market Police Station, including by by stringing him up with his arms behind his back and severely beating him. The police later let Malik go, having not come up with anything, but the SHO had ordered him to leave Larkana city immediately and never return. If he came back, the SHO said, he would be severely punished. Information from the victim’s friends suggests that the SHO may have also had a personal but unwarranted grudge against the young man relating to suspicions about him and his wife.
Seeing that Malik was back in his custody, Tunio ordered the three on-duty police officers to fasten him with ropes and chains. He then began to beat the young man, getting increasingly angry as he did so and asking him about his reappearance in Larkana city despite the officer’s earlier threat, and about the case three years ago. At the height of his anger Tunio took a sharp instrument and, while Malik’s hands were bound, cut off his penis. It was around 2:30am and Malik lost consciousness.
Reports stated that new duty officers found Malik lying unconscious in a pool of blood inside the lock-up early in the morning of January 26. He appeared to be dead. They took him to the Chandka Medical College and Hospital in Larkana district, where he was found to be still alive. Malik underwent intensive treatment for a week—much of it tied to his bed and under police custody—and over a further three weeks of regular hospital visits.
On January 27, after protests and strong reaction against the severance of the young man’s penis, the chief secretary and home secretary told the district police officer of Larkana to lodge a complaint (First Information Report, or FIR) against the perpetrators and to suspend them immediately. This was not done. Instead the police registered an FIR of attempted suicide against Hazoor Buksh Malik, claiming that Malik was mentally ill and tried to kill himself. Only days later, under orders from the court, a second FIR was lodged against the real perpetrators.
News of the incident spread quickly, leading local people and journalists to go on strike and hold a protest against Malik’s mutilation. The Home Department of the Sindh provincial government appointed Akhtar Hussain Gorchani, the Deputy Inspector General (DIG) of Larkana Range, to conduct an inquiry. He completed his inquiry within the day; it confirmed the police’s version of the story that Malik, a deranged individual, cut off his own penis in a suicide attempt. The protestors, which by now included opposition political party members, refused to accept the inquiry’s findings and the Home Department rejected the DIG’s report. It then appointed Mushtaq Mahar, the Senior Superintendent of Police, to re-conduct the inquiry. On January 28 he recorded the statements of several police officers involved, including Tunio, who was then suspended. But local newspapers reported that Tunio regularly visited the police station and continued to act with the authority of an SHO.
Individuals from the community, including Malik’s past employers, started to come forward to refute that he was either untrustworthy or mentally unstable. The victim told the inquiry that the SHO cut off his penis with the help of the officers on duty. Tunio claimed again that the man did it to himself with a broken teacup.
After the incident Malik lost his fiancée and any future marriage prospects, and due to medical problems combined with depression, felt unable to work. Various high-ranking officials meantime sent word that should he not change his statement to one of attempted suicide with a broken teacup, his family would be punished. However the community rallied around him. Civilians organized street protests, journalists were sympathetic to his case, non-governmental workers helped him with medical and legal matters, and doctors treated him for free. The doctors involved also confided that Malik could not have inflicted the injury on himself and admitted to receiving pressure from police to support their version of the case.
But the SHO also had strong allies. After the Asian Human Rights Commission took Malik’s case to the international community, the then-federal minister of narcotics, Ghouse Bux Mahar (elected in the constituency with the help of the accused SHO), reportedly tried to settle the case outside of court. Mahar allegedly called a meeting with the accused police officers and Malik and his family at his own home on 12 March 2007. He then pressured the victim and his family to settle the case in return for a cash settlement; they refused.
The chief justice of the Supreme Court took up the case in a suo moto action on March 13, instructing the Inspector General of Police (IGP) of Sindh province to submit his report in two days. The IGP failed to do so, and was merely told to submit it in the next hearing. Unfortunately the case was then delayed due to the boycott of the courts during the lawyers’ movement for judicial independence against the then-military dictatorship’s arbitrary suspension of the Chief Justice of Pakistan.
On 20 March 2007 the federal minister allegedly sent a group of about seven men, including the accused officers, his personal assistant, Nadir Ali Shah, and the chief (Nazim) of Garhi Yasin town council, to the victim’s house. Malik was still bed-bound in his room. After entering the victim’s quarters and locking the doors from the inside, the group threatened and verbally abused the young man. His friends and family, outside the room, were unable to enter and help him. According to Malik, the accused police officers told him that the other male members of his family would have their penises severed too if he didn’t cooperate. They put a stack of rupee notes on his pillow, which he rejected. They forcefully took his thumbprint on blank paper and left.
At this stage the medical board confirmed that the injury could not have been caused by the victim himself but only by another person. The report came out despite police pressure on the board to decide in their favour. The medical board was consulted three times, the third time with the principal of Chandka Medical College and Hospital heading it, and each time they replied in favour of Malik’s version of the story.
Malik continued to receive threats and bribes, which he resisted for about half a year. However according to his lawyer, the federal minister asked Malik’s employer, landlord Thebo Khan Mirani, to get involved in July. Mirani told Malik to take the blood money, and got it raised from 600,000 to 800,000 Rupees (about USD 12,000). Malik then withdrew the charges. The record of the incident was reportedly altered to read that Malik was sitting outside the police station when unknown assailants started to beat him with their fists and pieces of broken glass, during which time his penis was cut off. It states that he has no grudge against the police officers of the Market Police Station, who were not at all involved. Tunio returned to his post at Larkana within a month of the new statement, as did the other officers who allegedly helped him. It has been reported that for some time after the incident the severed sexual organ was on display in the police station.
In Pakistan a large proportion of the population does not have an identity card. During the last election, provisions were made for people to vote without them. Not carrying one is not sufficient ground for detention; however, in this case not only was the young man locked up but he was also routinely assaulted even before the vengeful and deranged police officer turned up. Here we see an institutional acceptance of torture among the police, and the free rein of personal power. In Pakistan a minor accusation of wrongdoing can put a person in custody and have them subjected to severe beatings in order to extract a confession, whether there is supporting evidence or not. The practice is as rife as it is illegal. The police also impose mafia-style personal orders on their victims, such as the original instruction of the SHO to Malik never to show his face in the town centre again.
At every point in his arrest and detention, Malik’s rights were denied. He was held for over 48 hours without charge, which is against the law; no one stepped in to stop or even mitigate his torture. No one challenged the SHO over his coming to work drunk, whether it was because he was drinking on duty or because he was off duty and heard that Malik was at the station so he decided to pay him a visit. Nor did anyone report the attacks on his person, even to the point of cutting off his penis, to higher authorities. Whether this failure was due to a perverse kind of solidarity, a criminal nexus among police officers, or due to individual police officers believing that their complaints wouldn’t be heard and that they’d only get themselves in trouble, it suggests a systemic breakdown in the management of this police station, if not the force as a whole.
Not only was the torture allowed to take place but the victim was left to die afterwards. In hospital he was bound to his bed and placed in custody illegally: he had not been charged with anything. Then a charge was fabricated—a charge over an alleged act that was later proven to be physically impossible—and put before the justice system in the expectation that it be taken seriously. The issue of torture was swept aside, and steps were quickly taken to protect the key perpetrator and his colleagues. At this point we see to what extent those in authority in Pakistan are accustomed to using the law as a personal tool, and the extent to which the entire system was prepared to go along with it, a Deputy Inspector General concluding within a day that the police were innocent of anything. And finally when the SHO was suspended, no one cared enough to see that the order to suspend him was actually enforced. Even the former military dictator, General Pervez Musharraf, commented on a visit to Rawalpind (Punjab province) that in general police suspension is not an adequate punishment because it is too easily flouted. This clear lack of control over Pakistan’s police is one reason that the force has degenerated from a law-enforcement body into an organized crime gang.
Once things reached the stage of making serious efforts to coerce and threaten the victim to drop the case, the close ties between the police and local politicians and businesspeople emerged. Why would a federal minister be interested in keeping certain policemen from the court? As one of the main landlords in the area he relies, like most landlords in Pakistan, on police assistance to enforce his authority and act as a kind of private security force for his holdings and people. SHO Tunio had reportedly worked for Mahar during an election in 2002, providing police officers to intimidate opposition candidates, and helping him to secure an election victory. The nexus between the two is so tight that even in a highly publicized case like this the politician was prepared to go to some lengths to protect those who at other times protect him and his.
Considering his prospects and the pressures against him, Malik held out for a long time; many in Pakistan are quick to fold in similar cases of custodial torture, which is why the cases rarely reach the courts, and why custodial torture prevails.
In Pakistan it has become impossible to tell the difference between the police fraternity and crime lords—the only difference being that the latter tend not to work with the open support of parliament. Rather than uphold the law, those in power are using their positions and their wealth to skate over it, and to do as they wish. The free rein given to the greed and self-interest of these people has hit the country where it is most vulnerable. It is preventing any chance of civil, economic growth; it is the most damaging trade-off the country has ever seen, and for Hazoor Buksh Malik, the most damaging one of his life.