Killed without conviction

September 3, 2023

Two deaths in what police are calling ‘encounters’ with criminals have raised alarm

Killed without  conviction


hurram Shahzad was 35. Police say on the night of May 27, he and an accomplice, Afzal, both absconding suspects in a recent robbery, were shot dead in an encounter on Chen One Road.

Shahzad’s brother Muhammad Shafiq, claims that his brother was unarmed and that the Dolphin Police personnel shot him dead in cold blood.

The day after the fatal shooting, relatives of both the deceased men congregated on Chen One Road, blocked traffic and chanted slogans against the police. The next day, they organised a similar demonstration at the District Council Chowk.

Later, the protestors lodged several applications with the CPO, the RPO, the IGP and the caretaker chief minister, demanding a transparent inquiry into the indent. There has been no progress on that front.

Shafiq says he also faced difficulties in getting his brother’s body for burial. “Initially, they did not hand over the body for quite some sometime. When they finally gave us the body, they told us we had to bury it within an hour.

“We were harassed. Many policemen came along. We were given the body at half past twelve. The funeral was over by 1am,” says Shafiq.

Shafiq says Shahzad, survived by his wife Hina and three children, had supported his family by selling papar [crackers]. Hina says the children have been expelled from school over her failure to pay their fees and the landlord has expelled them from the house they had lived in since the whole neighbourhood was scared by the large number of policemen who visited their place.

After protests by the heirs of Shahzad and Afzal, police issued a statement saying there were four FIRs against Shahzad and two against Afzal. However, record shows that the suspects in the theft and robbery FIRs were ‘unidentified.’

Lawyer Imtiaz Ahmed says the police have a mandate to arrest and produce the suspects before a court. They cannot declare somebody guilty.

This is by no means the first case in which Faisalabad police have been accused of extrajudicial killing.

On January 20, 2021, a youth named Waqas was killed and three of his friends were injured in what police described as an encounter on Samundari Road near Dijkot.

The family of the deceased said he was returning home with his friends after shopping in Faisalabad when he was shot. After they protested by blocking traffic in front of the Dijkot police station and later on Samundari Road, a case was registered against the policemen involved. They were charged with exceeding their authority.

In August 2018, two students riding a motorcycle were shot dead by some policemen from Millat Town police station for not stopping at a police picket. Their families said Usman and Arslan were matriculation students who had gone out for supper.

Recently, Khurarianwala police have registered an FIR against a CIA Police Assistant Sub-Inspector Ishaq for abducting a scrap dealer Mubasher Ali, keeping him in custody and torturing him to extort a ransom. The victim has alleged that he was threatened with death in an ‘encounter.’

“The killing of innocent citizens in the so-called encounters can only stop when police officials consider these a problem. Unfortunately, in the Police Department, the encounters are seen as a solution [to curb crime],” says Zia.

According to police record, there have 270 encounters between January 2018 and July 2023. 120 people were killed and 388 were injured or arrested in these incidents. Two police officers were also killed and ten injured. Judicial inquiries were ordered in 78 of these cases leading to 12 trials of policemen.

Shahzad Aliana, the public information officer for Faisalabad police, says 28 judicial inquiries have been decided in favour of the police. He says findings of three inquiries had been turned down by the Home Department. He says the Faisalabad CPO has sent a request to the IGP for a judicial inquiry into the Shahzad-Afzal case.

“This request will be sent to the Home Department which will forward it to the Lahore High Court chief justice,” he says.

It is sometimes claimed that ‘encounter’ killings can help curb crime. However the police record does not support the idea.

According to Faisalabad Police, 44,157 incidents of robbery and theft were reported between January 2018 and July 2023.

These figures show that while the number of police encounters increased by almost 400 percent over the last six and a half years, crime against property rose by 600 percent.

Farzana Siddique, a senior crime reporter, says the frequency of police encounters increases whenever there is pressure on the police to “do something about the crime rate.”

“Some people in police believe that such actions will scare criminals away or deter them. However, sometimes innocent people get killed in these encounters,” she says.

Tayyab Maqbool, a senior crime reporter, says that “Crime rate is rising due to population growth and poverty. However, resources available to the police have not increased at the same rate.”

According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, as many as 124 police encounters took place across the country in 2018. In 2022, the number was 3,022.

Farah Zia, the HRCP director, tells The News on Sunday that police encounters have long been touted as a tool to reduce crime but have been found to be an ineffective deterrent. “The killing of innocent citizens in the so-called encounters can only stop when police officials consider these a problem. Unfortunately, in the Police Department, the encounters are seen as a solution [to curb crime]” says Zia.

Advocate Asad Jamal, the author of Revising Police Laws on transparency and accountability system in the Police Department, says that there is no effective and credible accountability system in the Police Department.

“Police Order 2002 proposed the establishment of Public Safety Commissions and Police Complaints Authorities at various levels, but these institutions have not been established even after the passage of two decades.”

Jamal says that in societies where crime detection and conviction rates are low, extrajudicial killings [or police encounters] become the norm and are sometimes touted as ‘performance’ by the police.

He says that the heirs of those killed in police encounters are rarely able to take action against the police. Most of them are forced to withdraw their complaints and ‘reconcile.’

The writer has been associated with journalism for the past decade. He tweets @ naeemahmad876

Killed without conviction