Senate passes bill to prevent torture, custodial deaths

PPP Senator Sherry Rehman speaks in the upper house of parliament.

ISLAMABAD: The Upper House of Parliament unanimously passed The Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention and Punishment) Bill, 2021, putting Pakistan on the course to criminalising torture.

The development, presented by Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Senator Sherry Rehman, came less than a month after the opposition expressed alarm over its key human rights bills disappearing in a black hole.

The bill states that any public servant involved in torture would face up to 10 years imprisonment and a fine of up to Rs2 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 Rs1m”, 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 Rs3m,” it further states.

The bill also lays out the procedure for filing a complaint in case of custodial torture. The court, which receives a complaint, would record the person’s statement and direct that a medical and psychological examination be conducted, the result of which would have to be presented to the court within 24 hours.

If evidence is found that torture may have occurred, the court concerned will then refer the matter to a sessions court for further action. The sessions court will direct for an investigation to be conducted and the report submitted within 15 days. The sessions court will hear the complaint on a daily basis and announce a verdict within 60 days, the bill states.

Reacting to the bill’s approval, Senator Rehman said, “Jubilant that Senate unanimously passed my Prevention of Torture and Custodial Death Bill just now.” Rehman thanked all senators, specifically her colleague Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar and Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari, for the work they put into this bill.

Close to an hour after the passage of the bill, rights organisation Amnesty International also welcomed the passage of the bill. It called it an “overdue and encouraging step towards the longstanding campaign to criminalise torture”.

“We urge the National Assembly to prioritise its passage into law, followed by robust implementation in line with the requirements of the UN Convention Against Torture,” urged the watchdog.