The Punjab Police has broken all previous records of brutality this year as more than 430 suspects have been killed in police encounters. Fake encounters are not a new phenomenon in this province where the powerful police are governed by their own law and accountability does not extend to the criminals that are killed extra-judicially. For some of the hardened criminals, who are unlucky to face the police in these ‘encounters’ the police remains the judge, jury and justice. The pace and style of executions reflects that the law-enforcement agency has been carrying out the orders of the political leadership, that would take any measures to retain law and order in their territory.

Just because the men dying are assumed to be criminals does not make these actions right. They are Pakistani citizens and have the right to justice and due process. The Police should be legally prosecuted for extra-judicial killing. These are not just a handful of chance encounters.

The numbers of men killed are too high for the matter to be dismissed. While the police shoots-on-sight, the government seems to have tuned a deaf ear to the problem. It is its responsibility to strengthen the justice system so the criminals can be tried in the courts instead of them dying before being able to defend themselves. Of course, this is not in the interest of the police. If given a voice, the accused would expose the large scale use of torture and violence of the police, requiring a overhaul of the rusting system.

A senior police official has maintained that the campaign of police encounters was intensified as part of the National Action Plan (NAP) to purge the society from hardened criminals and hardcore militants. Is this the Punjab equivalent of the Karachi operation carried out by the Rangers? If so why is it happening in such a covert and extra-judicial manner? The NAP has become an easy excuse of law enforcement to justify its illegal actions.

Insiders have stated that the militants are handed over to the law-enforcement agency for ‘necessary action’ after being investigated thoroughly by intelligence operatives. These kinds of encounters go against every human right, where people are gunned out without having any chance of retribution. If Pakistan has officially allowed capital punishment and execution of criminals, it is only through the proper channel of courts and hearings and pleas. Police brutality is not one of these channels.