LAHORE - A 35-year-old Christian man, accused of selling alcohol to the Muslim population in Lahore, died under mysterious circumstances in the Green Town police custody, last week.

His family alleged that Shahzad Masih alias Mithu was tortured to death during interrogation. The police, however, claimed that Mithu - a member of the Christian community who was taken into custody on Friday for purportedly selling alcohol - died of a heart attack.

Following his death in the lockup, Shahzad's relatives along with other members of the community staged a strong protest demonstration in front of the police station and engaged in stone pelting.

Angry protesters also blocked the main road by burning tyres, disrupting traffic flow for hours in the busy locality. The incident came to the notice of senior police officials when the local media flashed the story as breaking news. Taking notice, DIG Operations Dr Haider ordered that an FIR be lodged against the investigation officer and three constables from the Green Town station.

Ashraf said that the body was sent for post-mortem and facts would be ascertained after the autopsy report gets released by the medical board. The DIG also ordered a thorough inquiry into the matter.

According to the relatives of the deceased, ASI Rauf Ahmad had demanded money from them for his (Shahzad's) release. When they refused to do so, Rauf and other policemen tortured him to death.

The ASI and three other constables have been suspended from service on the basis of a complaint by Shahzad's family. Although the apparent cause of death in this particular case, according to some police officers, is cardiac arrest yet there is a need to check the use of coercive methods adopted by police officials during interrogation. Deaths in police custody are common in this crime-prone society, where police apply coercive methods during interrogation. More than two dozen people die in police custody every year in Punjab.

When asked why accused persons suffer cardiac arrest in the police lock-ups, a Lahore police spokesperson suggested that those suffering from heart diseases should not indulge in criminal activities.

“When the police carry out a raid to arrest an accused, they had no prior knowledge about the health conditions of the accused person,” he added.

A couple of weeks ago, a 50-year-old jobless man died in Muslim Town police custody, hours after being held by the cops from his Gulshan-i-Ravi residence. Muhammad Ashraf, father of three, suffered cardiac attack and was taken to a hospital reportedly after some delay, where he was pronounced as brought dead.

As a matter of fact, most of the deaths occur due to torture and use of coercive methods by police officials during interrogation of the accused person in the police station for extracting money rather than information. Several instructions have been issued at frequent intervals to the police personnel on how to deal with suspected offenders in police station during interrogation. In spite of these instructions in some cases, due to negligence of the part of the police officials, deaths in custody occur. Police sources and crime experts say that some guidelines must be followed in all cases of arrest and detention. According to them, police personnel must bear clear name tags and must record interrogation of the arrestee in a register.

Police officers must prepare of memo of the arrest at the time of arrest and the same should be attested by at least one witness.

Similarly, the person arrested or detained should be entitled to have someone with him. The government should also take effective measures to stop such killings by introducing reforms in the corruption-riddled policing.