The wave of “accountability” is in full swing. Politicians, media persons and even professors are being probed. During this whole episode, some very bizarre scenes have surfaced which are mere optics and have nothing to do with the accountability process. The first such incident was the production of former vice-chancellor of Punjab University and other professors in handcuffs before an accountability court judge in October. This odd spectacle raised hue and cry in all segments of the society. The matter was taken up by Chief Justice of Pakistan, Saqib Nisar. DG NAB furnished a written apology. Same was accepted by the court, and the matter was swept under the rug.

The concerned officials, however, learned nothing from the episode and an unfortunate event occurred last week. Pictures surfaced, on the electronic and social media, of the handcuffed dead body of one Mian Javed Ahmed, former CEO of University of Sargodha’s Lahore Campus. Mr Ahmed complained of pain in his chest. He was shifted to a hospital where he died before any medical care could be provided. The footage showed his lifeless body lying on a stretcher with handcuffs and chains around it. On enquiry regarding handcuffs, jail officials argued that it was a matter of routine that prisoners were taken to hospitals in handcuffs. Chief Minister of Punjab took notice of the incident and inquired, among other things, why the handcuffs of Mr Ahmed were not removed?

Such indiscriminate and insensitive use of handcuffs is a blot on the collective conscience of the nation. The above-mentioned incidents did not include any hardened terrorists or criminals. The people involved were academics of high social standing, who were accused of illegal appointments and embezzlement that may or may not have been proved. However, their images of being paraded in handcuffs have tarnished their dignity and reputation for life. The high-handedness displayed by the NAB has no justification whatsoever. Article 14 of the Constitution of Pakistan guarantees the dignity of man as a fundamental right. The said Article and thereby the fundamental rights of the people involved have been violated in the most gruesome fashion.

Provisions regarding the use of handcuffs have been mentioned in The Police Rules 1934, and Pakistan Prison Rules 1978. A quick survey of these provisions reveals that they are outdated and need to be amended to bring them in accordance with the Constitution of Pakistan and modern international standards. The relevant rule of Pakistan Prison Rules 1978 is Rule 174. It states, “Male prisoners except for A Class prisoner and political detenues shall be handcuffed before removal from prison”. As apparent, the rule is outdated and nonsensical. It gives absolutely no discretion to the person in charge and paints everyone with one brush. There are no exceptions or caveats to the rule.

The Police Rules, 1934 are no different. Rule 26.22 mentions the conditions in which handcuffs are to be used. The rule is again a generic one and includes all people accused of a non-bailable offence, attracting sentence exceeding the term of three years. This essentially means that mere accusation and arrest in a non-bailable offence will have one paraded in handcuffs and his dignity violated.

Our legislature can learn from our next-door neighbour. Indian Punjab adopted the same Police Rules that Pakistan did. However, they realised that the said rules were a colonial legacy and essentially an instrument of control and terror. Therefore, the Indian Punjab government had them amended, bringing them in conformity with modern times and international standards. Rule 26.22 of the Indian Punjab Police Rules provides that a person is to be handcuffed only “if there is a material sufficiently stringent to satisfy a reasonable mind that there is a clear and present danger of escape”. The section also stipulates that no person shall be handcuffed if, by reason of age or another infirmity, he does not appear to be in health capable of offering effective resistance. Additionally, the section provides that the discretion to use handcuffs shall be exercised judiciously and where a person escorted is handcuffed, the escorting officer shall provide a set of reasons to the Presiding Officer of the Court.

Our legislature should also wake up from its slumber and perform the job for which it is being paid for. Outdated rules, regulations and manuals should be amended to make them humane and bring them in conformity with the standards of the civilised world. The use of handcuffs should be limited to hardened criminals and terrorists. The indiscriminate use of the practice must be put to an end. Use of handcuffs should be an exception rather than a norm. The higher judiciary can also play its part. While the judges of the superior courts have been very pro-active in guaranteeing and expanding the fundamental rights of the citizens, the same has not translated into the revision of rules, manuals and regulations relating to law enforcement. Lawyers should challenge such rules arguing that the said practice impinges on human dignity. The issue should be highlighted in media and civil society. The events like the death of Mian Javed Ahmed have the potential to create a ripple effect and bring some positive change in an otherwise dormant system.

 

The writer is a practicing lawyer

and has an LLM from The University

of Chicago.