Tuesday, July 27, 1999 Published at 13:06 GMT 14:06 UK
World: South Asia
Pakistan police 'execute hundreds'
Human rights activists allege the encounters are staged
By Richard Galpin in Lahore
Pakistan's police force has been fiercely criticised by senior lawyers and human rights activists for what they believe to be a deliberate policy of extra-judicial killings.
They say hundreds of alleged criminals in two of the country's main provinces, Punjab and Sindh, have been executed by policemen.
Punjab is the home province of Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif and his brother, Shahbaz Sharif, is the provincial Chief Minister.
Deaths in 'encounters'
The killings are reported in the local press as "police encounters" and generally take place late at night in deserted areas where there are unlikely to be any eye-witnesses.
In just one week in May, 20 suspected criminals were shot dead in these so-called "encounters", which human rights activists say are thinly-disguised extra-judicial killings.
In many cases the alleged criminals are already under police custody and the explanation given by the police for these bloody "shoot-outs" is frequently the same.
On the way, the police allege that the convoy is attacked by accomplices of the arrested men in an attempt to rescue them and in the resulting shoot-out, all the men in custody are "killed in cross-fire".
Human rights reports
However, Rana Jawad, a senior journalist in Lahore who has covered the Punjab police for many years, says the police are lying.
He says that 95% or even more of police encounters in recent times are absolutely fake.
"We call these encounters cold-blooded murder by the police," she says.
"The police committed numerous extra-judicial killings and tortured, abused and raped citizens," says the US State Department report.
The victims of "police encounters" vary from alleged car-thieves, burglars and gangsters to high-profile criminals accused of multiple murders or terrorist attacks.
All three men arrested in connection with the attempted assassination of the Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, in January were killed within days of being detained by the police.
A doctor who carries out post-mortem examinations of police encounter victims in Lahore confirmed to the BBC that the police in Punjab are effectively executing suspected criminals.
Likewise, senior Punjab police officials privately admit that at least 50% of police encounters are fake.
"This is obviously a policy and the policy cannot be made at a lower level," says top lawyer Hina Jilani.
The government vehemently denies this.
It says the encounters are not staged and that 240 policemen have been killed in shoot-outs with criminals since February 1997.
But the Punjab Law Minister, Raja Basharat, did tell the BBC that the police have been carrying out extra-judicial killings.
"I agree with you," he said, "but the number is so small that I think with the passage of time and with the emphasis of the government in discouraging it and the way the government is taking action against police officials, this number will diminish."
But lawyers and doctors in Punjab are not satisfied with such assurances and have set up their own committee to investigate the problem.
They hope to bring those responsible to justice.