(New York, June 18, 2014) – The Pakistan authorities should ensure that a judicial inquiry into police shootings of rock-throwing protesters in Lahore fully and impartially investigates possible unnecessary use of lethal force, Human Rights Watch said today.
On June 17, 2014, police fired without warning on supporters of the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) political party who had attempted to resist police demolition of security barriers erected by PAT in front of its headquarters in the Lahore residential area of Model Town. The media reported that at least eight PAT members are confirmed killed by gunshot wounds. Another media account citing medical staff at Lahore’s Jinnah Hospital reported that another 80 PAT members were injured, including 40 with bullet wounds. Hospital sources reportedly recorded 17 police personnel among the injured. Local media reports that Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has ordered a judicial inquiry into the incident.
“The Pakistani authorities need to explain why police officers found it necessary to fire live ammunition directly into a crowd of protesters throwing rocks,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “There are a lot of dead and wounded people in Lahore today, and no clear reason why.”
The PAT political party is headed by Tahirul Qadri, an opposition politician and Muslim cleric. PAT had erected the barricades outside its headquarters more than four years ago as a measure to improve local security. Press accounts said that PAT workers resisted the police action and pelted them with stones. The police responded by using teargas, baton charges, rubber bullets, and gunfire from assault rifles. The federal minister for planning and development, Ahsan Iqbal, was reported as saying that the police use of deadly force was justified because unidentified individuals inside the headquarters had fired on police during the confrontation, critically injuring several officers. A police officer at the scene, Sohail Azim, told Newsweek that police had fired only rubber bullets into the crowd.
The United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, which set out international law on the use of force in law enforcement situations, provide that security forces shall as far as possible apply nonviolent means before resorting to the use of force. Whenever the lawful use of force is unavoidable the authorities should use restraint and act in proportion to the seriousness of the offense. Lethal force may only be used when strictly unavoidable to protect life.
Under the Basic Principles, in cases of death or serious injury, appropriate agencies are to conduct a review and a detailed report is to be sent promptly to the competent administrative or prosecutorial authorities. Governments should ensure that arbitrary or abusive use of force and firearms by law enforcement officials is punished as a criminal offense. Superior officers should be held responsible if they knew or should have known that personnel under their command resorted to the unlawful use of force and firearms but did not take all measures in their power to prevent, suppress, or report such use.
The police response to the PAT protesters is emblematic of the breakdown of law enforcement in the face of politically motivated attacks by various groups throughout the country. The police and other security forces have been responsible for numerous abuses, including torture and other ill-treatment of criminal suspects, extrajudicial killings, and unresolved enforced disappearances.
“Pakistan’s security forces have a history of using excessive force against civilians with impunity,” Adams said. “A transparent and impartial investigation into the Lahore shootings is necessary to prevent even greater distrust of the security forces.”