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Suspected Militant Reportedly Tortured to Death in Pakistan - 2004-08-19

Pakistani police are investigating allegations that officers tortured and killed a detainee suspected of militant ties. Pakistan's Human Rights Commission believes police are regularly covering up such torture deaths.

News reports say the body of detainee Qari Noor Mohammad showed signs of torture following his death at a police station in the eastern city of Faisalabad.

Mr. Noor, an official with the religious party, Jamiat-e-Ulema, was arrested Tuesday, reportedly for suspected links to the al-Qaida network.

Faisalabad police chief Abed Sayed says Mr. Noor died of a heart attack while in his cell, following police interrogation.

He dismissed reports of bruises and other trauma on Mr. Noor's body, but added that an examination is being done to confirm the cause of death. He says such investigations are required for all deaths in police custody.

But the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan says police routinely torture suspects, and resulting deaths are rarely investigated seriously.

Commission member and noted rights activist Asma Jehangir says investigators often ignore even obvious signs of torture.

"We have had cases where people have been declared to have died of suicide, and there were clear marks of torture on their body, as reported to us by the families, and as seen by us," she said.

Ms. Jehangir, who also serves as the U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, says police torture cases are on the rise.

"There are a lot, and we have been noting for many years, these are really increasing," she said.

The Human Rights Commission attributes this trend to Pakistan's war on terrorism, and says such "crude methods" to deal with the country's militancy problem will harm efforts to fight terrorists.

Publicity in this case comes after an abuse scandal in U.S.-run prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan. The United States and Pakistan have been close allies in the war on terror, and many suspected al-Qaida members Pakistan arrests ultimately are handed over to U.S. custody.