In the matter of the incarcerated Shahbaz Gill of the PTI, things only seem to be escalating, both in terms of the allegations regarding his treatment in jail as well as his healthcare concerns. In a tweeted out message, PTI Chairman Imran Khan has alleged that Gill has been tortured, including being subjected to sexual abuse, while in custody. This is a very serious allegation and one that necessitates investigation at the highest level. There can be no possible justification for custodial torture, whether physical, mental or sexual. The court has also sent Gill back to the hospital instead of handing him to the police, saying that another medical check-up is required.
The PTI seems to have finally come around to defending one of its own: after days of hemming and hawing over the arrested PTI spokesperson. Yesterday saw Imran trying to go see Gill at PIMS (he was barred from meeting him) and then announcing a rally today to demand Gill’s release. Whether this stems from the allegations of torture or whether the party seems to have realized that their hesitation in coming to the side of their own aide was harmful optics is up for debate; the PTI is not only demanding Gill’s release but also saying that the reason given for his arrest is baseless since others – in the PML-N – have said much the same before. While the party had looked a little lost a few days back regarding its faltering narrative, Imran’s tweet may be a hint at the party seemingly ready to question not just the arrest but also those it thinks may be behind it – with Imran asking rather pointedly that if it wasn’t the Islamabad police then public perception would dictate only one other entity to be responsible.
On their end, the PML-N’s leaders are distancing themselves from both the medical worries and torture reports being put up by the Shahbaz Gill side. There is not much of a mystery in how this should ideally work: the government can pursue whatever case it wishes to against Gill, but due process must always remain sacrosanct. That one has to still write that torture is unacceptable should in itself be unacceptable. Maybe the PDM government can’t see it but the perception that parties that have cried foul play not mere six months back are now being accused of doling out the same treatment is not comforting for anyone that believes in democratic values and constitutionalism. It is in this spirit that any and all allegations must be properly investigated and the truth must come out. Was the PTI’s politics all about vengeance when it was in power? Yes. Was Shahbaz Gill an enthusiastic supporter of witch-hunts and abuse thrown at the PTI’s opposition? Yes. Does that justify custodial torture? No. And that’s where the debate must end.