More than 200 people of 11 peasant families were freed from a private prison in Gopalpur village on Friday in a joint raid by Basti Malook and Cantonment police.
The raiding team arrested 13 men who were guarding the prison and seized their weapons.
Cantonment Police Superintendent Rana Mansoorul Haq, who headed the police party that raided the village, identified the landowner who had illegally detained these people as Imran Arain. He said two police teams were looking for him and hoped that they would soon arrest him. The SP said raids had been carried out in Muzaffargarh and Shujabad.
The SP said the police had yet to register an FIR because none of the families were interested in filing a complaint for the purpose. However, he said, the police were looking for the suspect.
The SP said those released from the prison had left for their hometowns. He said they were offered accommodation at one of the shelter homes run by the provincial government but they wanted to return to their families. He said the identity of the families would be disclosed after the arrest of the suspect.
He said the 13 guards arrested in the raid were being interrogated about the whereabouts of the suspect. “They said they were told to keep a watch on the detainees and threatened with death if any of them managed to escape,” he said.
Talking to the media after they were freed on Friday, some elderly men said they had been confined for almost three decades. They said they were detained on failing to repay the loans they owed Arain. Others said they had been kept in chains and made to work on the farm. They said they were frequently beaten for asking for more food.
The raid was carried out on Human Rights Commission of Pakistan coordinator Rashid Rahman’s complaint. Rahman had filed the complaint to the district administration who forwarded it to the city police officer, Amir Zulfiqar Khan.
Rehman said he had learnt about the confinement of the peasant families through some villagers.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 2nd, 2012.