Suspected robbers in Pakistan say police hacked off their hands

BAHAWALPUR, Pakistan (REUTERS) - Pakistani police chopped off the left hands of two men accused of theft after they refused to confess to stealing electrical wire and mobile phones, the victims told Reuters on Monday.

The two men, Ghulam Mustafa, 38, and Liaquat Ali, 42, said that police hacked off their hands with a large butcher's knife on Friday.

"Four or five policemen held me down and cut my hand. I fainted from the pain," Mustafa said at a hospital in Bahawalpur in Punjab province. "I and Liaquat were arrested eight days ago after local people falsely accused us of stealing and handed us over to the police who beat us and tortured us. Then on Friday, they did this."

Police disputed their version of the story, telling Reuters the men had cut their own hands with razor blades in a suicide attempt, though it was not immediately clear how they could cut their hands off.

Medical staff said the men had been brought to the hospital by two policemen about eight hours after their hands were cut off. Both had lost a lot of blood. "This looks like the work of an axe or similar tool. These are not self-inflicted wounds," Dr Aamir Ahmed, head of the emergency ward, told Reuters.

He said Mustafa arrived with his hand cut off completely and that one of the policemen carried it in a plastic bag.

Liaquat's hand had also been cut but was still attached to his arm, the doctor said.

"We have sown Liaquat's hand back on but it will take weeks before we know if he will ever use it again," Dr Ahmed said.

Hacking off thieves' hands is consistent with some tenets of Islamic Sharia law which often holds sway over constitutional law in parts of rural Pakistan.

The incident comes days after a pregnant woman was killed by suspected family members for marrying the man she loved in a story that has drawn condemnation from around the world.

A regional police spokesman, Nabeela Ghazanfar, denied the police had chopped off the hands. "They were caught stealing and were thrashed by locals but finally rescued by police and admitted to hospital," she said.

"Mustafa's wife and a couple of other females came to meet them at hospital and gave them food, clothes and shaving blades. They used the blades to cut their wrists."

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