Whether crossfire or murder - the court kept in dark

Sheikh Sabiha Alam | Update:

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The state authorities have never in the past one decade responded to the higher court's subpoenas to determine whether crossfire or gunfight would be considered as extra-judicial killing.

 

Rather, according to a Prothom Alo investigation, all three benches of the High Court were dissolved after beginning of hearing of the writ petitions filed in connection with such incidents.

 

The legal process to judge if the reported incidents of crossfire or gunfight were acts of murder remains stalled.

 

However, such killings continued and increased over the years.

 

At least 2,292 people were killed in what were officially reported as 'crossfire', 'encounter' or 'gunfight' with the police and RAB since the inception of the elite force (Rapid Action Battallion) in 2004 till December 2017, show data collected from rights groups.

 

Three writ petitions were filed by rights groups or the victims’ families, seeking remedial measures about the deaths in the custody of the law enforcement.

 

The High Court too issued suo moto and sought explanations from the state about the custodial killings.

 

Dwelling on the halt in the legal process, attorney general Mahbubey Alam said it is the responsibility of those who filed the writ petition to look at the progress of the petitions.

 

“They can say why there is no progress in disposing of the writ petitions,” he told Prothom Alo.

 

Every time after such death, the law enforcement came up with the same statement calling it crossfire or gunfight.

 

One of the most recent such cases is the killing of the ruling party's youth front Juba League Teknaf unit leader Ekramul Haque, who was shot dead allegedly in custody.

 

The first writ was filed in 2006 by the brother of crossfire victim Tunda Ismail. The same year, a rights group - Human Rights and Peace for Bangladesh -- filed the second writ, referring to 500 such incidents.

 

In June 2009, Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK), Bangladesh Legal Aid And Services Trust (BLAST) and Karmojibi Nari filed another writ petition accusing the RAB for 527 incidents of 'extrajudicial killings' and the police for 442 such incidents.

 

The High Court had in November 2009 issued a suo moto asking the government to explain the cases of extrajudicial killings. Offering investigative reports on 26 alleged extrajudicial killings, ASK and BLAST became party to it.

 

ASK executive director Sheepa Hafiza said the court had directed the government to submit reports but the government did not comply with the court order.

 

“We want the hearing of the writ petition to be held. It is necessary for the sake of justice [in society],” she told Prothom Alo.

 

She said vested quarters tried to find out loopholes to engage in criminal activities and if the state itself shows such loopholes, such incidents will continue to increase.

 

On 15 November 2009, one Bablu Khalashi expressed his apprehension at a press conference in Madaripur Press Club that his father Lutful Khalashi and uncle Khairul Khalashi would be killed in crossfire. Only a day later, in the early hours of 16 November, both were killed in an alleged crossfire in Madaripur.

 

The family alleged that the two were picked up by RAB-3 from Narayanganj on 13 November. Another member of the same family was killed in the alleged crossfire.

 

The court issued a suo moto against Major Kazi Wahiduzzaman, the then RAB-8 camp in-charge Lt Hasan, the RAB director general and the home secretary. It asked the government to give reply within 48 hours as to why action will not be taken against the accused.

 

In reply, the RAB said there is no existence of one of those named as RAB members in the writ petition.

 

On 23 November 2009, the court directed the RAB DG to submit a report about who from the RAB arrested the two brothers, by 9 December the same year.

 

During the subsequent hearing on 14 December, the state sought more time. The court fixed 11 January as the next hearing date and asked to stop crossfire till then. Four days before the hearing, the concerned bench was dissolved.

 

Shah Alam, the elder brother of Islam Hossain aka Tunda Islam, 35, who was killed on 22 May 2006 in an alleged crossfire in Lalbagh police station, filed a writ petition on 25 May. The court issued a rule. The bench which issued the rule was dissolved later.

 

In 2006, rights group Human Rights and Peace for Bangladesh filed a writ petition with the High Court, pointing to 500 incidents of alleged extrajudicial killing.

 

The court sought explanations from the home ministry, different zones of RAB and the inspector general of police on whether security of the arrested people or those already in custody would be ensured. The state did not respond to it as well. The hearing was supposed to be held on 5 July 2009 but it did not take place.

 

In June 2009, the second writ was filed by ASK, BLAST and Kormojibi Nari. On 7 July, the court asked the state to submit reply within six days. On 10 July, the state appealed for postponing the hearing. There has been no progress in this writ since then.

 

* This report, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Mushfique Wadud

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