What the law says about custodial torture, attack on colleagues

DMP's Additional Deputy Commissioner Harun-Ar-Rashid

The prevailing law strictly prohibits any torture in the police stations, and if anyone breaches the law, it will be considered as a criminal offence, according to the Torture and Custodial Death (Prohibition) Act.

The government legislated the act in 2013 as a signatory to the UN convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, expressing its commitment to human rights.

On the other hand, no government employee can attack his colleagues, and if anyone does so, it will be considered as punishable misconduct.

Recent events in the capital’s Shahbagh police station brought the legal provisions into the spotlight.

A senior police officer – Harun-or-Rashid, additional deputy commissioner (ADC) of Dhaka Metropolitan Police (Ramna Division) – tortured three central leaders of Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL) in the police station, after they, being moved by an admin service official – Ajijul Haque, assistant private secretary (APS) to the President, carried out an attack on him in BIRDEM hospital. The APS engaged the BCL leaders in his personal dispute with ADC Harun.

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Later, the authorities suspended ADC Harun from his position for torturing the BCL men. Meanwhile, ADC Sanjida, wife of APS Ajijul who was present in the scene, claimed that her husband attacked ADC Harun first.

The police have formed a committee to investigate the incident.

SM Rejaul Karim, a former district judge and legal advisor to Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST), said as per the Torture and Custodial Death (prohibition) Act-2013, it is a criminal offence to carry out mental or physical torture on anyone in police custody.

What does the law say?

It was mentioned at the beginning of the Torture and Custodial Death (Prohibition) Act that the law was enacted to give effect to the convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

The convention was signed in New York on 10 December, 1984, and Bangladesh endorsed it on 5 October, 1998.

The Torture and Custodial Death (Prohibition) Act defined torture as any act or ommission which causes pain, whether physical or mental, to any person.

Nurul Huda, former inspector general of police (IGP), said ADC Harun was suspended following initial substantiation of the allegation brought against him. The authorities will take administrative action upon completion of the investigation.

The former IGP made it clear that any form of torture in police custody is punishable offence and there is no bar in administrative investigations and criminal prosecutions against the accused.

According to the Torture and Custodial Death (prohibition) Act, the victim of custodial torture can directly file a case in court, while a third party is also allowed to report to the court about the torture.

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Even a third party unrelated to the victim can lodge complaint over the torture to senior police officers with a minimum designation of superintendent of police (SP).

Taposh Kumar Paul, additional public prosecutor of Dhaka Metropolitan Sessions Judge's Court, said the court would direct a case against the concerned police officer, if it finds the prima facie truth of the complaint. Even the court may order a judicial investigation if the victim believes it is impossible for the police to run a fair investigation.

What are the penalties?

The act prescribes a maximum of five years of rigorous imprisonment for a conviction of custodial torture. If the victim dies due to the torture, the accused officer can face life imprisonment.

Nur Khan, executive director of Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK), said no one is above the law. In cases of custodial torture and death, the responsible individuals should be hold on trial as soon as possible, in addition to administrative action.

What does the code of conduct say?

The government employees (discipline and appeal) rules - 2018 defined the misconduct as behaviour or actions that are inconsistent with the discipline of service, violate prevailing rules for government employees, or seem unethical.

The rules contain minor and major penalties, ranging from reprimands to demotions and even dismissal.

Feroz Mia, an expert on government employment laws and regulations, said it is clear misconduct if a government employee assaults another physically. Additionally, engaging in extra-marital affairs is considered a criminal offence as per the law, let alone a misconduct.

He also said the elements of misconduct and criminal offence are evident in the media reports on APS Ajijul and ADC Harun. If the allegations are substantiated in the investigation, the authorities must take action against them.