When Shameem Reza Rubel, a private university student, was killed in 1998 while in police custody, demands arose for a torture and custodial death Prevention law to be enacted.
Human rights activist Nur Khan feels that the aspirations with which this law was enacted, have not been fulfilled. He told Prothom Alo, that even after their relatives are killed, people force themselves to remain silent. After all, the law is not enough. Implementation of the law is needed. Custodial torture and deaths occur because there is no accountability.
Why the law, what’s happening?
It is said that the Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention) Act was enacted in order to make effective the UN declaration against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Bangladesh is a signatory to this declaration signed on 10 December 1984 in New York.
In this law, custodial torture means any physical and mental torture. And custodial death means any person’s death in custody of any government official. This also includes death during arrest or detention by law enforcement agencies. During interrogation if someone dies, whether witness in a case or not, this will also be seen as custodial death.
Those who observe the state of human rights in Bangladesh, say that though the law may be a good one, the circumstances are still not in favour of the victims. Human Rights Watch (HRW) on 29 July last year, brought out a report, ‘UN Recommendations on Torture’.
They gave several instances of how the torture was carried out - beating with iron rods, belts and sticks, electric shocks, hanging from the ceiling, waterboarding where the victim experiences suffering like drowning in water, and also shooting the soles of the feet and crossfire in the name of self-defence.
Recently a video of Teknaf’s former OC Pradeep Kumar Das and inspector Liaqat Ali was made public, showing them receiving electric shocks and being beaten severely while in custody of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB). RAB’s legal and media wing director, lieutenant colonel Ashik Billah, denied such allegations.
The police headquarters spokesperson and assistant inspector general of police, Md Sohel Rana, speaking to Prothom Alo, said that if deaths occur in police custody and if the concerned members of police are proven to be guilty of criminal offence, then legal action is taken.
There are also allegations that in many cases, the plaintiff compromises or is forced to compromise. And in many instances the plaintiff is unaware of how far the case has progressed. Prothom Alo has investigated some such incidents.
There are reports of three cases being filed under this law in Noakhali. Abul Kasem, father of former Chhatra Dal leader Nazrul Islam, filed a case against four persons including the OC of Sonaimuri police station. He complained that on 16 September 2014 the Sonaimuri police station’s OC, with the help of the Bandar police, arrested Nazrul. They tried to force him to ‘confess’ killing Jubo League leader Arif Hossain. When he refused, they shot him in the leg and left him lying in front Abdul Malek Ukil Medical College in Noakhali. Later he was brought to the National Orthopaedic Hospital and Rehabilitation Institute (Pangu Hospital) where his leg was amputated.
The plaintiff’s lawyer Selim Shahi, speaking to Prothom Alo, said that so many cases were filed against the plaintiff that he probably just left the country.
It is the police’s duty to investigate cases thoroughly, no matter who the accused may be. It is true that if the investigations are not conducted properly, justice is not doneNur Mohammad, former IGP and ruling party MP
Poet Mostafa Iqbal is the complainant in another case. His complaint is that on the night of 24 September 2015, constable Joy Chakma and ansar Liaqat Ali, picked up his son Rahman Iqbal (16), student of Class 10 at Noakhali Zila School, and tortured him at the police station. He filed a case in this regard and the police and ansar members were withdrawn. Later they both approached him and requested him to forgive them. When the police gave their final report, he did not reject it in court.
On 7 October of the same year, police SI Saifuddin and SI Suman Barua and three or four others were absolved of charges brought against them by Saidul Huq of Charkakra union, accusing them of torture in police custody.
When an accused person Mahfuz Rahman died on 26 July 2017 while on remand at the Nachol police station in Chapainawabganj, a case was filed in this regard. Lawyer in the case, Akramul Islam, said his client finally compromised after running the case for a year. And the police issued their final report.
Senior deputy director of Ain O Salish Kendra, Neela Goswami, told Prothom Alo, it is extremely difficult for many to file a case under this law. Even if the victim’s family manages to get assistance and support to file the case, finally most of them compromise.
For instance, she referred to Afsar Ali who had been on remand at the Chapainawabganj model police station. After Afsar Ali died a couple of months ago, the police officers each gave conflicting statements. One officer said he tried to strangulate himself with a wire in the bathroom. Another said he had died a natural death. Hospital records show he had been brought there with chest pains and succumbed to that. Afsar’s family had prepared to file a case, but they backed out as they were too afraid to do so.
Police has given the final report in a case filed in December last year by Alo Begum against four persons including the OC of Uttara West police station, Tapan Chandra Saha. Alo has said that her husband Alamgir Hossain was a driver of a buying house and also would sell garment items on a cycle van. On 16 December a policeman came up to him, put his hand into his pocket and said, “You have yaba in your pocket.”
He was beaten severely in the police station and brought before the court. A day after being sent to jail, he had to go to Dhaka Medical College Hospital again, where he was declared dead.
Md Sohel, a relative of Alamgir, told Prothom Alo that Alo Begum has taken her children and gone back to their village in Gaibandha. Over there too, the police are putting pressure on her to withdraw her case. The police has issued the final report, but Alo Begum has decided to file a no-confidence writ against it.
On 18 July 2017, vegetable trader Md Shahjahan of Subidpur village in Pirojpur, went to visit his in-laws in Khulna. He was arrested on charges of mugging and the police gouged out his eyes, according to the case filed by his father Md Zakir Hossain. He filed the case under the Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention) Act against 13, including an OC. The Police Bureau of Investigation gave the final report, but Zakir Hossain have decided to continue with the case.
Former inspector general of police and ruling party member of parliament, Nur Mohammad, told Prothom Alo, it is the police’s duty to investigate cases thoroughly, no matter who the accused may be. It is true that if the investigations are not conducted properly, justice is not done. But if anyone intentionally diverts the investigations, then legal action can be taken.
Staff Correspondent, Noakhali, helped in compiling this report. This report, appearing in the print and online editions of Prothom Alo, has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir