Can a UNO handcuff an elderly person, what does the law say?

Relatives of Rezaul Karim and others around a police van when they were handcuffed in Bogura
Prothom Alo

Despite not having any history of criminal involvement, 74-year-old farmer Rezaul Karim was handcuffed along with his younger brother Shahidul Islam, 60, and son Md Ripu and kept detained at the offices of Bogura deputy commissioner and Sadar upazila land officer on Wednesday for six hours. Later they were released after they signed a bond.

Bogura Sadar Upazila Nirbahi Officer (UNO) Firoza Parvin in a media conference on Saturday said she handcuffed under her judicial power.

This has led to questions pertaining to whether a UNO can give orders to handcuff a person? Is it legal to handcuff an elderly person?

As per the Code of Criminal Procedure, the law enforcement agency members can detain a person without any arrest warrant if the person is found to be involved in any cognisable crime and the detained person has to be produced before the court within 24 hours.

Elaborating the situation when a person could be handcuffed, Section 330 of Bangladesh Police’s rules said adopting methods stricter than required to stop a person from fleeing is not advisable. In most of the cases use of handcuffs or ropes is unnecessary and undignified. A person detained in a bailable case cannot be handcuffed.

Bogura Sadar UNO Firoza Parvin said Rezaul Karim and others obstructed from carrying out government works.  The allegation was brought under section 186 of Bangladesh CrPC. That means a court order is required to arrest any person on this charge and the crime is bailable.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, Ain O Salish Kendra chairman and Supreme Court lawyer ZI Khan Panna said, “Handcuffing farmer Rezaul Karim and others for six hours before releasing them was not done following legal procedures.”

“Is Rezaul Karim a thief or a robber? Is there any record of his past criminal activities? Why was he handcuffed and shifted from one place to another for six hours if there is no such record?” he asked.

ZI Khan Panna further asked did this detention not harm their honour? Who would compensate them?

He said the Bangladesh Constitution says the people are the source of all the power. Article 35(5) of the Constitution says no person can be inflicted pain, and a sentence that is cruel, inhuman and derogatory.

Former district judge SM Rezaul Karim also said the same. Speaking to Prothom Alo, he said a redoubtable thief, murderer and rapist can be handcuffed so that they cannot flee. But handcuffing a 74-year-old farmer is not legal. This is nothing but professional misconduct.

What the UNO says

Speaking to Prothom Alo, Bogura sadar upazila nirbahi officer Firoza Parvin said, “Rezaul Karim and others had been threatening the people living in the Ashrayan project for long. The people from the Ashrayan project complained to me about this several times.”

The UNO further said she went to visit the area that day due to the allegations. Rezaul Karim and others behaved aggressively towards her.

They were detained from there fearing deterioration in the law and order situation and on charges of obstructing government activities. Later, they were released considering their age.

Bogura Sadar Upazila Nirbahi Officer Firoza Parvin speaks at a media conference on 2 September, 2023
Prothom Alo

Speaking about detaining three people for six hours without handing them over to police or conducting any mobile court, the UNO said, “It was not correct to handcuff an elderly farmer.”

Rezaul Karim and two other handcuffed persons were taken to the office of Bogura deputy commissioner by a police van. From there they were taken to the office of Bogura Sadar upazila land officer. Then they were released upon taking a bond.

Rezaul Karim told Prothom Alo on Sunday, “We’re not thieves and robbers. Still the UNO sir handcuffed us.”

Disputed land

Rezaul lives at Rahmatbala village in Bogura with his wife, two sons and two daughters. He said one-two years ago (2021-2022 fiscal year) some 56 houses were constructed for homeless people under the government's Ashrayan Project at Rahmatbala village. He filed a case with Bogura’s first assistant judge court claiming the ownership of the land on which the project was built. Beside claiming ownership, the plaintiff sought injunction on the construction.

The land Rezaul claimed ownership was of 1.29 acre. Upazila administration said the land is recorded under the government’s name in the last RS record. The land did not have any owner. Later the land was enlisted as vested property ‘Kha’ tafsil and a gazette was published regarding it on 14 May in 2012.

Rezaul’s stay order was dismissed at the first assistant judge court. The plaintiffs later challenged the order in the second joint district judge court of Bagura. This court also upheld the verdict of the first assistant judge court. Rezaul Karim later challenged the verdict of the joint district judge in the High Court.

After hearing, the High Court on 21 November last year issued a stay order. Rezaul’s lawyer Asifur Rahman told Prothom Alo the High Court order says the stay order will be applicable in the case over ownership of the land. The main case will continue as per law.

Lawyer Kaisaruzzaman, who stood for Rezaul in the High Court, told Prothom Alo on Sunday the court had issued a stay order on the land in a revision application filed by Rezaul. The court order has been sent to Bogura Sadar upazila UNO and other defendants.

Rezaul said he placed a signboard in the land about the stay order of the high court as per the suggestion of the lawyer. On Wednesday, Lahiripara union parishad chairman Apel Mahmud asked him to go to the spot. He went to the Ashrayan Project venue at around 1:00pm. Later UNO appeared at the spot with police and Ansar members.

Rezaul Karim said, “Our chairman told me the UNO has come. Come with what documents you have.”

Rezaul said UNO asked him who put the signboard. The UNO ordered Rezaul to be handcuffed as soon as he confessed to having put the signboard. Rezaul’s brother and son were also detained as they protested.

‘The matter would be brought to high court’s notice’

Rezaul claimed they were in handcuffs for six to seven hours and not given any food.

Kaisaruzzaman, lawyer of Rezaul in the high court, told Prothom Alo how could UNO Firoza Parveen detain Rezaul Karim and others despite knowing that the matter is under trial in the HC.

He said the issue would soon be brought to the notice of the High Court.

* The report was originally published in the online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Shameem Reza and Galib Ashraf