Custodial death ‘new normal’?

Ali Riaz | Update:

When directives of the apex court are disregarded twice within a week and a youth loses life but no sign of discussing such issues in public domain is visible, we have reasons to be concerned about this.

In at least one of the instances, a law of the land might have been violated. Still, we see no concern, either in the media or among human rights organisations.

Apparently, this news item has not either reached the National Human Rights Commission. These incidents were taking place at a time when many were talking about showing respect for judgement of the court; let's not speak of ‘normal course of the law’.

According to the full verdict of the Supreme Court published on its website on 10 November 2016, the state's appeal against a High Court judgement on two key provisions of Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) -- section 54 and section 167 -- was dismissed. Thirteen years ago, the High Court pronounced the verdict, making clear that none could be tortured in custody.

Also, the Jatiya Sangsad (national assembly) had in 2013 passed a bill titled "The Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention) Act 2013", making provisions for considering torture on anyone in the state's custody a criminal offence and punishment for the perpetrators..

However, the plainclothes policemen, showing arms openly, detained pro-BNPJatiyatabadi Swechchhasebak Dal president Shafiul Bari Babu from Jatiya Press Club compound during a peaceful human chain arranged by the BNP. That was a clear violation of the court order on section 54 (arrest without warrant).

Another leader, Zakir Hossain of jatiyabadi Chhatra Dal, which is the student wing of the BNP, was detained by the law enforcers the same day after the human chain programme. And he was tortured to death as he died while being taken to hospital from the police custody on Monday.

We need to take into cognizance the complaint of death in police custody from the family of the deceased and the party (BNP). Because, the sequence of the incident does not in any way make any indication of his natural death.

Custodial death, according to the 2013 Act, is unusual death of a person in custody or during interrogation, or torturing to death or death during the arrest.

'Torture' refers to both physical and mental abuse. Zakir seems to have been fallen victim of both.

I am utterly surprised to see the silence of the human rights groups about the incidents of this kind.

The court initiated certain move on custodial death in 1998. Some human rights organisations played certain role in this regard. The High Court, on 29 November, issued a rule asking the government to prevent the law enforcement agencies from arbitrary arrests and torturing any suspect during interrogation.

In four years between 2014 and 2017, at least 260 people died in police custody, according to Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK), a human right organisation. And as many as 78 people died in custody in 2016 alone.

There is hardly any lawsuit about custodial death despite the high number of victims in such a brutal manner.

We can understand why it is so. One is our experience. We all know what happened to the case by Shahnur's family after his death in RAB custody in 2014.

Mehedi Hasan, Shahnur's brother, hailing from Nabinagar, Brahmanbaria, tried to file a case accusing the Bhairab camp RAB commander for murdering his brother. As the police declined to take the case, Mehedi went to the court seeking justice under the 2013 Act.

After a hearing, senior judicial magistrate Nazmun Nahar ordered the Nabiganar police to register the case by taking into cognizance the complaints from the family. She also asked the police to arrest those involved in the incident.

However, in less than 24 hours, Nazmun Nahar had been transferred. Thus, the fate of the case was sealed.

The second most important reason for not being very optimistic about justice is the attitude of the police towards law.

In 2015 the police sent a set of proposals to the home ministry seeking scrapping of quite a number of sections of laws. The police also submittted amendment proposals to the prime minister during the ‘police week’ this year. As a result, the common people do not feel confident about seeking justice from the court.

But, the saddest part of the story is the silence of the human rights organisations . Whereas they had played their part earlier in making progress, what is their problem now? Why are the reasons for their inaction?

We have seen how extra-judicial killings comes a normal phenomenon in a decade, and how the incidents of enforced disappearances are 'legalised'.

The same applies to custodial deaths. We have devloped certain attitude towards the victims of such acts -- The victims are "none of me" or "I do not agree with the political ideology" of the victims.

But the right to life, and fundamental rights are not the sole property of a single political party. If the rights are not applicable for another party, such a system is not at all a democratic one.

It is high time to raise voice against all these misdeeds.

*This article, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Farjana Liakat.

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