Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention) Act

205 killed in custody in 3 yrs, single digit cases filed

Sheikh Sabiha Alam | Update:

Only three cases have been filed since the Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention) Act was passed in 2013 although as many as 205 people died in the custody of law enforcement agencies during that period. And yet, the police want the law to be repealed.

Speaking to Prothom Alo on Tuesday, home minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal said they are discussing the issue.

While National Human Rights Commission chairman Kazi Reazul Hoque said, "The Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention) Act is a very important law. It's a shame things have gone this way despite clear directions from the High Court. I do not think this law should be repealled or amended."

The police headquarters could not give any statistics when asked about the number of cases filed under this act and if any punishment was awarded. However, four NGOs -- Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK), Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST), Odhikar and Bangladesh National Woman Lawyers' Association (BNWLA) -- said four of such cases have been filed thus far.

According to the ASK, they know of 205 deaths in the custody of law enforcement agencies between 2014 and 2016. The actual number of people tortured is higher.

ASK acting executive director Nur Khan said people do not file cases against law enforcement agencies in fear of further danger. Last year, a female student of Adabar alleged that she had been physically assaulted, but later had to reach some sort of compromise with them. In another incident, police filed case against a victim of Jagannath University.

Also, Brahmanbaria's Shahnur died in Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) custody, but police refused to file any case in the incident. 

A judge of the district was transferred immediately after he passed an order to consider the accusation as a case.
The Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK) said the Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention) Act is a safeguard for victims. But, law enforcers do not want to let the people know about it.

On 10 November 2016, the Appellate Division passed directions about taking action under sections 54 and 167. According to the apex court, if any medical report states that a detainee has been tortured in custody, the judicial division can file a suo moto order over the incident.

Police said they are facing tremendous problems due to the law. At a programme on 23 January, the police appealed to prime minister Sheikh Hasina to scrap the law.

It was learned that when victims file cases, they and their relatives face pressure and are offered out of court settlements. Many of them step back from the litigation process.

Mamtaz Sultana, who filed the very first case under the act, backtracked from legal action afterwards. 
She filed the case with a Dhaka Metropolitan Magistrate Court on 20 July 2014 against 10 people, including former sub-inspector of Mirpur Model police station Zahidur Rahman, following death of her husband Mahbubur Rahman (Sujan) in custody.

The petitioner, Mamtaz Sultana, told the court she cannot remember anything about the incident. She never saw SI Zahid. 
"How will justice be done? Only Zahid is in prison. The other nine constables are free. Who will catch them? Now my son's wife has taken a U-turn, too," said the victim Mahbub's mother, Shahida Begum.

Another case was filed against SI Zahid when he was at the Pallabi police station over killing Ishtiaq Ahmed (Jony) in police custody. The victim's brother Imtiaz Hossain filed the case.

Imtiaz told Prothom Alo that seven people, including himself and his brother Ishtiaq, were picked from a wedding ceremony on 9 February 2014. Police denied to take the case after his brother was tortured to death in police custody. The legal proceedings have not yet ended two years after filing of the case.

Imtiaz added that all accused in the case have been granted bail barring SI Zahid. "They are putting pressure on us to withdraw the case."

In another attempted murder case, 12 policemen were sued in Noakhali. According to the case statement, members of the police attempted to kill Sonapur union Chhatra Dal president Nazrul Islam. Police shot in the victim's leg picking him up from home, reads the case statement. Later, doctors had to amputate the leg to save his life.

On 17 July 2014, Sylhet Kotwali police station officer-in-charge Ataur Rahman tortured a person in police custody for breaching traffic rules. 

Victim Kamal Ahmed Chowdhury's brother Shamim Ahmed Chowdhury filed charges, but the case is yet to see any results despite the OC surrendering before the court a year later. 

BLAST legal adviser SM Rezaul Karim told Prothom Alo that people are afraid of filing cases against the law enforcers.

He said they knew about only two complaints after the act was passed.

Recently, a photo was circulated in the media concerning a youth named Abu Sayed tortured at Jessore Kotwali police station. He was hung upside down and tortured. Later, the High Court passed a suo moto and asked the accused SI Nazmul and ASI Hadibur Rahman to appear before the court. 

But, on 25 January, victim Abu Sayed told the court that he was not that person was tortured in police station.

Human rights activists said the law was enacted in 2013, but the general public is not familiar with it. 

Police headquarters spokesperson, deputy inspector general (media) Shahidul Alam, told Prothom Alo he has no idea about the matter and would speak about it the following day after looking into it. The next day he did not respond to several phone calls or text messages sent to him.

Supreme Court lawyer Shahdin Malik said amendment or withdrawal of the law is meaningless. The home ministry should inform the people about the law instead.

*The article originally published in Prothom Alo print edition is rewritten in English by Toriqul Islam

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