Had Biswajit been killed within the confines of his home, perhaps the police’s confusion concerning the identity of the killers would be understandable. Had he disappeared, it could have been assumed that he was in hiding. Had Biswajit been a Muslim name, he could have been labelled as a Jamaat-Shibir man or a militant. Had there been no photographs or video-footage of his killing, then the blame of the murder could have been shoved onto BNP and Jamaat.
But Biswajit was killed on the streets, in broad daylight, in front of journalists, the public and cameras. He was brutally murdered, beaten with rods and hacked with machetes and cleavers. Biswajit was not a criminal, he was completely unarmed and he didn’t have the strength to resist. If he had fought back, then perhaps an excuse would be made that the killers were acting out of self defence.
But Biswajit was just an ordinary tailor. In 2012, during a BNP demonstration, he had rushed to take shelter on the first floor of a clinic when a cocktail bomb had exploded nearby. Activists of the ruling party’s student wing Chhatra League grabbed him, assuming he was an opposition activist, and began to hack him. He ran out into the street, trying to save himself, but they caught him, beat him and hacked him to death.
Each and every one of his attackers was identified in detail. Their profiles went viral on Facebook. With such clear evidence, there was no way that they could escape arrest and trial. Even so, Biswajit’s father had expressed trepidation about whether justice would actually prevail. His fears proved true. The lower court had sentenced eight of them to death, and 11 to life imprisonment. But after the appeal in the High Court, things changed. The death sentences of four were reduced to life imprisonment. Two of those sentenced to death by the lower court, being influential student leaders, were released. The death sentence of the other two remains upheld, but one of them is a fugitive. That means only one of them may be hanged.
Most of the killers who were given life sentences, are in hiding. And two of those who were in jail after being sentenced to life imprisonment by the lower court, have been released. So other than the fugitives, the sentences of most of the rest have been commuted by the High Court. In fact, two of the Chhatra League activists in hiding, who received life sentences, have been left off the hook. So basically only some of those in hiding have been convicted. There are doubts whether they will ever be caught.
Biswajit’s killing has created a sense of frustration and dismay in the society. The High Court judgement has been blamed on weak investigations carried out by the police and shoddy investigation and autopsy reports.
Four years ago Biswajit’s father had pointed out these shortcomings, expressing his doubts about receiving justice. He asked why the bruises and wounds he had seen on his son’s body were nowhere mentioned in the police reports. These questions remained unsettled in the lower court. The state prosecution could have called for proper investigations. According to the criminal code, the judges of the lower court could have issued appropriate orders in this regard.
Any trial depends on three institutions. One is the investigation department of the police. The second is the state prosecution. The third is the court, or the judiciary. It was the responsibility of the state prosecution to point out to the court any lapses in investigation. If the first two institutions failed to perform their duties properly, the judiciary would have taken certain initiatives on its own accord. And after the High Court judgement, it is glaringly evident that something went wrong somewhere in the trial of the Biswajit murder case.
Perhaps the High Court didn’t have the scope to simply uphold the verdict of the lower court. But as per Article 423 of the Criminal Code of Procedure, the appeal court had the scope to order a retrial of the case. We do not know whether this was taken into cognizance by the court.
The question is, what was the role of the government here? The government is in direct control of the police and the state prosecution. Even after the Masdar case judgement, the government vehemently resists relinquishing its control over the lower courts. And the government has almost full power in appointing judges to the Supreme Court. So that means if justice has not been carried out, the government must take the blame. There is no way the government can escape the blame especially for the failure to arrest the accused and the convicted, the failure to locate those in hiding and the weaknesses in the investigation and the prosecution.
A few of the young men involved in Biswajit’s killing have been sentenced, one to death. If this sentence is upheld by the Appellate Division, he is to hang. As for those who have fled after committing such a heinous crime, there will be scope to punish them one day or the other. And as for those who have been released, they did spend some time in uncertainty. If they have an iota of humanity within them, they will suffer from a degree of guilt.
But have the instigators of this killing been punished? Before this particular killing, an Awami League minister had called for activists of the opposition to be killed in their homes. The home minister at the time, on the day before this murder, had called for all opposition people to be taught a lesson, saying the police would provide protection for this. The Chhatra League hoodlums had been teaching Biswajit a lesson, imagining him to be an opposition activist. The police had looked on from a distance, doing nothing. After this incident, the home minister merely claimed that the attackers were not Chhatra League men. When the identity of the killers were revealed, weak investigation by the police, under the home ministry, weakened the case against them. Those who had made incendiary calls to teach a lesson and kill the opposition, can be considered as accessories to the crime. But they were not tried, nor will they ever be.
The Chhatra League committee which killed Biswajit was the newly elected committee of Jagannath University. What were the newly elected young men trying to prove by such brutal murder on the streets? In the past we have seen many such brutal attacks on the opposition being rewarded by leadership positions in the Chhatra League. The recent Tufan Sarkar incident is yet further proof how inhuman and brutal persons are brought to power.
There is a politics prevailing in the country which creates, nurtures and protects such killers. This has been visible during the rule of all governments. There are players in this politics and they have their associates. Had justice been done in the Biswajit killing case and similar cases, these players would have been unmasked. Then perhaps there would be some retribution to the tragic death of the young Biswajit.
Such justice often does not take place and it didn’t in the case of Biswajit. The killing of Biswajit and the trial only go to prove once again that despite all evidence, associates of those in power always get away scot-free. The institutions of the state go all out to protect them.
*Asif Nazrul is professor of the law department, Dhaka University. This column, originally published in Prothom Alo Bangla print edition, has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir.