A Dhaka tribunal on Thursday acquitted all five accused, including Safat Ahmed, son of Apan Jewellers owner Dildar Ahmed, in a high-profile rape case of two students at the upscale Raintree Hotel in the capital's Banani four and a half years ago.
In its observation, the tribunal said police should not record a case 72 hours after a rape incident.
Legal experts, in their immediate reactions, called the observation irrelevant, ridiculous and incoherent.
Two female private university students were allegedly raped by the accused under the influence of alcohol at the upscale hotel on 28 March 2017.
"It took 93 working days to complete the trial. Many other cases could have been tried utilising the time," Judge Mosammat Kamrunnahar of Dhaka's Women and Children Repression Prevention Tribunal-7 said in the verdict.
"The victims went to the hotel voluntarily and took a swim there. Thirty-eight days after the incident, they said, 'We have been raped.' This case is baseless. It has wasted a lot of time of the state."
The tribunal said Faria Mahbub Piasha, an ex-wife of Safat, abetted the victim in filing the case. The police have accepted the case unnecessarily and wasted the time of the judiciary by sending it for trial later.
In her reaction to the tribunal observation, Advocate Salma Ali, president of the Bangladesh National Woman Lawyers' Association, told The Business Standard, "According to the Code of Criminal Procedure, there is no such time limit in filing criminal cases. The observation is her personal opinion only. It conflicts with laws, provisions, or directions of the High Court."
She said a few days ago, there was a High Court judgment, which said that there is no such time limit in filing a rape case.
"A judgment or direction of the High Court is equal to law. So in a word, this observation is ridiculous. We are rejecting it," she added.
Former law minister barrister Shafique Ahmed echoed Salma Ali, saying, "A trial court cannot give this type of observation. Because the issue is settled in the Supreme Court."
While pronouncing the verdict, the tribunal said the prosecution failed to prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt.
"DNA tests and evidence did not prove the rape allegations," she added.
The investigating officer wasted the valuable time of the public by submitting the charge-sheet after being influenced, the judge said and reprimanded the investigating officer for this.
The court further said that the four accused who had given confessional statements under section 164 were tortured before being taken to court. They fell ill after their remand and a petition was filed in this regard.
It said the victims filed the case after being influenced by others. The content of the lawsuit, which was filed 38 days after the incident, raises suspicions. No witnesses present at the scene have testified before the tribunal.
The acquitted are - Safat Ahmed, son of Apan Jewelers owner Dildar Hossain, Safat's friends Nayeem Ashraf alias Abdul Halim – an official of event management company "e-makers" – and Sadman Safiq, son of Md Hossain Jony who is the managing director of Regnum Group and owner of Picasso Restaurant in Dhaka, Safat's driver Billal Hossain and bodyguard Rahmat Ali.
Public Prosecutor Afroza Farhana Ahmed Orange told journalists that the tribunal asked the authorities to release the accused, who were produced before the tribunal during the verdict, immediately if they are not required in any other case.
Earlier on 3 October, the same judge had cancelled the bail of Safat along with the other accused and sent them to jail.
Four of them gave confessional statements before magistrates on different dates.
On 6 May 2017, 38 days after the incident, the victims filed the case with the Banani Police Station.
According to the case statement, they were raped in two rooms of the hotel while attending Safat's birthday party there.
The accused kept the plaintiff, her girlfriend, and friend Shahriar from 9pm on March 28 till 10am the next day.
The defendants took the plaintiff and her girlfriend to separate rooms after intimidating them by brandishing guns and hurling abuses.
The plaintiff was raped by Safat Ahmed and her girlfriend by Nayeem Ashraf while others collaborated in the incident, added the first information report.
On 8 June 2017, the police submitted the charge sheet against all the five accused in the case. They were indicted on 13 July.
A total of 21 out of 47 prosecution witnesses, including the complainant, have testified before the tribunal.
The recording of testimonies in the case was completed on 22 August this year.