A verdict that sets a precedent
Three police officers have been given life-term imprisonment in the first-ever case filed under the Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention) Act 2013
Finally, the bell has been rung to show the door for the apparent impunity of law enforcers in cases of custodial deaths.
A Dhaka court that has pioneered in doing so has delivered an unprecedented verdict in a first-ever case filed under in the Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention) Act 2013 six and a half years ago.
The court of Dhaka Metropolitan Sessions Judge KM Imrul Kayesh yesterday sentenced 3 prime accused policemen to life-term imprisonment for killing Ishtiaq Hossain Jonny in police custody. Two other convicts were given 7 years imprisonment each. All the five were fined Tk100,000 each or another 6 months in jail for non-payment of the money.
The life-term convicts are Mirpur Pallabi Police Station's sub inspector (SI) Jahidur Rahman Khan, and assistant sub-inspectors (ASIs) Rashedul Hassan and Md Kamruzzaman Minto, and the 7-year-jail convicts include police informants Sumon and Russel.
Such a verdict in Bangladesh at this time has great significance, Dr Mizanur Rahman, former chairman of National Human Rights Commission, said.
It is frequently reported that many innocent people are becoming victims of torture at the hands of some members of law enforcement agencies. The recent Sinha murder led the entire nation to utter silence, he said.
A professor of law at Dhaka University, Dr Mizanur also said this verdict would help not only in establishing justice in the country but also in upholding the axiom that nobody, even someone from the police or other forces, is above the law.
There are many other incidents that remain untried in the country. The state should ensure quick trials of those cases and ensure punishment to the criminals, he urged.
The veteran professor of law called upon the government to make the police a more dignified, responsible, fair and people-friendly force.
SI Jahid and police informer Sumon are already in jail while ASI Sumon, who was out on bail, has been sent to jail after the verdict. But ASI Kamruzzaman and police source Russel are on the run after taking bail from court.
Among the five, SI Jahid has been indicted in another case over the death of Sujon, a scrap fabric trader in Mirpur. At present, the case has been stayed by a High Court order.
Lawyers of the state side expressed satisfaction over the verdict. Dhaka metropolitan public prosecutor Abdullah Abu said it was an historical verdict as this was the first-ever verdict in a case filed under the new law.
But lawyers of the defendants said they would appeal to the higher court against the verdict.
Constitution expert and Supreme Court lawyer Dr Shahdeen Malik hailed the verdict and emphasised the need to keep up the trend.
He urged the government to form a commission to bring to justice those law enforcers who are involved into custodial deaths, enforced disappearances and torture.
"All the people who have been victims of custodial killings, forced disappearances and torture so far, have been picked-up by law enforcers in civilian attire. So, a better enforcement of the torture and custodial death (prevention) law should be ensured," he opined.
According to the case statement, police informant Sumon had been teasing girls at a pre-wedding ceremony at Pallabi Irani Camp in Mirpur-11 on February 8, 2014. Jonny and his younger brother Imtiaz Hossain Rocky asked him to leave the place.
Sumon left the event for that day but came back the next day and started doing the same thing. Jonny and Rocky allegedly slapped him. Sumon called the police. Later, a police team led by SI Jahid picked up the brothers from the place. Local people chased them but the policemen opened fire.
Jonny was later taken to the police station and tortured. At one point, Jonny's condition worsened and he was admitted to the National Hospital. Later, his condition worsened further and he was taken to the Dhaka Medical College Hospital where the on-duty doctor declared him dead.
Rocky filed a case against eight people, including Officer-in-Charge of Pallabi Police Station Ziaur Rahman, under the Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention) Act 2013 at the Dhaka Metropolitan Sessions Judge's Court on August 7, 2014.
The court directed a judicial inquiry into the case. On February 17, 2015, the then Dhaka Metropolitan Magistrate Maruf Hossain filed a report accusing five people after a judicial investigation.
On April 17, 2016, the court framed charges against five, including SI Jahid, and ordered the trial to begin.
During the trial, the court heard 24 witnesses and fixed the date for the verdict on August 24 after hearing the arguments of the state and of the accused.