Death-row convict Sheikh Zahid Hosen, who had been languishing in a condemned cell for the last 20 years on charges of murdering his wife and daughter, was acquitted unconditionally on Tuesday.
The Appellate Division headed by Chief Justice Syed Mahmud Hossain announced the verdict.
According to the case statement, Jahid, from Khulna, married one Rahima three years before the incident. In January 1997, the wife with her one-and-a-half-year-old daughter were killed in Fakirhat, Bagerhat while they were asleep.
On the same day, a case was filed against the husband mentioning that a family quarrel had led to the murder of the duo.
In this case, the Bagerhat Sessions Judge's Court sentenced Sheikh Zahid to death in June 2000. Since then Sheikh Zahid had been in the condemned cell.
The case had come to the High Court for approval of the sentence. It also upheld the verdict in 2004 saying that Sheikh Zahid had killed his wife and daughter. Later, the case reached the Appellate Division in 2007.
In the last week, the case came to the notice of the Appellate Division bench headed by the chief justice. The Supreme Court took the initiative to settle the case quickly and a lawyer for Sheikh Zahid was appointed.
While hearing the case, the Appellate Division saw various inconsistencies in it.
"It is unclear whether the witnesses actually testified against Zahid to the investigation office. The court has pointed it out," Deputy Attorney General Biswajit Debnath told The Business Standard.
He said the investigating officer in the case was changed eight times. As the investigation officers could not prove Sheikh Zahid's involvement in the murder, the Supreme Court acquitted Zahid.
The defendant's lawyer also expressed his surprise over the acquittal.
Supreme Court Bar Association President AM Amin Uddin said, "It is painful to lose 20 years of one's life in a condemned cell. Those involved should be punished."
The Appellate Division, in its judgment, directed that Sheikh Zahid be released immediately. A copy of the verdict will be sent to the jail on Wednesday or Thursday.
Meantime, Dhaka University Law Department teacher and former National Human Rights Commission chairman Prof Mizanur Rahman told The Business Standard that such incidents are rare in countries who really prioritize human rights.
Dr Mizan said the investigation officers often complete their task without proper care and without being objective. And the prosecution lawyers often wrongly portray the cases before the court.
He said though Bangladesh does not have any compensation for incidents like languishing 20 years behind bars, many developed countries have compensation arrangements for such cases.
He hoped the Appellate Division verdict would have some specific guidelines so that such incidents do not reoccur.