- Police fail to arrest two accused in 17 years
- 13 witnesses reluctant to testify even after being summoned
- Three accused including the principal one on bail
- Next hearing on January 11
The trial in the country's first yaba case has been pending for 17 years due to a scarcity of judges and a failure in producing witnesses before the court.
Of the 15 witnesses in the case, only two have testified in court. The rest could not be produced in court even after the issuing of non-bailable arrest warrants, according to the Department of Narcotics Control (DNC) and court sources.
The police failed to arrest the two accused mentioned in the case statement. Three persons, including the main accused, who were initially arrested, are now out on bail. There are allegations that the trial has remained pending as the accused are relatives of an influential former minister.
Questions are now being raised over the government's zero tolerance policy against drugs.
In December 2002, the DNC officials recovered the first yaba cache at Niketan in Gulshan. The alleged drug dealer Shafiqul Islam alias Jewel was arrested. On the basis of information from him, two of his accomplices, Shamsul Islam and Rafiqul Islam, were arrested later from the capital's Banasree in Rampura.
The then DNC inspector Enamul Huq filed a case with Gulshan Police Station on December 19 over the incident. After investigation, on 14 January 2003, the DNC submitted a charge-sheet against eight people.
The charge-sheet alleges that Shafiqul and his three accomplices – Somnath Saha, Mushfiqur and Emran Haque – were found to be directly involved in the drug trade. The charge-sheet also stated that Shafiqul's father Shamsul and brother Shariful had committed the crime by collaborating in the drug business.
The investigation officer of the case, Helal Uddin Bhuiyan, currently an inspector of DNC's Intelligence Branch, told The Business Standard: "After recovering the tablets with 'WY' seals we did not know that those were yaba. Later through forensic tests we were confirmed about the items being yaba."
"Following investigations in this sensational case, I submitted a charge-sheet in court accusing six persons involved in yaba business in the country. Since this was the first yaba case, as the investigating officer, I expected maximum punishment for the accused," he added.
According to court sources, the long pending case was handed over to the Appellate Division of the Environmental Court in 2016. However, the case has yet remained pending as there has been no judge in this court since June 29, 2017.
Public Prosecutor AFM Rezaul Karim Hiron of the Appellate Division of the Environmental Court said the trial in the case was being delayed as testimony from witnesses had not been completed. He also mentioned that the absence of judges in the Appellate Division was one of the reasons for the delay.
Lawyers from the Appellate Division of the Environmental Court alleged that cases not related to the environmental court but pending for a long time due to a failure in producing witnesses were being handed over to the court.
Next testimony January 11
Meanwhile, the court has fixed January 11 for the next hearing on witnesses' testimony.
Sources said witnesses were reluctant to testify in the case, despite repeated summons to them to appear in court. Out of 15 witnesses, only two have testified in court. They are Fazlur Rahman, DNC deputy director, and investigation officer of the case Helal Uddin. The court has issued non-bailable arrest warrants against the remaining 13 witnesses.
According to court sources, two accused, Somnath Saha and Emran Haque, in the first yaba case are still absconding while the three arrested accused are currently out on bail.
Non-bailable arrest warrants
Among the 15 witnesses of the case, only four are ordinary people while the remaining 11 are narcotics department officials. Several of them have retired by this time.
The court has issued non-bailable arrest warrants against 13 people for not coming to testify despite repeated summons. They are inspector Enamul Haque, deputy directors Dr Aminul Islam and Hafizur Rahman, assistant directors Amjad Hossain, AM Hafizur Rahman and Zahid Hossain Mollah, chief forensic officer Dulal Krinhna Saha, SI Ahsan Habib and SI Sanwar Hossain.
The four witnesses, who are common people, are Abu Kazi, Nuruzzaman, Fahim Hasan and Hemayet.
According to statistics from the Supreme Court, about 1,70,000 narcotics cases are pending in the country. Of them, 35,000 cases have been pending for more than five years.
In this context, Supreme Court lawyer Barrister Jyotirmoy Barua told The Business Standard that simply talking about a zero tolerance policy against drugs would not work. "How will drugs be eradicated if the first case of Yaba is not settled in 18 years?"
"Not only the court, but the negligence of the law enforcing agencies in producing witnesses before the court is also responsible for the failure", he said.