Autorickshaw driver Jony Mia had been transporting passengers at Bijoynagar town as usual on June 8. In the afternoon, he came across a police check post and his passenger was found transporting six kilograms of hemp. Police video recorded the seizure and obtained the signature of the autorickshaw driver on the record.
Jony was frightened as the police filmed the incident and took still pictures of it on their mobile phones. He grew calmer when the law enforcement officials told him that the pictures and videos would be used to strengthen the narcotics case against the passenger and Jony would only have to testify about what he had seen.
"Videotaping the raid and the witnesses was good as I also want drug smugglers to be punished. I will testify about what I saw before the court," he said.
Like this incident, police in Brahmanbaria bordering India have been video recording the anti-drug raids in a bid to decrease the court's backlog.
Police officials in the district said they were taking the footage so that the witnesses do not fall back to testify before the court and the raids remain transparent.
Brahmanbaria police sources said trials of narcotics cases take too long as the witnesses often do not turn up at courts – while many cases are resolved due to the lack of witnesses and evidence.
Additionally, allegations run rife against some police personnel over evidence tampering. In some incidents, law enforcement members were found to be stealing drugs the raids had recovered.
Brahmanbaria police took the video-recording step in the wake of such recurring issues. Field level police members are now sending video clips along with case dockets to the police's top brass.
The district police are scheduled to submit those digital documents alongside the case documents to court from July. Police said this will stop witnesses getting away by telling the court that he or she was not at the scene during the raid.
Bijoynagar police Officer-in-Charge (OC) Atiqur Rahman said, "In many cases, the drug smugglers manage the witnesses and they [witnesses] tell the court that they know nothing or were not at the spot when the raid was conducted. This helps the smugglers get away with the crime."
Moreover, the OC said that many raise questions over the seizures. Therefore, the higher-ups have asked the field officials to take pictures and record video footage.
Brahmanbaria Additional Superintendent of Police Abu Sayeed said digital evidence will help the trials and make the raids more transparent.
"So far the measure seems effective and fruitful," he added.
However, Barrister Jyotirmoy Barua – a leading human rights lawyer – believes police cannot insist that someone testify.
"Since the legal framework does not allow police to do that, the laws have to be amended first if they want to add digital evidence to narcotics cases," he noted.
Record in per-day narcotics cases
Even the pandemic has failed to thwart drug smuggling as the contraband consignments are making their way in the country. The first two months of this year have seen more narcotics cases than the previous year – 351 a day on average.
The Department of Narcotics Control said in 2019, 340 narcotics cases were filed per day on average.
In narcotics cases, 1.62 lakh people were arrested last year while 27,372 people were arrested in just the first two months of this year.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime says seized drugs are only 10 percent of the total drugs smuggled in a year. According to the hypothesis, more than 30 crore yaba pills, worth Tk4,500 crore, were sold in Bangladesh in 2019.