At the start of 2019, it was discovered that an ordinary jute mill worker, Jahalam, had spent three years in prison after being wrongfully accused by a commercial bank, along with the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), of corruption.
Jahalam had been falsely charged with 33 cases of corruption, and was released from prison following a High Court order. The ACC admitted in this case that they committed a mistake charging Jahalam as Abu Salek. The commission has lodged an appeal with the lower court to acquit Jahalam from the proceedings.
But three years from Jahalam's life was lost, he also lost his job. As he was the only earning member of his family, these three years was undoubtedly unbearable for him and his family. However, Jahalam's is one among many such cases.
In Bangladesh, many innocent people have been wrongfully convicted and falsely detained over the years. Sadly, people are sentenced to imprisonment, even to death penalty, for crimes they have not committed at all.
According to the report of the Legal Aid committee of Bangladesh Supreme Court, till 8 January 2017, 462 people were detained without trial. Additionally, 78.2 percent of Bangladesh's prisoners are pre-trial detainees or under remand, and more than 3.3 million proceedings are still pending throughout 2018 as per the law-minister's statistics (Ahmed, 28 February, 2019).
The percentage of pre-trial detainees is alarming, and it is a threat to human rights. It is also not impossible that many of the pre-trial detainees are innocent. They are being deprived of the universally accepted legal principle that is presumption of innocence.
Article-32 of the Constitution of Bangladesh provides, "No person shall be deprived of life, or personal liberty save in accordance with law". Moreover, Article 21 states that an individual serving the state must act disciplined in official duties. When an innocent faces imprisonment without committing any crime, we cannot claim that the government employees have done their job with much consistency, in the process they breached Article 21.
Infringement of Article 21 draws the provisions of Article 27 which entrenches "Equality before the law". By exercising arbitrary incarceration, we are establishing the condition of a citizens' deprivation.
Besides, Article 33 of our constitution strictly prohibits arbitrary arrest, detention and torture. Even the Code of Criminal Procedure-1898 has ensured safeguards during the pre-trial process. Interrogation of the accused and the manner of interrogation is perspicuously stated in the law. Every stage of the proceeding has enough procedural protection in Bangladesh, but unfortunately not in execution.
In Bangladesh many unjustly convicted are spending their lives in prison with intolerable sufferings before proving themselves innocent. Further, they may have arguably lost their status in the eyes of society. Also, the long delay in the disposal of criminal cases in Bangladesh creates social and mental agony in the wrongfully imprisoned individuals.
Wrongful convictions should be stopped immediately and victims should be compensated adequately. Recently, the Supreme Court of Bangladesh pronounced a few landmark verdicts granting compensation to individuals who have been the victims of wrongful convictions and incarceration.
In the judicial history of Bangladesh, the first landmark judgment granting compensation for the wrongfully convicted was in the case of Abdul Jalil, where the court ordered the government to pay him Tk50,000,00 for his 14 years imprisonment.
In another case, the High Court Division issued a rule asking the government to pay compensation Tk20,000,00 to Javed Ali from Satkhira for his 13 years imprisonment, after his acquittal from a murder case.
Right now, the government should take up initiatives to identify the people who are in prison without committing any offence and release them immediately, with compensation, considering their total loss such as money spent for the case; money they would have earned if they remained free and so on.
Moreover, the state should make a legislation right now inserting the provision of compensating the wrongfully convicted people. Most importantly, serious reforms in the legal system are also needed to prevent such wrongful convictions.
Regrettably, though there is a constitutional obligation concerning the right to compensation of those wrongfully convicted, which is upheld in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Bangladesh has not yet put in place an adequate legal framework to implement this obligation.
Although monetary compensation can hardly make up for the years of wrongful imprisonment, it is the least a state can do for the victims. We should also bear in mind that the wrongfully convicted persons must be compensated not just for the irreparable sufferings and pains endured in the prison but also for the obstacles they face while trying to reenter and regain their healthy life after being released.