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Catholics hail end to arbitrary police powers

Bangladesh court orders changes to laws allowing abuses against detainees

ucanews.com reporters, Dhaka

ucanews.com reporters, Dhaka

Published: May 26, 2016 08:19 AM GMT

Updated: May 26, 2016 08:30 AM GMT

Catholics hail end to arbitrary police powers

Police detain an injured man on suspicion of vandalism during a protest in Dhaka by hard-line Muslims in this in May 5, 2013, photo . The Bangladesh Supreme Court on May 24 declared as unconstitutional sweeping powers that allowed police to arbitrary arrest and torture detainees. (ucanews.com photo by Stephan Uttom)

Catholic activists in Bangladesh have welcomed a May 24 Supreme Court ruling that effectively strips police of sweeping powers that allow them to make arbitrary arrests on suspicion a crime might take place, prolong the detention of suspects and torture detainees in custody.

These powers were often abused and led to the deaths of a number of detainees while in custody, rights groups said.

A four-judge bench headed by Chief Justice S.K. Sinha upheld an April 7, 2003, High Court ruling directing the government to amend several controversial provisions in an 1898 law introduced by the British, which provided police discretionary powers relating to the arrest and detention of suspects. These included allowing police to arrest someone who they thought might commit a crime in the future.

The judges agreed with rights groups that petitioned the court that the provisions allowing these powers were in conflict with the constitution.

The Supreme Court also ordered the quick enforcement of a 15-point directive that included proposals to amend provisions in three other pieces of colonial-era criminal legislation saying they compromise people's fundamental constitutional rights concerning liberty and human rights.

The May 24 ruling ends an 18-year legal battle between rights groups and the government.

It began with a writ petition filed by individuals and human rights groups seeking amendments to the provisions following the death of a university student in police custody on July 23, 1998.

This “landmark judgment” is a “triumph for the people,” Theophil Nokrek, secretary of Catholic Bishop's Justice and Peace Commission said.

"The court has delivered a ruling to safeguard the rights of people as the legal provisions were often misused by law enforcers and the government, and thus became tools for abusing people," Nokrek told ucnanews.com.

"We have seen many cases of abuse, torture and also custodial deaths at the hands of police because these provisions existed for so long. Now people can be rid of them for good," he said.

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These legal provisions caused massive damage to civil liberties and human rights, said Pankaj Gomes, a Dhaka-based legal expert.

"When these provisions were introduced, they may have had a good purpose but not any more," Gomes told ucanews.com.

"Now, it's time to see how the government and law enforcement agencies implement the [court's] recommendations," he said.

One of the court's 15 directives bars police from making arbitrary arrests and that when someone is arrested family members must be informed within three hours.

Another directive says a suspect must not be interrogated in a police cell, but in an interview room partitioned off by a glass wall or grills so a suspect's lawyer or relatives van observe proceedings.

Suspects should also have a medical checkup before and after interrogation, the court said.

There is no official data on deaths in custody in Bangladesh. Dhaka-based rights group Odhikar claims there were a total of 1,097 deaths in custody from 2001 to until March 2016.






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