A man walks past a police cordon in Bangladeshi capital Dhaka in this file photo. A recent case of murder a young man in police custody brought to forth country’s plague of custodial abuses and killings. (Photo: Stephan Uttom/UCA News)
The recent case of torture and death of a young man in police custody highlights the plague of abuse and deaths in police custody in Bangladesh.
Several policemen picked up 34-year-old Raihan Ahmed from a police outpost in northeastern Sylhet city on Oct. 10. The next day, he was hospitalized with severe injuries. He died hours later.
Initially, police claimed that Ahmed was a victim of a mob lynching. A mob attacked him after he was caught in a robbery attempt.Ahmed's family strongly rejected the police claim, and his wife, Tahmina Akter, filed a murder case against some people, including the policemen on duty on Oct. 12.
CCTV footage showed that a healthy Raihan got down with policemen from an auto-rickshaw on Oct. 10, but he seemed seriously injured when departing the police outpost the next day.
The murder triggered media and social backlash with strong protests for arrest of perpetrators and justice for the murder.
Sub-inspector Akbar Hossain, in-charge of Bandar Bazar police outpost, and three other policemen have been accused of the murder. They were suspended and arrest warrants were issued.
“We have already arrested one accused We are continuing search for the others," said investigating officer Khaled-Uz-Zaman.
The other three including Hossain are on the run.
A spate of custodial torture, deaths
Local and international rights groups have repeatedly criticized Bangladesh for failing to stop custodial torture and killing.
About 4,000 people have become victims of extrajudicial and custodial killings in Bangladesh in the past two decades, according to the Dhaka-based rights group Odhikar (rights).
This year, 207 people have become extrajudicial and custodial murder victims, noted Ain-O-Salish Kendra (ASK or Law and Arbitration Center), another Bangladeshi right group.
Police officers were punished for such killings only in a 2014 case in which 28-year-old Ishtiaque Hossain Jonny was tortured and killed.
In the verdict pronounced last Sept. 9, a court in Dhaka sentenced three police officers to life in jail and two police informants to seven years' jail term.
It was the first guilty verdict under the Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention) Act of 2013.
The case of Raihan Ahmed is the second most talked about custodial killing in the country this year after retired army major Sinha Mohammad Rashed Khan was shot dead by police on July 31.
Nur Khan, former executive director of ASK, said custodial torture and death had become a "malicious culture" in Bangladesh.
"We have seen many cases of torture and deaths in police custody, but prosecution is rare. This is how protectors of the law turn to violators of the law. The state must take responsibility to end the culture of impunity and commit to zero tolerance for extrajudicial abuses and killings," Khan told UCA News.
"This deadly culture must come to an end if we want to claim ourselves a civilized nation and don't want to plunge into further darkness on human rights," he added.
Disregard for human rights
Father Anthony Sen, a member of Catholic Bishops’ Justice and Peace Commission, denounced extrajudicial and custodial killings as “utter disregard for human life and human rights.”
“It triggers goosebumps to think about how police can abuse someone so brutally leading to his death. This is not just inhuman but also barbaric. If the police had slightest respect for human life and human rights, it should not have happened,” Father Sen told UCA News.
From lower to top level of law enforcement agencies abuses and killings in custody are common across the country and this brutal practice continues with latent backing from top levels of the government, the priest noted.
“We have laws but we are still far from becoming a nation with effective rule of law. No action is taken against lawmen engaged in illegal practices and even murdering. This systematic violation of constitutional and human rights should be considered a disgrace for the state and must stop. All perpetrators of custodial tortures and deaths should face punishment,” Father Sen added.
Bangladesh passed the Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention) Act in 2013 to prevent torture and death in custody of law enforcement agencies. It was part of country’s commitment to the UN Committee Against Torture as a signatory of UN Convention Against Torture (UNCAT), which prohibits torture, cruelty and degrading punishment or treatment in custody of law enforcers.
However, rights groups claim few cases have been filed under the act largely due to a lack of public awareness about the law and fear of backlash from lawmen.