Ishtiaque Hossain Jonny was tortured outside Pallabi Police Station and later died in hospital. (Photo supplied)
Christian leaders have welcomed the first court verdict in Bangladesh to hand down lengthy prison terms to policemen for custodial torture and death.
It was the first-ever verdict under the country’s Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention) Act 2013.
Judge K.M. Emrul Kayesh of the Metropolitan Sessions Judges Court in capital Dhaka sentenced three policemen to life imprisonment and two police informants to seven years in jail for torturing and killing 28-year-old Ishtiaque Hossain Jonny in 2014.
The guilty officers were former sub-inspector Jahidur Rahman and former assistant sub-inspectors Qamruzzaman Mintu and Rashedul Islam. Their informants were identified only as Sumon and Russell.
Jahidur and Sumon are in jail, Rashedul is on bail and Qamruzzaman and Russell are on the run, media reported.
The judge also ordered each policeman to pay 200,000 taka (US$2,350) to the victim’s family within 14 days or they will not be able to appeal against the verdict in the High Court.
A police team led by Jahidur picked up brothers Imtiaz Hossain Rocky and Ishtiaque Hossain Jonny on Feb. 7, 2014, with some others from a pre-wedding event in the Pallabi area.
They were tortured outside Pallabi Police Station for hours and Jonny lost consciousness. He died from his injuries in hospital.
His brother filed a case against the five on Aug. 7, 2014, and didn’t back off despite threats and pressure from the accused.
“We are satisfied with the verdict. Justice has been served,” a tearful Rocky told reporters after the verdict.
Defense lawyer Faruk Ahmed rejected the verdict and alleged that the accused were sentenced based on “false accusations.” He claimed that the victim died not from torture but from a heart attack due to loud music at the pre-wedding event.
Rights campaigners have lauded the verdict as a “historic landmark” to curb custodial torture and deaths and the culture of impunity.
Father Anthony Sen, a member of the Catholic bishops’ Justice and Peace Commission, hailed the verdict and termed it a milestone for the justice system.
“In Bangladesh, often we see that there is no monitoring of police actions as to whether they are legal or illegal. Police cannot take the law into their hands unless they are in a desperate situation,” he said.
“Sometimes I wonder why police are so rogue, rude and vengeful to people and get away with brutal torture and killings. There are so many cases of torture in police custody and many have died from injuries from brutal violence. This is absolute injustice, illegal and a violation of human rights.
“I believe this verdict opens the way to get justice for many cases of custodial torture and deaths in Bangladesh.”
Nirmol Rozario, president of Bangladesh Christian Association, said the verdict has brought hope.
“This verdict gives us hope and it sets a new example. I believe this landmark verdict will be a milestone in establishing the rule of law in the country. Extrajudicial torture and killing as well as abuse of state powers are not acceptable,” Rozario said.
“We came to know the young man asked for water before he died but the police spat on him. This is so cruel and disgraceful for humanity. I think the court has rightly decided and given its verdict. Custodial torture and deaths should not be tolerated.”
Dhaka-based rights group Odhikar recorded 1,344 cases of deaths in jail in Bangladesh from 2001-19. It documented 646 cases of custodial torture by various law enforcement agencies from 2004-19.