The High Court on Sunday revoked a law that gave indemnity to those involved in the controversial criminal hunt campaign, 'Operation Clean Heart,' during the BNP-Jamaat regime in 2003.
The court declared the Joint Drive Indemnity Act, 2003 'illegal' and 'unconstitutional' and also ruled that any aggrieved person or victim of the operation can seek compensation from the government through the HC or any other court.
The HC also allowed the victims of 'Operation Clean Heart' to file criminal and civil cases against the law enforcers who had been involved in torturing and killing of people during the drive.
An HC bench comprising Justice Justice Moyeenul Islam Chowdhury and Justice Md Ashraful Kamal passed the order after the final hearing on a public interest litigation filed by Supreme Court lawyer ZI Khan Panna.
The BNP-Jamaat alliance government passed the act to give immunity from prosecution all those who carried out the countrywide operation taking place from October 16, 2002 till January 9, 2003.
Around 24,023 army and 339 navy personnel along with BDR, police and Ansar members joined the three- month long anti-crime drive.
According to New York-based Human Rights Watch, 60 people were killed in custody and hundreds sustained injuries following torture during the operation. The government admitted that 12 of the detained people died of 'heart attack'.
The military-led joint force arrested 11,245 people, including some 2,482 listed criminals, and recovered 2,028 firearms and 29,754 rounds of ammunition.
In absence of a Parliament session, the government first promulgated an indemnity ordinance on January 9, 2003, hours before the end of the operation.
The ordinance was signed into a law on February 24 the same year, drawing a barrage of flak from a cross-section of people, including eminent lawyers and rights activists.
Senior Supreme Court lawyer Z I Khan Panna challenged the petition on Jun 14, 2012.
On July 29, the HC issued a ruled asking government to explain why the indemnity would not be declared 'illegal' and 'conflicting' with the Constitution.
The bench of justices Mirza Hussain Haider and Kazi Mohammad Ejarul Haque Akondo also demanded to know why a Tk 1 billion fund will not be raised to compensate those harmed during the operation.
Top bureaucrats of the Law, Home and Defence ministries, the Army Headquarters, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and Inspector General of Police were asked to reply to the rule. The court after a hearing on August 31, set the date for the verdict.
The petitioner's argument was that Bangladesh has signed the international convention forbidding torture in 1998. Section 14 of the law provides for raising a fund to compensate anyone harmed by government forces.
But the indemnity law says that anyone harmed during the operation cannot seek justice. No cases or petitions can be filed against anyone involved, which violates the Constitution.
Lawyer Shahidin Malik stood for the writ petitioners while Deputy Attorney General Motahar Hossain Sazu argued for the state.