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Custodial deaths and the image of police

Published : Wednesday, 16 September, 2020 at 12:00 AM  Count : 280

Custodial deaths and the image of police

Custodial deaths and the image of police

Bangladesh Police whose image was never up-to the mark in the country, regained confidence of the people as the cops putting their life at stake rescued many Covid-19 infected people for hospitalisation and treatment after the outbreak of the pandemic in the country in March last.

Even, they buried dead bodies abandoned by relatives in fear of virus infection.  Police also distributed foods to the people when all nongovernmental organisations and welfare bodies locked down themselves at their respective homes on virus fears.

As the services were lauded by members of the public the bosses of the law enforcement agency with the endorsement of many claimed that Bangladesh Police had proved that they were the true friends of the people.

However, a subsequent incident in which policemen shot dead a retired Major of Bangladesh Army at a Check Post near Teknaf on Cox's Bazar--Teknaf Marine Drive on July 31 last, dipped the image of police to the bottom once again.

Moreover a recent landmark maiden verdict that convicted three police officials and their two informers for fatally injuring a young man in their custody at a Dhaka Police Station six years ago, smeared Bangladesh Police further.

Sociologists believe that it is likely to be difficult for the law enforcement agency to regain the confidence of the people, although it is true that there is no alternative to police to maintain order in the society and extend security to the people.

They observe although few policemen are generally involved in unlawful activities including custodial deaths and killing of alleged criminals in purported exchange of fire during raids, the whole lot of police force has to bear the blame for the extrajudicial killings.

According to criminologists majority members of law enforcement agencies are lawful, wise and patriots and they dedicatedly extend security to the people.  Though some of them fail to perform and people do not get their desired security during needs, the country cannot think a single day without the service of police. 

For instance, if all the traffic police in the city of Dhaka abstain from giving their service, will anyone be able to negotiate through the chaotic streets of the capital. Can the people think what will be the situation if police make an announcement that they stop doing duty for a day? If such announcement comes or situation arises to keep police away from the civic life, criminals will loot all the public and private properties of the government within hours.

So for the crimes committed by few elements, the nation should not blame the entire Bangladesh Police and in no circumstances people should demoralise the police force of the country, said Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina at the parliament last week.

The PM called upon all to be considerate over criticising law enforcers as they have been working to tackle narcotics, terrorism and militancy by risking their lives. She said people should not do anything which might cause fear among the law enforcers. It is necessary that law enforcers do not lose their morale in carrying out their duties, she said.

The PM said people call law enforcement agencies when they are in danger. It is the police who are called first during danger periods and the people's security is ensured by them, she added.

A Dhaka court on September 9 last sentenced three policemen of the capital's Pallabi Police Station to stay in prison until death and two others to serve in jail for seven years for killing an alleged criminal Ishtiaque Hossain Jonny in their custody in 2014.

The verdict drew national and international attention as it was announced at a crucial time when seven policemen including a suspended Officer-in-Charge are in prison for killing retired Army Major Sinha Mohammed Rashed Khan at a check post on Marine Drive near Teknaf in a fateful evening some 40 days ago. It is the only case out of hundreds of such killing in purported gunfights or raids over the decades, in which an incumbent Officer-in-Charge, Sub-Inspectors and Constables were arrested, remanded and sent to jail.

Of the five accused sentenced for killing Jonny, a police sub-inspector and a civilian police informer are absconding. The court also fined the three policemen Tk one lakh each, in default of which they will serve six more months in jail. It also fined two other accused Tk 20,000 each, in default of which they will serve three more months in jail. Besides, the court asked the three police officers to pay Tk two lakh each to the plaintiff of the case as compensation.

This is first verdict under the Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention) Act, 2013, passed in the parliament after years of allegations that many alleged accused died while in police custody or killed in purported gun fights between law enforcers and criminal gangs.

It is interesting to note that though the extrajudicial killing has been occurring in the country for decades, no government enacted a law to restrain the law enforcers from killing alleged criminals on different context, most of which later emerged fictitious. The government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina after returning to power for the second term in January 2009, mooted the idea to stop extrajudicial killing and accordingly framed the law.  The act was passed in the parliament where the treasury bench members were more than two-thirds in numbers.

The trial process was however, lengthy as the accused tried to halt the prosecution seeking stay order at the High Count,  which through due process later cleared the proceed with the trial and at last Judge KM Emrul Kayesh of Dhaka Metropolitan Sessions Judge's Court delivered the verdict.

As the justice is for everybody and everyone has the right to seek fair justice the accused have the right to seek appeal against the verdict with the High Court (HC). Any verdict of the HC is likely to be challenged by the aggrieved party in the Supreme Court (SC). Hence the punishment announced by the Dhaka Metropolitan Session Judge would take some more time to be finally approved by the SC.  During this process of hearing in the higher courts, the accused in the case arrested so far are supposed to stay in the prison if not released on bail by the higher courts.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said last week that her government was not sparing anyone involved in extrajudicial killings. Delivering her closing speech at the ninth session of the current parliament, she said, "We are not sparing anyone involved in extrajudicial killings and we never do that.

Possibly the Prime Minister was speaking in the context of death of Jonny in police custody and killing of retired Army Major Sinha by police. Government took prompt action against the policemen as the killing sparked uproar in the country especially among the members of defence forces.

The verdict of the first case under the Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention) Act, 2013 was possible because Rocky, the plaintiff of the case had rock like strong commitment and defied many threat, intimidation and also baits during the trial process.  Meanwhile many incidents of extrajudicial killing and forced disappearances have been reported since the enactment of the act against such killings.  But compared to such incidents only few cases have been filed and subsequent investigations in these cases remained too poor to be indicted by the court.

Extrajudicial killing by a section of law enforcers intensified soon after the formation of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) a unit of Bangladesh Police in 2004. Since then several hundreds of people have been abducted, detained and many of them perished in extrajudicial executions until the death of Sinha. It is feared that when Sinha saga will vanish from the memory of the public, the cruel section of the law enforcers would against resume extrajudicial killing.
The writer is the Business
Editor, The Daily Observer

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