Things that make you to Think
The Story, published at Xtra, reveals how police atrocities and the complex web of corruption are often overlooked in absence of independent investigation into the allegation against state forces.
The long day was just about to end for Hira and his friends. After driving long hours on the highways, they had finally reached the Hemayetpur bus stand. It was already past midnight. Before landing the pick-up van to the garage, they drove to a nearby hotel for meal. As soon as they stopped the van in front of the hotel, a white microbus arrived from the wrong side of the road and stopped before them. Three people came out from the microbus and asked Hira to give them the key of his van.
Police charged Hira for injuring ‘a cop at Kawranbazaar’ and for ‘damaging a police van’. Soon as the police started beating up Hira, two of his four friends ran away while the other two begged for mercy and requested the police not to beat Hira.
Hira and his friends Shah Alam and Rubel were arrested on charge of snatching a truck loaded with garment clothes. ‘The police had beaten me with sticks continuously and haphazardly,’ says Hira.
On March 18, the Savar police filed a case against five for violating law and order under section 4(1)/5 of speedy tribunal. At 11:00 that night, the police took the three outside the station and reach a police outpost in the tannery area at Hemayetpur.
‘They tied my hands and legs with rope and then hung me with a bamboo,’ says Hira. The investigation officer of the case, sub-inspector Emdadul Haque of Ashulia police station was pursuing a confessional statement for robbing garments.
Emdad and his patrol team continued to beat Hira and his friends brutally until they agreed to sign the confession.
‘When I begged for water they poured into my nostrils and mouth. I felt like I was dying,’ Hira says to Xtra. The assault on the three went on till the wee hours of night. They eventually escaped giving any statement that night as the torture left them with pain.
The next day they were sent to the Court where the police secured a day’s remand for them in police custody. Hira alleged that Emdad promised to set them free against Tk 1.50 lakh. The families arranged Tk 20,000 and requested the police not to torture them during the remand. The next day they were released on bail.
‘For two months my son could not eat with his own hand properly,’ says Hira’s mother. Hira still bears marks of torture on his body. Even in this condition Hira has to drive trucks to earn living and bear expenses for the case.
Although Hira got away, businessman Shamim Sarkar, 32, was not as fortunate. The plainclothes team of Savar police station tortured Shamim to death on June 6. His family alleged that the police demanded Tk 2.5 lakh to release him.
Shamim’s death eventually sparked a protest in Savar against the local police station and the atrocities being committed by its plainclothes team headed by sub-inspector Emdad. Locals claimed that the plainclothes team of the police were extorting money from innocent people in the area and running a racket to implicate people on false charges unless they received regular sums of money.
Under pressure the Savar police arrested SI Emdad, assistant sub-inspector Akidul Islam, and three constables Modasser, Ramjan and Yusuf.
The newly appointed police officer-in-charge, however, denies having any knowledge of such occurrence in his station. ‘There has been no occurrence of custodial torture within my serving period,’ says Mostafa Kamal, officer-in-charge of Savar police.
An Xtra investigation finds that the notoriety of corrupt policemen has not been limited to any one police station. Police in Kushtia picked up Aleya Akhter, 50 and her daughter Sumaiya Sultana Shima, 18, at 3:00 in the morning from their home on September 9, last year.
Human rights organisation Odhikar reports that members of the local police physically assaulted the girl and gave both of them electric shock for six days in the name of interrogation.
Last August Shima’s father was killed. The police suspect Shima, her 14 year old brother and mother were involved in the killing. A team of police raided their house to find the 14-year-old and when they did not find him, they picked up his mother and sister.
The mother alleged that they were given electric shocks on their hands while the police also beat them on their waist and leg with stick and slapped them. The police also pushed needles in the hand of her daughter, Aleya told in an interview with Odhikar.
Sometimes a police would come and take Shima with them and after 3-5 hours she would be returned in an unstable condition. Shima wanted to commit suicide as she could not bear the torture, Aleya said to Odhikar.
Police brutality and torture have been practices since the British colonial period. While Britain have improved their detention and interrogation practices amid covert infringement of civil rights, being recently revealed, Bangladesh’s law enforcement agencies have been violating the rights of citizens unabatedly.
The death of Shamim allegedly in Savar police custody raised the conscious minds of civilians to protest the atrocities of the police, leading the agency to take action against its members.
According to statistics prepared by Odhikar, 146 people were killed only in police custody while 197 were alive after torture between 2004 and January 2013. The number of victims in custodial torture is quite high among the other law enforcement agencies.
According to Odhikar, 18 people were victims of extrajudicial killing by the police in 2012, 31 people in 2011, 43 in 2010 and 75 people in 2009. Five persons were reportedly killed in police custody in 2012, 14 in 2011, 20 in 2010 and 11 in 2009.
Human rights violation and corruption perpetrated by the police force is considered severe according to rights organisations.
Several family members of detainees tell Xtra that the police have made detention and custody, a quick-money making venture. To meet a detainee in custody, one has to pay Tk 100 to Tk 500 and additional charges if they want to provide food and clothing.
However, they also claim that to protect their dear ones from torture during remand, the police charge hefty amounts. Until the detainee or arrestee is sent to jail or gets bail the tension and cost have no bounds.
A constable in Dhaka says that the payment depends on a detainee’s case and investigation officers charge the detainees on the basis of their financial position.
It is also learnt that, most of the time the investigation officers torture detainees before producing them to the magistrate. After torturing, they send the detainees to the Court and seek for remand. This time a detainee usually complies with the demands of the case investigator by providing money to remain safe in police remand. However, before sending a detainee to the Court, the investigator secures the confessional statement from the detainee, which meets his official purpose.
If the extortion is not satisfactory or if a detainee refuses to give confessional statement, the torture in custody continues until the detainee is transferred to prison.
The former Inspector General of Police (IGP), Muhammad Nurul Huda, tells Xtra, torture in custody is illegal as this is strictly prohibited in our Constitution. The Penal Code, 1860 has no provision for torture.
Lack of proper management in police recruitments brings some bad hands in police force who exploits their power.
In addition, he points out that there is no such education or course regarding stress management or psychological development to control the temperament in working within stressful situation in the police force as the police always needs to continue their work in unpleasant and hectic situation.
Different countries have appointed psychologists for the police force to support their mental pressure which is yet to be adopted in our country, he says.
The secretary of Odhikar, Adilur Rahman Khan, points out five main reasons behind custodial torture. Firstly, when police cannot identify perpetrators or make headway in an investigation within their stipulated time due to political intervention, they resort to torture and concocted confessions. On many occasions they have difficulty when suspects or perpetrators are politically backed.
Secondly, custodial torture has turned into a money-making venture. Odhikar found allegations that most of the time police recruitment is arranged with bribe. They received allegations where to become a constable, a candidate has to pay Tk 2-3 lakh, while for the position of a sub-inspector it would take Tk 5-6 lakh. Aspirants have to manage this money by selling properties and acquiring personal loan. Thus after getting the job, they get involved with illegal practices in the force to recover their investment.
Political intervention in police force continues since before the liberation war. So to stay within the good books of political leaders and due to the political intervention, police sometimes manipulate cases, implicate and harass innocent people.
Often the cost allocated for an investigation is too little. As a result the police resort to illegal means to meet their daily official expenses. In some ways the state is also responsible behind the derailment of the agency.
Lastly, equipments for torturing are imported in our country, which cannot be accepted in a sovereign and democratic country. A large number of educated people remain silent regarding this issue for which police continues torture in custody.
Some police officials agreed to Khan’s points. Police are bound to become corrupt amid pressure from high-ups. Often there are monetary targets as well as arrests laid out for police on duty in every station. ‘People become prey of our targets,’ says a police official because of such arbitrary targets.
A constable tells Xtra that, ‘I am serving in the police force for almost 28 years. My two children are now studying in college. The cost of living can never be reached with my salary. I have to guard the detainees in the jail when they give me money for small favours outside books.’
Khan regrets that such adversities in police force are apprehensive when trainers are posted at Bangladesh Police Academy on punishment. ‘Odhikar has received allegations that trainers at the police academy are posted on punishment,’ says Khan, implying that academy is deemed the worst of all the places for a police personnel.
Custodial torture however, is not an exception in Bangladesh as this is prevalent in many South Asian countries.
Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia Director of New York-based Human Rights Watch, tells Xtra, ‘Torture often leads to misinformation because people are frightened and desperate for their suffering to end, the police can end up with false leads, and wrongful arrests.’
She continues, ‘Police have so little training and equipment for proper investigations that the only tool in their box is interrogation, often accompanied with torture.’
Rights experts believe that law enforcing officials are abusing their power to torture and exploit suspects and accused in absence of stringent laws prohibiting torture.
Although torture is expressly prohibited in the Bangladesh Constitution’s article 35 (5), stating, ‘No person shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment or treatment,’ there is no express prohibition of torture in any statutory law.
The Penal Code, 1860 contains no specific offence of torture. The Criminal Procedure Code prohibits police officers from threatening suspects or any other persons but does not specifically refer to torture. It says under section 163 (1), ‘No police-officer or other person in authority shall offer or make, or cause to be offered or made, any such inducement, threat or promise as is mentioned in the Evidence Act, 1872, section 24.’
However, Bangladesh still does not follow its obligations to stop torture, even after being a State party to the Convention against Torture (CAT) on October 5, 1958.
Human rights activists say that often we see a policeman does not get any exemplary punishment which has resulted in impunity. Departmental actions against accused policemen like posting, transfer, closure and suspension provide police with leeway to use them in their interest.
Adilur tells Xtra that lack of socio-economic safety of people expose them to brutality. A person or a boy enters into the world of crime when the statecannot provide him the social safety.
Meenakshi says that the subcontinent inherited its policing culture from the time that it was governed by the British colonials, adding that, policing then was largely an attempt to suppress the general population. ‘That same culture continues to prevail.’
She also says, custodial torture and deaths will continue unless the State implements reforms and set up a strong mechanism for accountability that will ensure that any violation will be independently investigated and prosecuted.
Legal experts and rights activists stress the need for a mechanism to ensure that victims can seek redress without fear of further torture or harassment.