Bangladesh: Human rights activist urged to make torture a punishable crime in compliance with the UN Convention against Torture

By William Gomes - Modern Ghana
Ms. Annie Jhumur Halder is the Chairperson of the Christian Development Alternative (CDA), a human rights organisation based in Dhaka
Ms. Annie Jhumur Halder is the Chairperson of the Christian Development Alternative (CDA), a human rights organisation based in Dhaka

Ms. Annie Jhumur Halder is the Chairperson of the Christian

Development Alternative (CDA), a human rights organisation based in

Dhaka urged to make torture a punishable crime in compliance with the

UN Convention against Torture. She expresses her views about the issue

of torture and policing in Bangladesh in an interview with the Asian

Human Rights Commission.
In answering different questions she noted the problem of policing

system of Bangladesh.
AHRC: What do you think about the policing system in your country?

Ms. Annie Jhumur Halder : To answer the question I need to focus on

the system, the policing system is arbitrary and suppressing. It is

based on colonial law and in this modern age it operates in a medieval

way. The police use torture and extrajudicial killings as key tools.

The policing system is corrupt and the whole force itself is a factory

of corruption. The policing system is a threat to democracy, justice

and peace of the country.
Police should work as a law enforcement agency that enforces the law

of the land in order to help the judiciary establish justice in the

society. Police are a very important body that is involved in process

of investigation of crime and prosecution. In criminal proceedings,

from the stage of registering a complaint to the completion of

investigation report, almost at every stage the police manipulate the

facts and the process as well. They fabricate various complaints while

they enforce the law, and thus, they appear as the law breakers in

most of the occasions.
The government is failing in its primary duty to provide the public

with an honest, efficient, effective police service that ensures the

rule of law and an environment of safety and security. The government

instead is using the police as an obedient tool to suppress and

oppress the opposition political party and the poor and popular who

talk out against the faults of the government. Many human rights

activists have been beaten and tortured by the police, the Rapid

Action Battalion (RAB). It is very sad that in criminal proceedings

the police play a vital role. Particularly, when the police torture or

commit any crime then another police officer investigates the case and

it is not imaginable in Bangladesh that a police officer will expose

the truth through the investigation report bringing charge against his

colleague. They even do not file a case against any police officer.

A recent murder case filed against Sub Inspector Abdul Mannan with the

Chatkhil police in Noakhali district where a young man was tortured

while in custody and subsequently died is an unprecedented record of a

case being registered against a police officer by the police

themselves. But, there is no reason to be happy with this incident

because, the police did not come out of their own bad system. Rather,

it was eyewash. It represents the policing system where the police

prepared a defective complaint on which they took a signature from the

mother of the victim; they registered the same complaint as an FIR

(First Information Report) and paved the way to weaken the whole case,

aiming to save their colleague from the murder charge. Ultimately, the

police once again killed the truth at the very primary stage of the

George Washington said, "The administration of justice is the firmest

pillar of government". The governments of Bangladesh in the past did

not rely on a transparent system in order to establish the truth.

Instead, they carried lots of crimes with other corrupted ones and

used the police as their hired musclemen. They are doing the same

thing even until now. It appears that a silent genocide is going on in

Bangladesh due to a defective policing system in the country.

AHRC: What do you think of the use of torture?
Ms. Annie Jhumur Halder : Torture is a result of our defective

policing system and failure of the criminal justice system in

Bangladesh but not the cause. It is the result of defective law and

the huge power given to police by many black laws. Such as Section 54

of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898 and the Special Powers Act

1974. Making an arrest is not the only thing that the police do. The

method they apply for extracting information from the arrested person

is barbarous and this is the reason behind custodial deaths. Most of

the custodial deaths are pure killing by groups of criminals in the

uniform. It is a way of life in Bangladesh. Abuse of power under

Sections 54 and 167 the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898 by the police

is alarming although it has been elaborately discussed by the High

Court Division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh in the case of BLAST

v Bangladesh (55 DLR, page 363). In this case the High Court has given

15 directions to the government to follow along with the

recommendations to implement by amending the Code of Criminal

Procedure, 1898. Out of the 15 directions the first eight are related

to the police power of arrest under Section 54 of the Code of Criminal

Procedure, 1898. But the truth is this that the High Court's

directions were not followed or practiced properly in any case.

Police use of force in extorting information from the accused is an

abuse of Section 167 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898 and is

very alarming. Section 167 implies two situations: (1) when an

investigation can be completed within 24 hours and (2) when

investigation cannot be completed within 24 hours. The provision of

Section 167 also implies that while producing a person arrested

without warrant before a Magistrate, the police officer must explain

the reasons as to why the investigation could not be completed within

24 hours and what are the grounds for believing the accusation or

information received against the person. Also the police officer shall

transmit to the Magistrate the copy of the entries in the Case Diary

in Bangladesh Police (B.P.) form no.38 according to the directives

given by the High Court Bench (DLR 55, page 381) if the question of

taking any detainee under the police remand comes. After examining the

information of the Case Diary and the reason shown by the police

officer, the Magistrate will decide whether the person shall be

released at once or be detained further. This is the mandatory law

which the Magistrate has to follow. But what is true in most of the

cases is that the accused who is badly tortured are not even produced

before the court. The police seek remand for 7 days normally while the

Magistrate unquestionably grants 2/3 days remand. But the Magistrate

simply passes an order on the forwarding letter on plain paper of the

police officer authorising the police the "interrogate" the detainee

either in the police station or detain in jail even though the person

is not a criminal. The non-application of proper judicial mind in view

of sub-section 1, 2 and 3 of section 167 of the Code of Criminal

Procedure1898 by the Magistrate has resulted in so many custodial

deaths and incidents of torture in police custody.
In fact, in the absence of any specific law, although Bangladesh had

signed the CAT almost a decade ago the government is liable to the

international community to bring forth a new law to define torture as

a crime. That is the big story regarding problem of torture in police

custody and failure of governments, suppression of police and other

law enforcement agencies. But out of many problems, the nation was

going to see the light when Mr. Saber Hossain Chowdhury on 10

September 2009 placed a private Bill titled "Torture and Custodial

Death (Prohibition) Bill-2009". Sadly still after almost a year the

government has kept silent and has not legislated the law while almost

every day in all the police stations people are getting tortured and

many are getting killed by the criminals in uniform who get impunity

for lack of justice.
Torture cannot be defined as a crime without political will. The

present Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has promised the nation many

times to make the nation a torture free country but it is an open

question as to why she and the vast majority of the government led by

her is not taking proper and speedy initiatives to pass the bill in

the parliament. Another 26 June is coming and we hope that we will see

'Torture' defined as a crime in law very soon.
AHRC: What are your views on the public relations of the police?

Ms. Annie Jhumur Halder : The police are a name of fear for the normal

people but they are very useful for the politicians and the rich

people. In absence of democratic policing, the police are synonymous

with corruption and in many cases they are the real criminals and the

prime source of crime, especially in drug selling. In many cases they

are the investors in the drug business or they earn a huge amount of

money from it. For a woman the police station is not a safe place at

all. Bangladesh has many records of where police rapped woman in

police custody. The police are symbol of fear and corruption in

Bangladesh. The victims get further victimized when anyone goes to

police station to seek help. The very first of the problems is get a

complaint registered and the police normally discourage this at the

police station or in some case they become over interested to file

false cases against poor people or people who are in opposition of

political forces. In both situations filling a case or not filing a

case, money, corruption or political forces are highly related. If

eventually the case is recorded then in the inquiry and investigation

process the victim and the accused are harassed. This often includes

people who are not involved with the crime. The police involve them to

get some money.
The UNDP funded huge amounts of money for police reform, but still

there is no notable change. I think we need an effective law, its

implementation and total reformation of criminal justice system in

AHRC: If you have a problem these days would you go to the police station?

Ms. Annie Jhumur Halder : Personally I did not get any problem. I

regularly observe what the people of my country have been facing in

their everyday life.
By William Gomes
Human Rights Desk- Modern Ghana