A total of 850 militancy cases have been lodged across the country over the last 18 years, from 1999 to March 2017. Out of these, only 13.29% have been settled, while the rest remain bogged down under trial and investigation.
Two people lost their lives and scores were injured in a militant attack on the Tazia procession of Husseini Dalan in Old Dhaka on October 23, 2015. It took 18 months to start proceedings of the case under the Anti-Terrorism Act as police took a year to file the charge sheet, accusing 10 militants. The trial finally began on May 31 this year.
This is not even the worst instance of a delay in a militancy case. Similar incidents have been under trial for years, while some have seen no progress in a decade and a half.
Nine militancy cases were filed between 1999 and 2004, with all of them yet to be concluded. Seven are under trial, while the remaining two are still in the investigation phase.
According to the militant monitoring cell of police headquarters, around 3,457 members of militant outfits have been arrested in the 850 militancy cases. Police have submitted charge sheets to the court for 598 of these cases, 21 final reports have been filed and 231 militancy cases are still under investigation.
The sluggish progress of militancy cases not only thwarts justice, but also raises other terror related concerns, say analysts.
The main reason trial proceedings of militant cases stall is due to the absence of witnesses on the scheduled date. Not limited to civilian witnesses, police are also often guilty of failing to show up and give statements
Militants out on bail
Many militants are released on bail due to the slow progress of their cases, making it more difficult for law enforcement agencies to track their whereabouts.
According to jail authorities, more than 100 militant prisoners have been released on bail from jails over the past six months.
Among them are members of New JMB, old JMB, Ansarullah Bangla Team, Harkatul Jihad (HuJIB) and Hizbut Tahrir.
New JMB’s Abdur Rouf Prodhan, arrested from Dhaka in January this year, was released on bail after giving his confessional statement on June 2. Old JMB’s Saleh Ahmed was released on bail the same day, while Ansarullah Bangla Team member Ariful Islam was released the day before.
Faruk Ahmed, who has handled a number of militancy cases as a defence lawyer, told the Dhaka Tribune that militancy trials have to be completed within 360 days as per the code of criminal procedure. If a trial cannot be completed within this time, then the court may grant bail to the accused.
When contacted, Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime (CTTC) unit officials have expressed their anxiety about the release of militants on bail, confirming that it creates difficulty in monitoring them and leads to the risk that they may carry out further attacks.
A window for escape
Furthermore, long trial proceedings that require suspected militants to be repeatedly shuttled between the court and jail increases the risk of escape.
One only needs to think back to February 2014, when members of JMB killed a policeman and rescued three of their detained operatives from a prison van in Trishal, Mymensingh. One of the militants was recaptured within hours, while the other two are believed to have fled to India.
When asked about the risk of escape during transfer of militants to court, Senior Superintendent of Kashimpur High Security Central Jail Mizanur Rahman told the Dhaka Tribune that it was the duty of the police to handle the prisoner from the gate of the jail to court and back.
Senior police officials said that they had taken measures regarding the problem of escape attempts when transferring militant prisoners.
Deputy Commissioner (Media) of the Dhaka Metropolitan Police Masudur Rahman said: “After the Trishal incident the police are much more careful about the transfer of militants and special security measures are put in place whenever they have to be moved.”
Militant activities in jail
Law enforcement officials have also raised concerns that militants held in jail may seek to radicalise other inmates. However, Kashimpur High Security Central Jail authorities have dismissed the concerns as they said special measures were taken for militant prisoners.
Kashimpur Senior Jail Superintendent Mizanur Rahman said: “We are aware of who the militant prisoners are. They are separated from other prisoners in the jail and we constantly observe them. It is impossible for any militant prisoners to hold meetings and plan subversive activities while in jail.”
Why do the cases stall?
Abdullah Abu, public prosecutor of the Dhaka Metropolitan Sessions Judges Court, told the Dhaka Tribune that the main reason trial proceedings of militant cases stall is due to the absence of witnesses on the scheduled date.
Not limited to civilian witnesses, police are also often guilty of failing to show up and give statements. There are a number of instances where the investigating officer was absent at court despite the accused having been produced before it, he said
Abdullah added that, for old cases specifically, there was a problem of cases proceeding in various courts of the country against the same militant.
“This wastes time, as the accused cannot be produced at a court if he is already at another one on the same date,” he said.
A police official from the prosecution department said for most of the cases where the witnesses failed to show, they were not found at the addresses which were mentioned in the case statements as they had changed residences.
In order to resolve the issue, witnesses in more recent cases have to provide alternate addresses and mobile phone numbers as well as their current address, he added.
However, it was more difficult to fix the issue of witnesses that later decide against giving statements to the court out of fear that militants may look for retribution, the police official said.
Attorney General Mahbubey Alam, chief legal official of the state, told the Dhaka Tribune that most trials for militant cases were delayed in the lower courts. However, some militant cases, including that of HujiB leader Mufti Hannan, have been resolved quickly in the High Court.