It is one thing to be convicted as a criminal through due process and sent to jail, but quite another to be dragged to court for years on end because of the failures of the prosecution. At least in the former, one can serve time and move on with one’s life. However, one of those not afforded this simple courtesy is Md Jahirul Islam Rana Khan.
In a case filed in January 2010, Rana was charged with carrying a bottle of phensedyl, a banned cough syrup that has long been illegally used as a recreational drug. Although a conviction would sentence him to jail for 2-10 years, the trial has made no progress in the last eight years.
Rana was released on bail in June 2010. In the 44 court dates set over the eight years since the case was filed, he has been present at just about every session. On the other hand, the prosecution is yet to produce a single witness before the court, despite almost all of them being members of the police.
Rana was a teenager at the time of his arrest and is now 27 years old, but the trial shows no signs that it is approaching its conclusion.
Then Assistant Sub-Inspector of Airport police station in Dhaka Abdul Awal lodged the case against Rana, who hails from Gazipur and was living in the Dakkhinkhan area, under the Narcotics Control Act 1990 on January 13, 2010.
According to the case statement, an SI and a constable had noticed that Rana was roaming “suspiciously” in the area near the Civil Aviation Quarter on the day of his arrest. After detaining him, the police officers recovered a 100ml bottle of phensedyl from Rana’s possession.
In questioning, Rana admitted that he bought the phensedyl for Tk500 from unknown drug dealers Shahin and Delwar, both aged around 35, the statement read.
ASI Shafiqul Islam, SI Farida Parvin, SI Ahsan Habib, SI Angshu Kumar Deb, Department of Narcotics Control official Md Shafikul Islam, constable Abdul Momin, and Ansar members Mominul Islam and Md Masud were made witnesses in the case, and Rana was sent to jail.
A month later, investigation officers SI Ahsan Habib and SI Angshu Kumar Deb submitted the charge sheet to the court. The names of Shahin and Delwar were dropped from the charge sheet as their whereabouts could not be ascertained.
In addition, the investigation officers sent the bottle to the Department of Narcotics Control in Dhaka, who confirmed that it was filled with phensedyl.
SI Angshu told the court that he took over the investigation that SI Habib had started as the latter was transferred away from the Airport police station. He also said the charges against Rana had been found to be true.
After the submission of the charge sheet, the case was transferred from the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate’s Court to the Metropolitan Sessions Judge’s Court for the commencement of the trial in February 2010. The Metropolitan Sessions Judge’s Court transferred the case to Special Judge’s Court-8 in the following month.
After five months in jail, Rana was granted conditional bail in June that year.
Subsequently, the court set August 30, 2010, as the next date for trial proceedings. However, the trial could not be held on the day as the court was busy with other cases. On October 26, the trial was stalled once more for the same reason.
On November 30, the public prosecutor handling the case filed a time petition to defer the proceedings.
Charges were finally framed against Rana on March 8, 2011. However, the trial could not proceed further as the complainant did not appear before the court to record his statement, and the prosecution once again lodged a time petition.
Between March 2011 and December 2017, the prosecution filed time petitions on 37 occasions, as they failed to get witnesses on the dock.
The court criticized the public prosecutor of the case saying that along with the accused, he and police should also be brought under trial as they failed to bring the witnesses before the court.
After the court had granted eight time petitions for the prosecution, it issued a non-bailable warrant against plaintiff ASI Abdul Awal on April 15, 2012, ordering the police to produce him before the court on May 31 that year. However, police could not do so and the prosecution filed yet another time petition.
On court dates in July, September, October, and December of 2012, the prosecution continued to file time petitions as they had still not managed to start the plaintiff’s deposition. Court dates in 2013 also began with time petitions from the prosecution, with one filed in February.
In April 2013, the defence filed its first time petition as Rana was unable to appear before the court.
On May 29, 2013, plaintiff ASI Awal finally appeared before the court to give his deposition, but the prosecution filed a time petition again as the police official was not “prepared enough.” Two other time petitions were lodged in July and October for the same reason.
After three more time petitions were filed by the prosecution, the court issued summons for three witnesses – the constable and two Ansar members – in August 2014. However, this seemed to have no effect, as the prosecution continued to file time petitions on all court dates through the end of 2016.
In January 2017, the court issued a non-bailable warrant against all witnesses in the case and asked the Airport police station to bring them before the court. However, the police submitted a report later that month where they said the locations of ASI Awal, Constable Abdul Momin, ASI Shafiqul Islam, SI Ahsan Habib, and SI Angshu Kumar Deb could not be traced and they were no longer working at the Airport police station.
The prosecution filed another four time petitions in 2017, as the plaintiff and witnesses could not be found.
On the latest court date on April 3 this year, Dhaka Special Judge's Court 8 Judge Shamim Ahmed came down heavily on the present prosecution lawyer over the failure to produce any witnesses and dispose of the case even after eight years.
The prosecution urged the court to seal off witness deposition and issue further directives as they would not be able to produce any of the witnesses.
Advocate Hafiz Uddin, who witnessed the day's proceedings, told the Dhaka Tribune that the judge chastised the prosecutor for failing to produce witnesses while the accused has been in attendance on almost every court date.
“I think you people should be punished for acting unprofessionally. Why did you fail? Why have you stretched the trial for so long?” the judge said as quoted by Hafiz.
In reply, the prosecutor had said that a witness did come to the court once but his statement was not recorded.
When contacted, plaintiff Abdul Awal, who is now a sub-inspector at Lalbagh police station in Dhaka, said the case should have been disposed of by now.
“I went to give my deposition in the case long ago (2013). The judge (he could not recall his name) rebuked me and the OC heavily that day,” he said.
“The judge asked me why I had filed a case over a trivial matter such as a bottle of phensedyl, when I could have been concentrating on nabbing murderers and rapists,” the SI added, saying he replied that he had filed the case under the instruction of then OC Shamsul Alam.
“The court took the OC's phone number from me and rebuked him too,” the SI claimed.
He further quoted the judge as saying the case would be scrapped if no one came to testify.
When the Dhaka Tribune attempted to contact defendant Rana by phone, a male voice who did not disclose his name or relation to Rana said they did not want to make a comment.