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4 years on, no progress in Pohela Boishakh sexual harassment trial

  • Published at 01:44 am April 14th, 2019
Pohela Boishakh sexual harrassment
This photo taken April 14, 2015 shows a group men sexually assaulting a woman at Dhaka University campus Rajib Dhar/Dhaka Tribune

Judge Samaddar has set June 17 as the next date to record prosecution witnesses' testimonies

Although four years have elapsed since at least 20 women were sexually harassed during Pohela Boishakh celebrations at Dhaka University’s (DU’s) Teacher Student Centre (TSC) on April 14, 2015, there has been no progress in the trial of the case filed over the incident.

The trial of the case has been stuck with Dhaka Women and Children Repression Prevention Tribunal 8, as the prosecution has failed to produce a single witness before the court — since the trial against lone accused Md Kamal began on June 19, 2017.

Absent witnesses

The court had set: August 31, 2017; January 11, 2018; February 12, 2018; May 16, 2018; August 22, 2018; and February 12 this year to record witnesses' statements, but could not do so on any of the occasions as the witnesses were absent.

Finally, Judge Joyshree Samaddar of the trial court set June 17 as the next date to record testimonies of prosecution witnesses in the case.

Due to the delay in the trial, the accused, Kamal, was granted bail from the High Court and released from jail.

Earlier, the Police Bureau of Investigation (PBI) submitted a charge sheet against Kamal, naming 34 people as prosecution witnesses on December 20, 2016.

Special Public Prosecutor Md Rezaul Karim told the Dhaka Tribune the court has repeatedly sent summons to witnesses, but none have come to give their testimonies.

Unidentified suspects

Although the charge sheet mentioned that only Kamal had sexually harassed the women on Pohela Boishakh in 2015, Police Bureau of Investigation (PBI) official Abdur Razzak—investigation officer of the case—said seven other culprits were detected on CCTV camera footage and their names would be included in the charge sheet if law enforcement officials could identify and arrest them.

However, law enforcement agencies failed to identify any of the seven other suspects in the last four years.

Meanwhile, Kamal’s counsel Anisur Rahman claimed his client was innocent and not involved in the sexual harassment.

“Kamal is very poor and he has three children. The investigation officers failed to identify the perpetrators of the sexual harassment,” he told the Dhaka Tribune. 

Under the nose of police

Immediately after the sexual harassment incident at the TSC, witnesses alleged that a number of police officials were nearby but did not act.

They also claimed that one officer had released two of the culprits after members of the public caught them and handed them over to law enforcement officials.

The incident sparked a wave of protests across the country, with people from all quarters condemning the sexual harassment and demanding the immediate arrest of the culprits.

Police at first denied having any evidence of sexual harassment, describing the incident as a mere scuffle. 

Later, then Police IGP AKM Shahidul Hoque told reporters they had detected eight people who carried out the harassment, from CCTV camera footage, and declared a reward of Tk1 lakh for information about them. Police also released photos of the eight youths. 

The Detective Branch (DB) of police carried out the initial investigation in the case filed with Shahbagh police station, but the probe was forced to conclude as the DB failed to identify any of the culprits after an eight-month-long investigation. 

DB Sub-Inspector Dipok Kumar Das submitted a final report to the court on December 13, 2015, mentioning that none of the suspects could be identified. However, the investigation officer appealed to the court to reopen the case after Md Kamal was arrested at Dhaka’s Chawkbazar on January 27, 2016.

Later, on February 23, 2016, a Dhaka court directed the PBI to re-investigate the case, and PBI subsequently submitted the charge sheet.