NHRC Chairman Kazi Reazul Hoque said determining whether there was any connection between the polls and the crime was under the purview of the Election Commission
Verifying whether the Noakhali gang-rape was a polls-related crime is not under the jurisdiction of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), its Chairman Kazi Reazul Hoque said on Thursday.
“It is being said that we tried to avoid the matter [of political motivation in the Noakhali gang-rape] in our report, which is not true at all. The matter [connection to the polls] is not within our jurisdiction,” the NHRC chief said while addressing the launch event for two ActionAid reports in Dhaka.
He added that determining whether there was any connection between the polls and the crime was under the purview of the Election Commission.
“If there were any election-centric issues, for example we received two complaints during the polls, we suggested that the complainants contact the Election Commission, returning officer, or his deputy, as we cannot intervene in such issues,” Reazul said.
Stressing that the NHRC were the first organization to reach the Noakhali gang-rape victim, he said: “Our main objective was to verify the claim that a woman was violated. The NHRC conducted an investigation into the allegation, and indeed found evidence that the woman was gang-raped and brutally tortured.”
The NHRC chief also reiterated that the watchdog demands exemplary punishment for the offenders.
Claiming the organization’s report was misinterpreted in the press, he said: “We did not mention who voted for whom in our findings. The EC is there to do this.”
In the NHRC probe report published on January 8, the watchdog said the probe body did not find any connection between the gang-rape in the district’s Subarnachar upazila and the 11th parliamentary election.
Experts’ views on the NHRC investigation
Insisting that the NHRC report must disclose the reason behind the incident, rights activist Nur Khan Liton said: “Publishing its findings while brushing aside the victim and her family’s complaints is very unfortunate.”
He alleged that the NHRC acted in such a manner to cover up reality and prove that it cannot work independently.
The activist also feared that the NHRC’s findings may impact the investigation report, which police are yet to submit.
“The NHRC cannot avoid its responsibility over the report and the people will keep losing their faith in the commission,” he said.
Advocate Sultana Kamal, another rights campaigner, also described the NHRC chief’s statement as unfortunate, since such a remark may deprive not just the Noakhali rape victim, but all female victims of violence from getting justice.
Dubbing Reazul’s comment as both incomplete and meaningless, she added that victims may lose the courage to file complaints over the offences they suffer as a result of such statements.
What the victim’s family says
Family members of the victim, who is a 30 year old mother of four, earlier claimed that a group of local Awami League activists, wielding firearms, barged into their home around midnight on December 31, forcibly took the woman away, and gang-raped her.
Her husband said the culprits attacked his wife because she had voted for the local BNP candidate in the December 30 election. He filed a case regarding the matter with Charjabbar police station on the evening of December 31.
The woman was released from Noakhali General Hospital 17 days after she was admitted there.
Police have so far arrested 11 people, including prime suspect Sohel, 40, and alleged instigator of the gang rape Ruhul Amin. Eight of the arrestees have confessed to their involvement in the crime.
In the wake of the arrests, Awami League has expelled Subarnachar unit publicity secretary Ruhul Amin.