The last court session on the case, which brought about several positive changes to the handling of rape cases by law enforcement officials, was held in 2016
A gang rape trial, which brought to light a number of problems regarding how reports of rape incidents used to be handled by police and subsequently led to their solutions, has not had a single hearing since its last court session in 2016.
The incident itself took place on May 21, 2015. A Garo woman, who worked in a shop at Jamuna Future Park shopping mall in Kuril, Dhaka, alleged that she had been raped by five men in a microbus in Uttara.
She said that after trying for several hours to report her assault with Turag and Gulshan police stations, she was finally able to file a case against the five accused with Vatara police station on May 22.
The hassle that the rape survivor had to endure in order to report her assault with police drew the attention of many people, including rights activists.
Several legal aid providing NGOs filed a writ petition with the High Court challenging the delay in the recording of the case, in the same month that the gang rape was committed.
In response, the High Court issued a guideline with 18 directives, where it made running medical or DNA tests, collecting samples and sending them to the laboratory within 48 hours of the occurrence of rape, and filing of a case with any police station regardless of where the incident took place mandatory for police.
The investigation officer in the case pressed charges against two of the accused, who had been arrested within a week of the gang rape, in August 2015.
After that, 15 people recorded testimony regarding the case with the Women and Children Repression Prevention Tribunal 4. The last testimony was recorded in October 2016, said Niparson Azim, the survivor’s lawyer.
Since then, there has been zero progress in the trial.
The case was transferred to the Women and Children Repression Prevention Tribunal 9 in 2018.
When contacted, the public prosecutor of the ninth tribunal could not even recall the case.
The legal counsels concerned with the case said it was unfortunate that the woman, whose plight brought about positive changes to how rape cases were handled by police, had been deprived of justice for so long.
Why is the trial stuck?
Then inspector at Vatara police station, Sazzad Hossain, initially investigated the case before it was transferred to the Rapid Action Battalion a few days later.
Ajmila Nasrin, then assistant superintendent of police at RAB 1, took over the investigation and pressed charges against two of the accused in the case in August 2015.
Advocate Forkan Miah, who was public prosecutor of Tribunal 4, where the case originally went to trial, said: “The testimony of all the 15 witnesses as well as the first IO [investigation officer], Sazzad Hossain, has been recorded. But the testimony of the second IO, who pressed the charges [ASP Ajmila Nasrin] has not been recorded yet.”
Ajmila Nasrin’s testimony would have been recorded on the last day if the first IO had brought the seizure list to the court, he added.
The next hearing of the trial was postponed when Ajmila Nasrin proceeded on maternal leave.
Shahid Hossain Dhali, public prosecutor of the ninth tribunal, which received the case in 2018 due to the rearrangement of court jurisdiction, gave the number of his assistant to this reporter for court updates regarding this trial, when contacted.
“I have 600 pending cases in hand… it is difficult to remember one particular case,” he added.
Inspector Sazzad Hossain has been transferred to the Detective Branch in Tangail.
When contacted, he told Dhaka Tribune that he had not received any court summons since October 2016, but said he would appear in court if he received one.
Sources said ASP Ajmila Nasrin was on a UN mission abroad at the moment. Dhaka Tribune could not verify it independently.
Abdul Rashid, a lawyer at the legal rights advocacy group Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK) who primarily dealt with the case, said no hearing in this trial was held as the judge of Tribunal 4 was transferred in May 2017, and all activities of the trial were on hold till mid-2018, before it was transferred to Tribunal 9.
This indicated another important issue, Rashid said. “There should be a process so that a trial can continue even after the judge has changed.”
Regarding Ajmila’s absence in the country, Rashid said it could prove to be another hurdle.
But Public Prosecutor Shahid Hossain Dhali said it would not be a problem, as the testimony and cross-examination of the assistant IO would be enough for the continuation of the trial.
The survivor’s lawyer Niparson Azim said the follow-up hearing of the trial had been scheduled for August this year, but it had been deferred to the first week of January next year.