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A mockery of justice

  • Published at 06:14 pm October 5th, 2017
  • Last updated at 01:58 pm October 6th, 2017
A mockery of justice
Last month, a teenage boy, Sagor, was tied to an electric pole and beaten to death by a gang of men, simply because he was suspected of stealing a water pump from a hatchery in Char Sreerampur village of Mymensingh district. Among his torturous murderers were Akkas Ali, the owner of the hatchery, his son, and four to five of his employees. Every time Sagor tried to close his eyes, Akkas’s cronies viciously pounded with a slab of wood. The boy repeatedly pleaded for help and forgiveness, cried for water, and begged for his life to be spared. However, Akkas and his men showed no signs of mercy and the incessant beatings and torture continued until Sagor finally breathed his last. Thereafter his bloodied body was dumped in nearby bushes to rot, where the police discovered it on Tuesday, about 30 hours after the incident. Sagor’s father, Shipon Miah, maintained his son was innocent and demanded justice. “My son is a scrap collector. He was not a thief.” Bearing this clarification in mind, it may well have been the case that Sagor had items in his possession which were not necessarily stolen. Sagor’s elder sister Fatema said: “We want immediate and exemplary punishment to the culprits. We don’t want anything else.” Onlookers and surrounding villagers, far from coming to Sagor’s aid, either hurled abuse at him or silently enjoyed the show. The incident was even recorded by an onlooker and uploaded on social media where it went viral. In the footage, two teenagers on either side of Sagor can be seen simply smirking away as though Sagor’s torture was some sort of sport on display for their entertainment. Are they so blind to see that it could just as easily have been them in Sagor’s position? That a mere suspicion is all it takes to warrant their deaths? The pecking order We live in a country where someone’s lack of socio-economic standing is seen as a license to maltreat them, by those “above” them in the social hierarchy. Sagor is the son of a poor hawker, so naturally his life is worthless and disposable in the eyes of men like Akkas, and can be taken at their whims and fancies. Akkas seemingly had no fear of any consequences, probably because he is used to seeing so many of his kind get away with their crimes or buy their way out of punishment.
We live in a country where someone’s lack of socio-economic standing is seen as a license to maltreat them, by those ‘above’ them in the social hierarchy
Interestingly, Sagor’s mother alleged that two unknown individuals visited their slum home at midnight and woke them up from bed. When asked by Sagor’s family to identify themselves, they remained silent and simply offered them Tk10,000 in cash. While the visitors did not expressly reveal what the money was being offered in exchange for, Sagor’s parents knew what was being implied and categorically refused to take the money. “They could have pressurised us to withdraw the case after giving the money. I don’t want money in exchange of my son’s life. I want justice,” said Sagar’s mother Hasina Khatun. Victims of circumstance This is precisely how criminals like Akkas seek to dodge punishment. Maybe next time, the amount on offer will be larger and may keep on increasing until Sagor’s family’s willpower finally begins to falter in light of their economic needs. Sagor’s father said: “Sagor and I would run the family with our earnings. I’m now worried about how to run the family alone.” Sagor’s case has undeniable parallels with the infamous murder of Samiul Alom Rajon, the 13-year-old boy who was also tied to a pole and brutally tortured to death with a metal rod on suspicion of stealing a rickshaw in Sylhet. His murderers likewise recorded his horrific ordeal and uploaded the video on social media, where they could be heard laughing and jesting in the background, illustrating just how lightly they took something as grave as the brutal murder of a child. However, children are not the only ones prone to the threat of vigilantism. In July 2015, a suspected robber Shamul Islam Monir was lynched to death and, even more alarmingly, the local imam of the village had riled up people using the loudspeaker used to call for prayers. Similarly, Lucky Akhter, a transgender woman, was lynched to death when she and her friends were asking for gift money at a wedding celebrations as per tradition. Vigilante justice has no place in a civilised society, or even one that claims to be civilised. There is a reason why “innocent until proven guilty” is the basic premise of the criminal justice system in most countries, including ours. Everyone has the right to a fair trial from an impartial body. One group cannot at the same time be the complainant, investigator, judge, jury, and executioner as they are by default incapable of being objective in exercising their judgement. The prevalence of vigilante justice in Bangladesh is rooted in the rampant corruption and inefficiencies of our legal system and the impunity that perpetrators enjoy. It is high time our country became a place where one’s socioeconomic standing had no bearing on the proper implementation of justice. Taqbir Huda is currently working as a research officer at Bangladesh Institute of Law and International Affairs and volunteers at Bangladesh Society for the Enforcement of Human Rights.
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