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Some things should be beyond the pale

  • Published at 12:29 pm June 1st, 2018
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Photo: BIGSTOCK

The only acceptable number of custodial deaths is zero

The rise in the number of custodial deaths, as reported by legal aid and human rights organization Ain o Salish Kendra is alarming.

ASK reports that since 2014, some 285 people have died in custody -- this number includes 119 convicts and 166 prisoners under trial.

At the heart of the problem is the fact that while and Torture and Custodial Death (Prohibition) Act was enacted in 2013, it is yet to be used, with fewer than 10 cases of custodial torture reported, and no prosecutions in the four years since it became law.

Police have sometimes claimed that prisoners often die due to psychological stress and that law enforcement is not to blame, but this explanation simply does not hold up. How, for example, could a 22-year-old like Tonmoy Kundu end up dead in custody mere hours after his arrest?

One or two people dying in custody may perhaps be explained away, but when the number is hundreds over the past few years, there can be no excuse and no reasonable explanation.

These cases need to be investigated, the guilty parties brought to book, and the message sent out that such abuse will not be tolerated.

Time and again, we have seen a lack of punitive action against law enforcement personnel in cases of custodial death. This must end. 

In Bangladesh, too many members of law enforcement seem to think they have a free pass in getting confessions from prisoners by any means necessary.

Fear of reprisal often lead to families not filing cases against personnel responsible for custodial deaths, and time and again, those within law enforcement found guilty of criminal action are usually let off with a mere slap on the wrist, like a temporary suspension or demotion.

This does not get to the bottom of the problem.

It is incumbent upon the government to end the culture of impunity that leads to so many custodial deaths year after year.

The only acceptable number of custodial deaths is zero.