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Punishment through crime

  • Published at 12:00 am January 30th, 2019
It’s not a citizen’s job to punish DHAKA TRIBUNE

Citizens taking the law into their own hands should never be celebrated

This is concerning.

We’re all aware of just how much of a lawless land Bangladesh is, with corruption being as common and indelible as the stink of rotten jackfruit in our garbage, and sexual harassment -- no, sexual assault -- of women being tantamount to our national pastime.

Topping off our innumerable social ailments are our weak and apathetic judiciary and executive branches, which all but ensure that the perpetrators of any given crime enjoy the same level of impunity reserved for crooked high-profile politicians, and that justice for victims is close to a mathematical improbability.

It is safe to conclude, then, that the lack of faith in our law enforcement on the part of citizens in ensuring their safety is entirely justified.

However, what isn’t justified, and never should be, is citizens taking the law into their own hands -- at least not in the way that it manifested over this month. I, of course, refer to two specific cases where two people accused of rape were found shot-dead, and with notes stuck to their bodies stating an imposed admission of guilt.

While vigilante justice is often portrayed in pop culture through the lens of utilitarian heroism, the proceedings appear far less glamorous in real life and, worse, set a dangerous precedent, especially for a nation that is already teetering on the precipice of social disorder.

Don’t get me wrong -- my intentions are not to moralize.

I won’t deny that there is some kind of child-like morbid joy to be extracted from knowing that there is someone (or “someones”) out there doling out vigilante justice in the vein of Frank Castle or Charles Bronson, imparting righteous fury over those who have dared to defile the sanctity of human life in some way or another, but I also realize that the notion falls apart when introduced into the real world.

In a nation where extra-judicial killings are a frequently applied tool for disarming any and all political opposition, do we really need to give them further moral ammunition to justify more of such deaths?

Think about that.

If anything, the murders point to an especially egregious issue in Bangladesh. Whenever someone is accused of a crime such as rape -- a crime that is not immediately “provable” -- law enforcers and the media have a nasty habit of publishing their photos to the public before they are even charged of the crime.

Now, there is a clear distinction between arresting someone for a crime and charging them for it.

To “arrest” an accused is to place that person in custody before any further judicial action can be taken against them; and after sufficient evidence has been gathered against the individual they are “charged” with the crime.

Until and unless an individual has been charged with a certain offense, he or she is still innocent until proven otherwise, regardless of whether they have been arrested or not. And to publish their photos or reveal any of their personal information before being charged would be a breach of their personal right.

It appears that neither Bangladeshi law enforcers nor our media got that memo, and now we stand witness to the dangers that such negligent practices can lead to.

To take the law into one’s own hands is never an easy decision, but it is, unfortunately, an all too relatable feeling for a lot of us who call this nation home. But, at the risk of sounding uncharacteristically idealistic, you cannot punish a crime through another crime.

Rubaiyat Kabir is an Editorial Assistant at the Dhaka Tribune. He can be followed on Twitter @moreanik.