This practice has no place in modern society
The outspoken human rights lawyer Zahirul Islam Khan Panna assertively said that “the practice of remand will soon be found in a bolted iron cage in the museum.”
Remand, as Dr Masum Billah, a teacher of law at the Jagannath University, has said, is not found in the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), the Bible for judiciary and police crime management. The practice of obtaining remands for suspects or the accused from judicial magistrate courts is unconstitutional.
The police exercise section 167 of the CrPC, which ushers the victim into legal harassment and also intimidates victims with ill motives, flexing their political power.
Advocate Panna did not hesitate to add that remands are mostly used for extortion from families after they hear about the police brutality the alleged accused face in police stations. From January to August of 2021, legal rights organization Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK) reported 44 deaths in judicial custody. The report points fingers at the perpetrators from the police force, elite anti-crime Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), and Border Guards Bangladesh (BGB).
Unsurprisingly, the RAB has been blamed for 17 custodial deaths caused by torture. Next is the police for the deaths of 11 suspects, followed by the BGB (9 deaths). Most of these victims died in custody during interrogation, which has been practised since the British colonial era.
Most senior officers of law enforcement agencies have participated in training courses in different countries on crime management, techniques of interrogation, investigation, and knowledge of forensic science vis-à-vis the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948.
During the ongoing War on Terror campaign, also known as the Global War on Terrorism spearheaded by the United States in the aftermath of 9/11, hundreds of officers from the Bangladesh Police, security intelligence from the armed forces, and national intelligence attended courses on how to handle a suspect red-flagged as a terrorist.
In addition, hundreds of police officers were deployed in peacekeeping under UN missions abroad training them in human rights.
While in remand in November 2002, my torturer was in a UN peacekeeping mission in Kosovo and the interrogator from the DGFI attended a counterterrorism course in America under the WoT program.
Many human rights researchers claim that the century-old torture in custody has significantly decreased, while rights groups say that the curve of death in custody has not straightened.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has continued to urge the members of the Bangladesh Police to build themselves as a “pro-people force” -- a call that could not be more appropriate for ensuring human rights and strengthening democracy. Human rights abuses are endemic and most citizens who come in contact with the police complain of corruption and torture.
In its assessment report, the International Crisis Group stated that a successful police reform can only be sustained if it is linked to a judiciary that enforces the rule of law and effectively protects individual rights and assures citizen security.
It warned that if the police continue to be used for political ends, it will affect democracy, law and order, crime and corruption, national security, and the economic growth in Bangladesh.
The much ado about the Police Reform Program (PRP), which was funded by the United Nations, European Union, and British DFID, is back to square one. Ironically, the pro-Islamist alliance Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and Jamaat-e-Islami-led government scuttled the PRP. The military-backed caretaker regime resuscitated the program in 2008.
With police reforms, Bangladesh could have been a more secure and stable country, where the human rights of citizens, particularly the vulnerable and marginalized, were promoted and protected to accelerate progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), economic growth, and social justice.
The police bundled up their learning experience from the police reforms initiative and instead resorted to torture in judicial custody in name of extracting “vital” information needed for their investigations.
Saleem Samad is an independent journalist, a media rights defender, and a recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He can be reached at [email protected]; Twitter @saleemsamad.