Archive for June, 2008

Chief adviser’s tenuous claim

June 30, 2008

Editorial, NewAge, June 30, 2008. Dhaka, Bangladesh

THE chief adviser, Fakhruddin Ahmed, was quoted by the state-run Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha as telling the ‘national dialogue for transition to democracy’ in Chittagong on Saturday that upazila elections would precede the parliamentary polls ‘as per the desire of the people’. As some well-meaning leaders across the political divide have done, we would also like to question the basis of such a claim. So far as we know, the government has neither conducted any public survey nor held a referendum on the issue. The basis of the claim is, therefore, rather tenuous. Also, it does not appear that the chief adviser was, by any means, anxious to gauge what the people truly desire. If he genuinely were, all he had to do was to look up the constitution, which, according to article 7 (2), is ‘the solemn expression of the will of the people’, and which, according to article 58D (2), requires his government ‘to give to the Election Commission all possible aid and assistance that may be required for holding the general election of members of Parliament peacefully, fairly and impartially’ and nothing else.
   

Yet, the chief adviser sounded as emphatic as one could be. We wonder wherein the source of his new-found confidence lies. It may be that the incumbents believe they have been successful in creating a chasm between and within the political parties, and are, therefore, confident of pushing forward whatever agenda they may have up their sleeves. With the Awami League having decided to contest the city corporation and municipality polls on August 4 and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party so far sticking to its position of boycotting local elections, the incumbents may have been able to drive a wedge between the two major political camps and obviate the possibility of a unified movement for restoration of the democratic political process. What they may have completely discounted is the fact that the division, if perpetuated, could also lead to a confrontational situation, which, if so happens, will exact a heavy toll on the nation and the incumbents may not be spared from its ill-effect.
   

We have no doubt that stronger and effective local government is a prime prerequisite for the democratisation of the state and society. We are also aware that the previous elected governments largely defaulted on their constitutional obligation of holding elections to the local government bodies. However, it is the job of the people – politically-oriented sections of civil society to be precise – to make the elected governments adhere to the constitutional dictates, by way of keeping constant pressure on them. Besides, this regime does not have the constitutional mandate to hold local government elections in the first place. In such circumstances, there is no reason to regard its insistence on holding local government elections as an expression of its commitment to democracy and every reason to suspect that it may be part of a greater design to create a grassroots political platform from which to launch a king’s party.
   

There are at least two reasons why, we feel, the people should be suspicious of this regime’s intentions. First, extra-political governments in this part of the world have shown a tendency, from the time of General Ayub Khan’s martial law regime in the Pakistan days, to hold local polls before general elections. And second, the Fakhruddin government, in tandem with the Election Commission, has overtly and covertly attempted to redraw the political landscape by creating division within the political forces. Moreover, whenever an extra-political regime has tried to introduce one blend of guided democracy or the other, it has always found cronies to give it the mask of popular support. The interim government seems to have found its cronies as well. However, it should be mindful of the fact that these individuals do not represent the people at large. Therefore, the incumbents would be well-advised to respect the constitution, which is the expression of the people’s will, and go by its constitutional obligation of holding contested and credible elections and paving the way for a peaceful transition to governance by elected representatives of the people.  

Crimes of the armed forces are not beyond judicial procedures

June 27, 2008

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) 

The New Age, a Dhaka-based national English daily, has published a report yesterday [26 June 2008] quoting a former General of Bangladesh Army, who has launched a political party during the ongoing State of Emergency in the country. 

According to the report, Syed Mohammad Ibrahim, a retired army General, said in a joint press briefing with an adviser of the government, “My request to the government is to remain alert against any attempts to bring the people and the military face to face. . .” Referring to a recent statement of former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, Gen. Ibrahim reportedly said, “. . . certain political leaders are making adverse criticism of the armed forces. They are making vengeful utterances and deceiving the people into believing that the armed forces are responsible for all wrong doings. We did not expect such a statement from a leading politician. . .” The retired General reportedly feared that such statements might have adverse impact on the society. The joint forces, in his opinion, are assisting the government in carrying out its responsibilities since the caretaker administration is an unelected government. 

The comment of Gen. Ibrahim seems to be provocative to earn sympathy from the armed forces, prior to the elections where his party is a contestant, rather than an articulation in favour of the people. This is an example of the typical “army-flattering culture” in Bangladesh, which has been rooted in the mindset of the politicians and civil servants. 

During the ongoing state of emergency in Bangladesh, the officers of the armed forces have arrested, tortured and detained thousands of innocent people of which more than 200 have been extra-judicially killed by the military-dominated law-enforcing agencies. Likewise, thousands have been permanently or temporarily disabled surviving torture in custody. These actions are simply crime, not law-enforcement at all.

While everyone is aware that none of the citizens attempted any attack on the armed forces, and rather the armed forces committed the heinous crime of inhuman tortures to the “crime suspects”, Gen. Ibrahim did not include this in his comments. He did not clarify whether he had any commitment to bring under prosecution the officers who perpetrated the brutal torture against innocent people, based on mere suspicion before the judicial procedures. 

This is the default mindset of a Bangladeshi politician, let alone Gen. Ibrahim who served in the armed forces,  to begin with the premise that “the armed forces are beyond the judicial process” and compel the ordinary people to suffer continuous injustice. 

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) urges the professionals, politicians, academics and the civil society to de-mystify the imposed myths that the armed forces are always “patriotic” regardless of whatever misdeeds they commit and the politicians are bad on the same ground. Unless the very notion of justice is rescued from such a distortion, a credible justice system will remain a far-reaching dream. 

About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

Bangladesh patronises torture instead of criminalising it

June 27, 2008

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) on the Occasion of the International Day against Torture.

(June 26 is observed every year as the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.)

The UN declared 26 June as International Day in Support of Victims of Torture in 1997 in order to increase support for victims of torture in countries across the globe.  Many states, thereafter, have come forward to amend their domestic legislations in compliance with the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Punishment or Treatment (CAT). But the behavioural patterns of some of these states do not show remarkable change.

The frequency of torture has tended to be a tool of political and governmental repression and an inseparable part of the law-enforcement agencies in Bangladesh. It has been “by default” in the custodial procedures posing it an acceptable method. It is rooted so deeply within the systems – comprising the police, border security force, armed forces, other paramilitary forces and the intelligence agencies – that they cannot go beyond this.

The policy makers, politicians, legislators and civil servants of the country recognise torture not only as a useful tool but also patronise it in their diversified capacities. Since the country’s genesis in 1971 the old-fashioned arbitrary laws made by the colonial rulers have remained in effect on the one hand, and new laws have been enacted by the regimes over the past four decades, on the other. The arbitrary legislations have only prepared the grounds for the perpetrators to walk free from the charges of torture against them. The laws have provided impunity to alleged perpetrators and the policy makers have played the role of facilitators. Even though the victims go forward through these environmental hurdles involving malpractices, they are further obstructed by the existing legislations totally unfavourable for them.

There is a specific provision in the Constitution of Bangladesh prohibiting torture and degrading treatment and punishment. Unfortunately, some laws in effect only allow remedy to the victims as a normal “victim of abuses” rather than a “victim of torture”.  The persecutory mindsets of the police and other law-enforcing agents who are responsible for investigating the cases of torture and the lack of commitment in professionals like lawyers, prosecutors and judges constrict the roads toward justice.

The military-controlled government of Bangladesh has been arresting and detaining hundreds of people since the state of emergency was imposed and all the arrested persons across the country either have been tortured or ill-treated by the law-enforcers.

This culture leaves thousands of victims with permanent and temporary disability and in some cases dead but there is no specific legislation criminalising torture as a punishable crime. The victims have no shelter to get redress or reparation or compensation for the damages. Specific legislation ensuring right to compensation and aimed at punishment for the alleged perpetrators appear to be an urgent need for Bangladesh.

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) urges the civil society and human rights groups of Bangladesh to create regular discourses all around the country for criminalization of torture in compliance with the CAT of which Bangladesh is a party. Continuous discussion on the issue can only pressurize the government to frame necessary legislations. The AHRC urges the international community including the UN Human Rights Council to hold Bangladesh accountable.

About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

Non-compliance with HC order on torture unacceptable

June 27, 2008

Editorial, NewAge, June 27, 2008. Dhaka, Bangladesh

WE FIND it extremely unfortunate that five years after the High Court Division issued an order on the government to amend section 167 of the Code of Criminal Procedure in order to stop torture, especially torture of people taken into state custody, nothing has been done to give effect to that order. Instead, despite the fact that Bangladesh is a signatory to all major international instruments against the use of torture and thereby is pledge-bound to end torture, we have witnessed an alarming rise in the reported incidences of torture by government agencies during this repressive state of emergency that has suspended the fundamental and democratic rights of the people. Moreover, with the adoption of the Emergency Powers Rules that have done away with many of the checks and balances there were in the first place, it is not surprising that the law enforcers and military personnel perceivably feel increasingly emboldened to carry out torture on the people.
   

In our view, torture, in all its forms and under every imaginable circumstance, is unacceptable. It is primitive, it is barbaric, it is cruel and it is inhuman. There can be nothing more deplorable, therefore, than the use of torture by the state, which is essentially tasked to protect the rights of its citizens. Yet, unfortunately, torture has continually been used by our law enforcement agencies and the military, sometimes to extract information from detainees, sometimes to arbitrarily and extra-judicially punish alleged criminals and at other times as acts of personal or institutional vengeance against their enemies, whether real or perceived. So widespread has torture become in recent times that, on average, two people die at the hands of law enforcers every month. How many more are beaten and maimed can only be speculated upon. This is unacceptable, especially for a society that aspires towards a genuinely democratic system that is based on the rule of law. When a state tortures its citizens, it not only violates the basic, inalienable rights of its people but makes a mockery of the rule of law.
   

If the current military-controlled regime were serious about establishing the rule of law and strengthening the roots of our democracy, it would have stopped, we believe, the use of extrajudicial tactics such as harassment and torture long ago. That we have witnessed a rise in torture carried out by the state indicates that this regime does not have a democratic orientation at all, much less the willingness or ability to deliver a truly democratic polity. As another International Day in Support of the Victims of Torture has come and gone, we still await, at the very least, amendments to the Code of Criminal Procedure as per the directives of the High Court to stop this sinister practice.

A tortured image

June 26, 2008

By Rahnuma Ahmed*, NewAge, June 26, 2008. Dhaka, Bangladesh

Social classes are described as relationships that endure. Likewise, torture in Bangladesh. It endures changes in government, in systems of ruling, in the legitimacy provided for ruling. Dismantling it won’t be easy. Those committed to doing so insist that the torturers be identified, and punished. Likewise, that those who are higher-up, those who order it, not be given any impunity, writes Rahnuma Ahmed 

I AM against torture. Nothing justifies torture. This is a principled stand, there are no ifs and buts.
 But why is it that when I see a recent picture of Tarique Rahman, son of ex-prime minister Khaleda Zia, his face screwed up in sheer agony, I feel no empathy, no compassion? Why do I not allow myself to dwell on his pain? Why do I shut it out, turn to another news item, or turn the pages of the newspaper?
   

Why does a picture of this torture victim leave me cold?
   

His medical report [18.06.2008] records, among other illnesses, two fractured discs, D6 and D7. During a remand hearing on January 9 this year, Tarique claimed that he had been physically and mentally tortured. He was unable to stand in the dock, and had to be given a chair. Last week [15.06.08], his lawyer Rafiqul Islam Miah told an anti-graft court hearing that his client was in severe pain, that he could not stand or be seated for more than three minutes. The court was also informed that while in remand, Tarique had been tortured ‘in the most inhumane way’, he was ‘physically impaired’, and might be crippled for life if he did not receive immediate treatment, preferably abroad.
   

Several days later, a news item catches my eye, Tarique’s spinal problem is an old one, say intelligence agents [Shamokal, 24.06.08]. They claim it dates back to 2005. The very next day, members of his medical board express their disquiet [Shamokal, 25.06.08]. Dr Idris Ali, associate professor of the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, BSMMU says X-ray, CT scan and MRI examinations have revealed disc fractures. The injury, he says, could have been caused either by falling down, or by a blunt instrument. A faculty member of the same department tells Shamokal, the 2005 report is not inaccurate. But the complaint, he says, was an easily curable one. Six weeks of rest; unlike his present complaint. Another medical board member, unwilling to disclose his name, says, to imply that Tarique’s spinal problem is a recurrence of the old one, indicates ‘a lack of respect’ toward the board’s expert opinion.
   

Around me I hear people muttering, ‘Why only two, they could have broken several more, for all I care.’ ‘I don’t feel sorry for him.’ ‘He deserves what he got.’ A CNG driver tells me, `Yes, this government is making a mess of things, but I can’t get over the pleasure of seeing him detained.’
   

Tarique was generally not liked. Not at all. Scores of grievances flew all around. He was a novice to politics but was nominated the BNP senior joint secretary general in one go. Not a minister himself, he was reputed to be the most powerful man in Bangladesh [from 2001-2006], to have run a parallel government from Hawa Bhaban. Cabinet members flocked there, they waited on him, attempting to curry favour with the man nicknamed the Crown Prince. His bunch of cronies milked many others dry. CNG auto rickshaw drivers of Dhaka city hated his guts. Many accused him of sucking their blood dry. The costs of new CNGs were set at 3,50,000 takas, instead of its actual price of 75,000 takas. This had led to CNG owners upping the daily rent from CNG drivers many times over, in order to recover their purchase costs. He was also reputed to be ruthless. I was talking things over with a close friend who insisted, ‘… and Tarique can’t get away by saying that much of it was fabricated by his political enemies. The fact that he did not try to undo people’s perceptions of him is itself very serious, after all, we are talking of institutional politics.’
   

I am against torture. I have always been against torture, and yet I have no sympathy for Tarique Rahman who, in all likelihood, is now a victim of torture.
   

This ambivalence in me is new. I see it reflected in others. People I know well, and also others who are new to me, who I come across in street corners, stores, tea-stalls – no, I don’t see anyone shedding tears over fractured discs. I do hear distress expressed over a passenger who was recently run over in Dhaka city, in an altercation over one taka with the bus driver and conductor. I hear sorrow expressed over other incidents that people read about in the papers but Tarique’s ill health? No. Is it part of the ill-famed minus-two plan? Who knows? I remember reading somewhere that ex-prime minister Khaleda Zia has agreed to leave, but stiff bargaining is taking place over who should leave first. It seems that the government wants her to leave first. Only then will her sons be allowed to go abroad for treatment. Political speculation is rife. It is difficult to separate fact from fiction. What concerns me more is our mixed feelings over torture.
   

Was this foreseen, that the torture of an intensely disliked political figure, one who was perceived by many to be the chief cause of the downward swing in the BNP’s popularity, would turn out to be a torture overlooked? Did this calculation feed into the decision to torture? If so, are not both parties equally sinful? How can chipping away at principles, that torture is inhumane, that it is evil per se, help to build a democratic society?
   
   

Is torture incidental? 
   

Or is it systemic to the state in Bangladesh? Investigative studies carried out by both national and international human rights organisations, accounts delivered by scholars, activists and victims of torture, testify to the fact that torture and ill-treatment ‘particularly during the initial period of interrogation in police custody’ is all pervasive, that it is endemic in Bangladesh. This is equally true for all manners of regimes (civil, military) that have governed the land since independence. This is equally true for both single party, and alliance governments, that have ruled Bangladesh since the overthrow of the Ershad regime. Studies and accounts testify to the fact that the meting out of torture has, thus far, been inherent to the relations of ruling in Bangladesh. A more recent study (M Rafiqul and S M Solaiman, 2004) has argued that custodial tortures leading to deaths and irreparable bodily injuries increased alarmingly in the period after the October 2001 elections.
   

To turn to the issue of remand, according to the law, the venue of custody during remand can be no place other than the police station. But, as most Bangladeshis know, remand victims are often enough taken to the cantonment, or to unknown locations. Often, they are interrogated by police-army joint cells, notorious for their brutality and savagery. Incumbent governments exploit the police by getting them to arrest political dissidents. The police itself, on the other hand, exploit ordinary citizens, who are often enough randomly picked up, falsely implicated in cases, and then offered the choice of either paying up, or being put in remand.
   

Victims of torture speak of various methods that are applied: being given urine to drink when thirsty; being kept sleepless for days; being drowned in high-pressured water while hands are tied-up and faces covered; being hung upside down and beaten on the soles of the feet with batons and metal bars; of nails being hammered into fingers; hot water-filled bottles being pushed through the rectum; being beaten in a manner which damages the muscles but leaves no outward indication; pouring acid; drilling into the body with a drill machine.
   

A recently-published account of torture under remand is provided by Bidisha, ex-wife of ex-president HM Ershad [Shotrur Shonge Boshobash, May 2008]. Her detailed account is chilling because of the brutality that it describes, a brutality that is deeply gendered, and sexualised (curiously enough, this was toward the end of Khaleda Zia’s regime). Midway through her account of torture, she wonders, the men who tortured me must have gone home to their wives and children. They must have caressed them as people do caress their loved ones. Could his wife tell, could their children tell what deeds these very hands had performed? I do not know whether the families of torturers here have to bear the brunt of what they do. Testimony from other places indicate that they do. Frantz Fanon, Algerian psychiatrist and theorist, in The Wretched of the Earth, wrote of a French police inspector who tortured not only colonised Algerians, but also his wife and children. ‘The patient dislikes noise. At home he wants to hit everybody all the time. In fact, he does hit his children, even the baby of twenty months, with unaccustomed savagery. But what really frightened him was one evening when his wife had criticised him particularly for hitting his children too much… He threw himself upon her, beat her and tied her to a chair, saying to himself “I’ll teach her once and for all that I’m master in this house.”’
   Torture is pervasive.
   
   

Dismantling the house of torture
   

Social classes are described as relationships that endure. Likewise, torture in Bangladesh. It endures changes in government, in systems of ruling, in the legitimacy provided for ruling. Dismantling it won’t be easy. Those committed to doing so insist that the torturers be identified, and punished. Likewise, that those who are higher-up, those who order it, not be given any impunity.
   

And what about Tarique Rahman? Can we ever forgive him? Will his experience as a victim bring a sea-change in him? If and when he returns to a normal life, will he be remorseful? Will he turn into a defender of human rights? That remains to be seen.

*Rahnuma Ahmed is an Anthropologist based in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Contact: rahnuma@drik.net

Beyond the rule of law

June 26, 2008

NewAge, June 26, 2008. Dhaka, Bangladesh

Torture has been used by military governments of the past just as it was used by democratically elected ones, the last of which institutionalised extra-judicial killings as a law and order tool. During this prolonged tenure of the current military-controlled interim government, which has time and again promised to establish the rule of law, we have noticed a rise in the reported incidences of torture, especially of those taken into state custody. Moreover, whereas torture had largely remained an evil practiced by one or two of our security agencies during previous regimes, its incidence seems to have infected a wider spectrum of law enforcers since the emergency was imposed. On the occasion of the International Day in Support of the Victims of Torture, we present a handful of case studies on instances of torture compiled by the Dhaka-based human rights coalition, Odhikar, which corroborates this alarming trend.

Death of Choles Richil 
in army custody 
   

On March 18, 2007, four persons, including adivasi leader Choles Richil, were taken out of the microbus they were travelling in by a team of five army members, led by Major Toufiq Elahi, at Kalibari in Muktagacha at about 1:30pm. It was noted that, of the five army men, two were in civil dress. They were brought to the Modhupur Kakraidh BADC temporary army camp. At about 8:00pm a critically injured Choles Richil was brought to the Madhupur thana health complex, where he later died.
   

Tuhin Hadima, 22, son of Hitendro Atiwarar, an eyewitness and one of the arrested persons, told Odhikar that he was returning home from his wedding along with Choles Richil, Piren Simsung, Protap Jambila and his new bride, Silmi Nokre, in a microbus. On the way, two men blocked their path and the driver, Shukumar Chondro, stopped the car. Three army personnel came out of a microbus parked beside the road and requested them to open the door of their microbus. When they opened the door, one of them asked Choles Richil whether he was Choles Richil. No sooner had Choles replied in the affirmative, they pulled him out and dragged him into their microbus with the four others and drove off. The bride was left behind.
   

They blindfolded Choles Richil with two handkerchiefs that they took from the others and then the army men told the remaining three to take off their shirts. They did as they were told and were blindfolded with them. The arrested men were searched for arms, but nothing was found on them. Once at the Kakraidh Army Camp, the army men started beating them while they were still blindfolded. After a while, they took Choles and Protap to another room. Tuhin Hadima told Odhikar that he heard the sounds of beating, as the room was partitioned with just a particleboard, (he saw it when his blindfolds were removed). He could hear the conversation between the army personnel and Choles Richil. Choles was asked whether he possessed any illegal firearms or not. He replied that he had licensed firearms but deposited it when he was earlier ordered to do so. While beating him, the army personnel told him to admit that he had illegal arms, otherwise he would be killed.
   

After a while, the army personnel came to Tuhin’s room, untied their eyes, and asked Tuhin about their relationship with Choles Richil. He said that Choles was his maternal uncle. He was asked whether he knew where his uncle kept his firearms. Tuhin told Odhikar that when he said he knew nothing about any firearms kept by his maternal uncle they beat him severely and went back to the room where Choles and Protap were kept. The army dragged Protap into their room and tied him to a chair. He was beaten inhumanly while two other army personnel held his arms.
   

Then, they went to the room where Choles Richil was kept and beat him again. One of the army personnel told others to bring pliers, red chilli powder and a blade. Choles was crying and saying he could not bear it any more. The army personnel beat him until about 6:00pm. Some time later, the army told Tuhin and Piran to leave the camp and also told them to see Choles Richil for the last time. They were told they would collect Choles’ dead body later. Tuhin and Piren went to the room where Choles Richil was kept. They found him lying face down on the floor, his body covered in bruises. Tuhin called: ‘Uncle, uncle’. Choles Richil did not reply but looked at them. They left the camp and found their relatives waiting outside. With the help of their relatives, they went to the Jolchatro Church and after that returned home.
   

Piren Simsung, 38, son of Joidor Chiran and another of the arrested men, told Odhikar that when they reached Kalibari Bazar on the way to the army camp, an army man told Choles to get out and run. One of the officers commented that it would be easier if Choles were killed in crossfire. Another one said, ‘I returned just for you. I cannot send you back alive. I will send your dead body back.’
   

Choles’s first wife, Sondha Simsung, 30, told Odhikar that she was informed of her husband’s death through a cell phone call and came to Beribaid on the following day. She added that at about 12:00pm on March 19, 2007, the officer-in-charge of the Modhupur Police Station, along with other police officers and constables, came to the Jolsotro Church with her husband’s dead body. On the following day, March 20, Choles was buried. She said she had noticed bruises all over the body. Some of his toes and fingernails were also missing. His arms had been cut and scratched in places with a sharp weapon.
   

The post mortem of the body was carried out at the Tangail Sadar Hospital. The doam (the person who assists in the dissection of bodies in morgue/morgue attendant) of the hospital, Nirmal, told Odhikar fact-finders that he saw injuries on various parts of Choles’s body. However, he added that he was not authorised to give out details of the injuries.
   

Adivasi leader Ajoy Mree told Odhikar that on March 18, 2007 that they were in a meeting at the office of the upazila nirbahi officer where the officer-in-charge of the Modhupur police station and other influential people were present. At about 4:00pm Major Toufiq Elahi joined the meeting. The UNO asked him, ‘How are you?’ He replied in the positive. Then the UNO commented, ‘You are fine, as your mission was successful.’ Ajoy Mree understood later that the term ‘mission’ meant the Choles’ arrest.
   

While talking to Odhikar, Dr AM Parvej Rahim, the upazila nirbahi officer of Madhupur, said Choles’ death was completely illegal. He said that the ACF of the Forest Department, Jahurul Huq, was a senior friend of Major Taufiq Elahi, when they were both students of Jhenaidah Cadet College. The UNO commented that Major Toufiq arrested Choles only to intimidate him, at the request of Jahurul Huq and that he had no intention to kill him. He commented that the torture might have been a bit severe and that, coupled with hypertension, caused Choles’s death. The UNO said that Major Taufiq informed him about Choles’s arrest at around 8:00pm and contacted him again to say that Choles had fallen ill during interrogation, expressing his grave concern over his condition. He added that Major Toufiq Elahi had been transferred from the Kakraidh camp on the night of March 20.
   

On March 27, Odhikar was able to contact Major Toufiq Elahi via cell phone. He stated that Choles Richil was a notorious miscreant. In answer to a question, he informed Odhikar that the police had been trying to arrest him for the last several years but had failed and that he was finally arrested on March 18, 2007. Major Toufiq said that on that day, he had a meeting with the UNO and other influential people of the locality regarding the Modhupur Forest. He received a cell phone message that Choles Richil was in the Kalibari Bazar area. At about 6:00pm, following his directions, 14 army personnel and two policemen conducted the operation to arrest him. Seeing the presence of the law enforcement agencies, Choles tried to flee but fell on the ground and was arrested. He said he heard the news and went to the Kakraid Army Camp and found Choles in a critical condition. He was admitted to the Modhupur Thana Health Complex but he died after a while.
   

Major Toufiq Elahi was informed by Odhikar about the statement of the upazila nirbahi officer. Major Toufiq Elahi expressed his suspicions about the statement and wanted to know whether the UNO gave the statement directly to Odhikar or whether Odhikar had colleted it from another source. He added that if the UNO gave the statement to the organisation directly, he would pay dearly for it. Regarding the four arrestees, he said they arrested only two people. He denied the arrest of Tuhin and Piren. He also said Choles had not been tortured. When Odhikar asked him how the dead body and the others who had been arrested received marks and bruises, he said nothing and hung up.
   
   

Municipality commissioner tortured to death in navy custody 
   

On February 20, 2007, a team of 11 navy personnel, led by Lieutenant Commander SM Reza of Char Fashion Naval Contingent, arrested Khabirul Islam Dulal, 32, ward commissioner of Char Fashion municipality, while he was working at his office. Out of the 11 Navy personnel, 9 were wearing lungi and gamchha. He was then taken to his house where he was beaten. After that they threw him in a nearby pond with his hands tightly bound with rope.
   

Rina Khanom, a female ward commissioner of ward number 6 of the same municipality, told Odhikar that when Dulal was arrested, all of them were in the office. After his arrest, they told him to hand over the firearms allegedly in his possession. When he denied possessing any, the navy men beat him severely and covered his eyes with a cloth and tied his hands. They dragged him by the rope to his house in search of the arms they claimed he possessed.
   

Dulal’s wife Jesmin Akther Khuku, 28, told Odhikar that the navy officers threw her husband on the ground and kicked him with their boots. After that, they beat her and put their guns to the heads of their two children, Jibon, 3, and Jitu, 5, threatening to kill them if the arms were not produced. The children struggled to go to their parents, but the navy men slapped them. The officers also damaged the rooms of their house but recovered nothing.
   

Dulal’s neighbour Sultana Razia Baby, 28, told Odhikar that the navy personnel told her to give them red chilli powder, rice husks and salt. She was compelled to provide them and they forcefully fed the mixture to Dulal. By that time Dulal, who was still blindfolded, wanted a drink of water. The officers pushed him into a nearby pond. As Dulal was blindfolded and his hands tied with rope, he started drowning. They rescued Dulal from the pond and brought him to their contingent. They stripped him and beat him severely. He was also thrown into another pond.
   

Doctor Ekramul Kabir of the Char Fashion upazila health complex told Odhikar that Dulal died long before being admitted to the hospital. Observing the state of the body, he requested Doctor Shahidul Alam, Doctor Shah Alam Sharif, Doctor Mahfuzur Rahman and Doctor Siddiqur Rahman to come to the hospital. Afterwards they sent a report to the Char Fashion police station regarding this. Ekramul Kabir also told Odhikar before a number of people of the locality that there was lot of water inside the dead body and the marks of ropes were clearly demarcated around the wrists. He also noticed that pieces of skin were falling off the body due to severe bruising and that the testicles were also bruised. Dulal’s throat was distended, and some of his toe and finger nails were missing too.
   

The Odhikar fact-finding officer visited the Navy contingent to talk with Lieutenant SM Reza. Reza tried to shake him off and ultimately threatened to have him arrested as a member of the banned Islamist organisation Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh. He claimed that he did not have Dulal arrested to kill him and that if that was their intention, they would have done so in ‘crossfire’. He commented that Dulal was not meant to live a long life and met his fate by drowning.
   

On July 24, 2007, Dulal’s wife Jesmin told Odhikar that she had registered a complaint with the first class magistrate’s court against 17 people, some of whom were unidentified. Khuku said, since the police station would not agree to file a case, they filed a case directly with the court.
   

However, due to lack of funds they could not afford to employ an advocate. She said after they had filed the case many people had come to their house at different times and threatened them by saying that if her family goes too far with that case they would make arrangements to send all her family members to jail and that they would meet the same fate as her husband.
   
   

Death in custody of Department of Narcotics Control
   

A narcotics department team, led by its Ramna Circle inspector, Shamsul Kabir, arrested 25-year old Abdul Halim from Khilgaon Jheel Par at 4:30pm on March 17, 2007. He was taken to the Shahbagh Police Station and detained there for the night. Halim was admitted to the Dhaka Medical College Hospital after he fell ill. He died at 4:00pm on March 24, 2007.
   

Elder brother, Abdus Sattar, said Halim lived at Khilgaon and was an informer for the Khilgaon police. He, like a number of Halim’s acquaintances said Halim was not involved with drugs. Sattar had come to learn about the arrest from others and said Halim never regained consciousness from March 18 when he was admitted to the hospital.
   

According to accounts, it was Halim’s reporting on drugs that enraged members of the local racket who conspired against him. Accordingly Ramna Zone’s sub-inspector, Mujibur Rahman, arrested Halim from Sutrapur and took him to the Department of Narcotics Control where he was tortured.
   

Mujibur, who filed a case against Halim, said the team arrested Halim at 4:30pm on March 17, 2007 from Khilgaon Jheel Par. But none of the people at the said location recall Halim being arrested from in front of the Shoukhin Beauty Parlour. Allegedly the narcotics team seized 30 grams of heroin and a pair of small scales (usually used to weigh gold and silver). He was taken to the narcotics control office for interrogation.
   

Mujibur said Halim was in good health when he left him in the custody of Shahbagh police. But at around 11:00pm he was informed of Halim’s illness. He took Halim to the hospital emergency that very night and claims to have attended to all medical requirements and paid for the services as well staying with Halim throughout the night. When Halim’s condition worsened next morning, he had him shifted to the intensive care unit and looked after him regularly till his death. He claimed that Halim was not tortured at all and that there was no torture cell in the narcotics control office. He pointed out there were no signs of torture in the autopsy report.
   

Suruzzaman, a sub-inspector of Shahbagh Police Station said Halim was sick when Mujibur brought him to the station at 8:05pm on March 17. When Halim began to salivate and vomit blood at around 11:00pm, he made sure it was communicated to narcotics control.
   

Samita, a nurse on duty at ward 30, said Halim was admitted at 12:45am on March 18. She said that ward 30 was intended only for patients with brain-injuries. But only the concerned doctor could say whether Halim sustained such injuries. She confirmed that Halim remained unconscious till his demise.
   
   

Fruit vendor beaten by RAB to death
   

Md Afzal Khan, 21, a resident of village Binodpur Charerkandi in Shariatpur, was arrested by a team of the Rapid Action Battalion-8 on March 18, 2008, and died in Dhaka Medical College Hospital on March 20. Afzal’s mother Khadija Begum told Odhikar that one doctor Ganesh filed an arms case against Afzal in 2006 and the Palong police, Shariatpur, arrested him and remanded him for 10 days. Afzal was later released on bail and was instructed to attend court hearings thrice a month. Later, the court sentenced him to 14-years imprisonment which he wasn’t aware of as, according to Khadija Begum, they had migrated from Shariatpur. On March 17, 2008 Afzal along with his friend Sher Jamal went to their village home and the following day Khadija’s nephew Aziz informed her daughter Shahnaz that Afzal had been arrested by RAB officers from beside Doctor Ganesh’s drug shop at Mahmudpur bazaar. Then she came to know that Afzal was admitted him to Shariatpur Sadar Hospital as he was severely beaten up and was later transferred to Dhaka Medical College Hospital where he died.
   

Afzal’s father Abdur Rahman, a retired subedar of the Bangladesh Army said on March 21, they collected Afzal’s body from the DMCH morgue and the body bore multiple injury marks. There were wounds on the left side of the forehead, on the cheeks, lips, gums and the rear end of the skull. Afzal’s neck was also broken on the left side. His stomach was inflated due to trampling. The veins of his legs had been slit and there were blood stains.
   

Shahnaz Aktar, sister of Afzal, said she went to the Shariatpur Sadar Hospital in the morning of March 19 and found Afzal in a critical condition and under the custody of four policemen. Shahnaz said that since Afzal’s gums were hit, all his teeth had become loose. A pistol’s head was used to poke the insides of Afzal’s mouth and he was bleeding continuously. The skin of Afzal’s ears was also cracked up due to excessive pulling. Blood was pouring out from the skull which had been hit by a pistol. Shahnaj said when Afzal refused to lay down on the hospital bed, the RAB officers broke his neck. It was after his neck was broken that Afzal lost his ability to speak. His stomach was inflated due to trampling and his two thighs also bore injury marks. The hospital bed on which Afzal was lying also bore blood stains.
   

Halim Sardar, a member of the village police, Mahmudpur said at around 6:00pm he saw Afzal engaged in a scuffle with two men in front of Union Parishad-er Graam Adalat O Shalishi Parishad Karjalaya. Halim saw one of the two people trying to put handcuffs onto Afzal’s hands and Afzal trying to escape which was why they threw him to the ground and continuously struck his head with pistol butts. Afzal was kept against the ground when a RAB officer pressed his leg onto Afzal’s throat. Afzal continued to try to release himself and this led to them tie up Afzal’s legs, grab him by his hair and smashed his face against the ground. As people were beginning to gather, the two men introduced themselves as RAB officers and threatened to shoot if the people didn’t go away. Then a RAB officer asked where the village police were, Halim Sardar came forward and grabbed hold of Afzal. He also informed that 8/10 minutes later, two more RAB officers arrived. The RAB officers then ordered the shopkeepers to shut down their shops. When the religious men from the mosques came forward, the RAB officers also chased them away. Afzal tried to escape and while trying to do so hit the hands of a RAB officer, Mokbul. When Afzal hit another officer’s arm, a RAB officer came forward with a stick and began to beat Afzal with it. When the stick broke, he took another stick and continued to for about 20/25 minutes. Bloods were gushing out of his nose and mouth and then he vomited. The RAB officers then twisted Afzal’s left hand and broke it by trampling on it. Later on two more RAB officers arrived and they too began to beat him.
   

Doctor Mijanur Rahman, Shariatpur Sadar Hospital, told Odhikar that on March 18, 8 officers of RAB-8 admitted Afzal to the hospital. Afzal’s body bore multiple injuries and the veins of his ankles were slit. Doctor Momtaz, Ward No. 32, Dhaka Medical College Hospital informed that Afzal was admitted to Bed no. 15 at 8:30pm on March 19 under police custody. There were injury marks all over Afzal’s body and his neck was swollen, which prevented any food from reaching his stomach.
   

Sekandar Ali, who assisted the doctors in the post mortem, said the victim had lost excessive blood due to slitting of his ankle’s veins. Since a metal instrument was pushed into Afzal’s mouth, his mouth and throat were excessively swollen. Afzal’s neck was dangling towards the left and it could not be readjusted. There were wounds on his abdomen and at various other places of his body.

 

 

Torture a prime impediment to democratisation

June 26, 2008

Editorial, NewAge, June 26, 2008. Dhaka, Bangladesh

THAT torture, psychological or physical, of human beings in any sphere of life – family, society or state – affects the dignity of the victim has been recognised by the democratically-oriented people of the world long ago. Subsequently, in the face of sustained political pressure and persuasion by the international communities of rights activists, the United Nations adopted more than one declarations, conventions and covenants, obligating the member states not only to stop conducting torture on its citizens, be they in or beyond their custody, but also to support the victims of torture of any kind. Bangladesh is a signatory to these UN instruments, and thereby pledge-bound to do away with any kind of custodial torture, at the least. Nationally, in addition to the constitutional guarantees against torture, the subsequent governments have also made, and amended where necessary, legal provisions to do away with the practices of physical torture, particularly torture in state custody.
   

But, practically, the managers of the Bangladesh state, political or anti-political, elected or unelected, have hardly bothered to live up to the anti-torture pledges that the state is bound to. The coercive organs of the state hardly miss any opportunity to inflict physical torture on the citizens arrested on various grounds – lawful and unlawful, while the situation gets worse when it comes to the political opponents of the incumbents. The physical torture – or violence on the ‘body’ in other words – is being used as a means of control over the ‘soul’ of the political opponents, with a view to making the dissident submit to the will of the authority – political or otherwise. The ‘state of emergency’, presided over by a group of military-backed apolitical individuals, and that too having a self-styled political agenda of its own, has now created a wider space for the coercive agencies of the state to use violence, psychological and/or physical, against those that the authorities find unruly. Emergency, which keeps the constitutionally guaranteed democratic rights of the citizens in abeyance, after all, provides the authorities a sense of impunity. The number of allegations, explicit and implicit, published and unpublished, of custodial torture has increased significantly since the emergency was imposed on the people in January 11 last year. The incumbents have allowed almost all the coercive agencies of the state to exercise physical violence against a large number of people, sometimes in the name of containing law and order, sometimes combating financial corruptions and sometimes in the name of ‘disciplining’ politicians, generating a pervasive culture of fear.
   

It is high time that the democratically-oriented sections of society realised that the idea of ‘disciplining’ citizens’ minds by way of controlling their body through physical torture, be it in the name of extracting ‘confession’ of a crime or making a political dissident obey the ideologies of the incumbents, is a prime impediment to democratising the state, which is definitely the need of the hour. The democratic responsibility of the thinking sections of society, therefore, remains to extensively mobilise public opinion against the state’s sustained practice of violence against citizens, with the objective of protecting and promoting the dignity of human beings. The International Day against Torture could be a fresh beginning to start mobilising opinion against the state-sponsored torture, and, of course, against the emergency that provides the state authorities with arbitrary power to carry on such violence at a greater degree.
   

While opposing the torture by the state, it is, however, also important to keep in mind that torture at the family and social levels needs to be done away with. The prime objective of the physical violence against the body, be it in the family, society or state, is to control the mind of the person concerned with a view to suppressing his/her own points of views on issues of personal, social, national or international importance. While consent – not control – of the citizens is the core principle of democratic governance, fighting against torture, or a tool to control and thereby ensuring obedience in other words, remains an essential task for the democratic forces of society.

Extrajudicial killings continue unabated

June 25, 2008

Editorial, NewAge, June 25, 2008. Dhaka, Bangladesh

Defying widespread public outrage, home ministry directives and sacrosanct principles of the rule of law, extrajudicial killings at the hands of law-enforcement agencies continue unabated, as reported in Tuesday’s New Age. According to the New Age tally, the number of deaths by ‘crossfire’ – the common term for encounter killings – since the military-controlled interim government assumed power last year is 169. According to the human rights group Odhikar, the total number of extrajudicial killings, including death by torture and custodial deaths, stands at a staggering 225 since January 12 last year. Human rights groups have repeatedly pointed out that the greatest burden of culpability in extrajudicial killings continues to fall on the Rapid Action Battalion notorious for ‘crossfire’ deaths which it routinely claims happened when their detainee led them into an ambush in which they were fired upon. Since its creation in 2004, more than six hundred people have died at the hands of the battalion, most of them explained away as accidental ‘crossfire’ deaths, with the phenomenon seeing a resurgence in the interim government’s regime. To date, not one of those deaths have been investigated through a public enquiry, and those responsible for these deaths have enjoyed a kind of impunity that has no place in the security apparatus of a civilised nation state.
   

In fact, it would appear that the elite force’s impunity now extends to the home adviser’s office. On January 29 this year, the home adviser, MA Matin, reportedly flagged the issue of extrajudicial deaths in a meeting he chaired, instructing the highest officials within the police and the battalion to ensure that ‘such incidents do not take place further’. Those instructions seem to have fallen on deaf ears. Between January and June 20 this year there have been more than 35 such extrajudicial killings, therefore defying an order by the highest executive authority in the home ministry. These figures are a damning indictment of a government that assumed power last year promising to restore ‘decency’ and ‘accountability’ to governance. We see a telling sign of the increasing impunity of the Rapid Action Battalion — and consequently security forces in general — in the RAB director general’s response to the news that such killings by his forces are on the rise. ‘The number of crossfire deaths increased when the law and order deteriorated but I am sure that the figure is not higher than earlier,’ the RAB chief told New Age on Monday, effectively admitting his force’s culpability.
   

Extrajudicial killing, be it during an elected government or an unelected regime, is unacceptable. We are aware that deaths in custody also took place during the tenure of the previous governments. The government, which hardly lets pass any opportunity to castigate the previous elected governments, has seemingly retained one of the ills that blighted the terms of its elected predecessors. Worse even, under a state of emergency, the people do not even have the right to move the court against extrajudicial killings, a right that they had under the previous governments. Therefore, while the government should adopt a hard-line stance on the issue of custodial deaths at its highest level, it should also withdraw the state of emergency immediately so that the checks and balances in the rule of law can once again be restored.

Extrajudicial killings increase

June 24, 2008

NewAge, June 24, 2008. Dhaka, Bangladesh

Extrajudicial killings by different law enforcing agencies, especially members of the Rapid Action Battalion, marked a sharp rise in the last six months, with deaths in ‘crossfire’ totalling 169 on 17 months since the state of emergency was promulgated.
   

From January 12 to December 31 last year, a total of 131 people were killed in ‘crossfire’ across the country, while 38 were killed between January 1 and June 20, 2008.
 A total of 124 people were killed in ‘crossfire’ from January 12 to June 20, 2007, while 25 people were killed from January 1, 2007 to June 20, 2007.
   

The regular police force and members of the Rapid Action Battalion together killed 169 people on the plea of the anti-crime drive in a span of only 15 months.
 Among the victims, 93 people were killed in ‘shootouts’ with RAB, 67 were killed in police ‘crossfire’ and seven people were jointly killed by RAB and police in ‘crossfire’.
   

Story is almost the same for most of the incidents, with law enforcing agencies concerned repeating the cliché — tipped off, they raided certain areas at night and answered the gunshots from gangsters, leaving ‘notorious criminals’ — in some cases, with accomplices— dead in crossfire.
   

In the last of a series of such events, three alleged criminals — Sohel aka ‘Bhombal’ Sohel, Monir Hossain alias Baka Babu,
   and Sukkur Ali — were killed in a gunfight with members of the Rapid Action Battalion at Meradia in Khilgaon in the small hours of June 16.
   

RAB claimed that one of their patrol teams chased the three because of their suspicious movements when they were passing through Balurmath near Meradia Bazar by a private car at around 1:45am.
 Sensing danger, the suspected criminals reportedly fired several bullets on the law enforcers, forcing them to retaliate. At one stage they were shot and died on the spot. The RAB reportedly recovered three firearms and 10 cocktails from the scene and seized the private car.
   

Babu’s father Moklesur Rahman alleged that RAB personnel picked up his son and his two friends — Kalu and Belal — from a restaurant at East Rampura on May 14.
   ‘Though my son is dead, Kalu and Belal still remain missing,’ said Moklesur Rahman.
 Family members of two other deceased — Sukkur and Sohel —said RAB members arrested the two at night on June 14.
 They said Sohel and his friend Babu had been indulging in criminal activities for the last several years and they did not maintain any relationship with Sohel. They, however, claimed that Sukkur was not a criminal, but the driver of Sohel’s car.
   

Sultana Kamal, executive director of Ain O Salish Kendra, a human rights watchdog, told New Age, ‘We are concerned over the increasing number of extrajudicial killings. It had decreased for the time being but has now increased remarkably.’
   ‘We are requesting the government to put an end to this sort of killing,’ she added.
   

Director-general of the Rapid Action Battalion, Hasan Masud Khandakar, told New Age, ‘The number of crossfire deaths increased when the law and order deteriorated, but I am sure that the figure is not higher than it was earlier.’

Rule of Law institutions of Bangladesh worship corruption

June 24, 2008

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), June 23, 2008

On Thursday (19 June 2008) the media of Bangladesh reported on a survey conducted by the Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB). The survey highlights the rampant corruption in the country. The TIB released its report on the “National Household Survey 2007 on Corruption in Bangladesh” at the National Press Club in Dhaka on Wednesday.

Quoting the TIB the New Age, a national English daily reports, “Petty corruption has increased in some service sectors across the country after the takeover by the army-controlled interim government on January 11, 2007, indicating the pervasiveness of corruption like that of earlier years. The survey, covering 5,000.00 households between July 2006 and June 2007, found that almost 97 per cent of the people had been victims of corruption and 65 per cent had to pay bribes while dealing with law-enforcing agencies.”

The survey conducted only on the public service sectors taking 3,000 rural and 2,000 urban households as samples, did not find any difference in the extent of corruption in the rural and urban setups. The report reveals, “. . . while taking services from the law-enforcers, the households had to pay bribe, on an average, of Taka 10,927.00 (USD 160.00) for avoiding arrest, about Taka 4,000.00 (USD 58.39) for filing First Information Report, Taka 2,605.00 (USD 38.02)for investigation, Taka 1,703.00 (USD 24.86) for accelerating charge sheet and Taka 795.00 (USD 11.60) for General Diary. The volume of nationwide corruption in monetary terms was estimated at Taka 54 billion and 430 million (USD 794,598,540.05), in which the highest share belongs to the land administration with Taka 16 billion and 60 million (USD 234,452,554.74), followed by the law-enforcing agencies with Taka 8 billion and 790 million (USD 128,321,167.88) and the judiciary with Taka 6 billion and 710 million (USD 97,956,204.37)  . . . The average amount of bribes charged by the judiciary is Taka 5,124 in the magistrate’s courts, Taka 5,516 in the judges’ courts, Taka 2,167 in the High Court and Taka 5,840 in special courts . . .”

The survey report of the TIB indicates that the Rule of Law institutions of Bangladesh are plunged into rampant corruption. This report also proves that the so called fight against corruption declared by the military-controlled government during the State of Emergency in the country is merely a propaganda rather than a reality of eradicating corruption.

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has documented a large number of individual cases where the police were reported to be compelling the people to pay bribes, and the denial of payment resulted in arrest, detention and fabrication of charges against innocent people. The judges, prosecutors and lawyers have also been found corrupt.

The AHRC urges the authorities and professionals, including the human rights defenders and the civil society of Bangladesh, to unveil the reasons of corruption in the Rule of Law institutions, aiming at a thorough reform of the current dysfunctional system of the country.

About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.