Every country has its own laws to regulate its citizens. If a person violates the law, then penalties are imposed upon him. We know that there are judges in the courts who administer the law to judge a conduct. And there are other groups such as the members of law enforcement agencies who are responsible for implementing the law. For example, the police have to arrest an individual if he is accused of any illegal conduct like theft or robbery. However, what will happen if the law enforcers themselves happen to violate the law by committing an illegal act? Will they be exempted or will they be put on trial for violating the law as well? Is there any law to penalize even the law enforcers, if common people are illegally harassed by the policemen? Well, although there is a widely popularized saying ‘no one is above the law’, people of our country feel it in their bones that the idea is limited to its mere words.
There are many big instances that the police in our country, either out of their lack of knowledge about the law or for other obligations, often behave with the common people in a way that is hardly justified. One of the most common occasions when the members of the law enforcement agencies are seen frequently disregarding the law is when they arrest an accused person. For instance- one such occasion was when they arrested three student leaders of the recent quota reform movement. Reportedly, on 16th April, 2018, three leaders, namely Nurul, Rashed and Faruk, were going to a restaurant in the Chankharpul area in the capital. As they were just crossing the Dhaka medical College area, a few plainclothes armed men stopped the trio, introduced themselves as DB officers and forcefully dragged them into a microbus. As the vehicle moved, the three students were blindfolded by towels and made to wear helmets. They took the students to their office in the name of interrogating the trio. The DB men was reported to have said that they took the trio in order to show them some “video clips’ and verify some information. As they were freed about one hour later, the students said that they were neither shown any video clips nor asked about any information. They were afraid of the scary incident. The DB police have not been reported to have shown to the trio any written arrest order against them as well. Now the question comes- did the policemen carry out this whole process following the laws related to detention of any person?Let’s examine the incident in the light of law. The Appellate Division of the Supreme Court on 10th November, 2016 released its verdict upholding a High Court order for the reform of the provisions of arrest without warrant and interrogation on remand under sections 54 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC). The High Court instructions say that no police officer shall arrest anyone under Section 54 (a section that allows arbitrary arrest) for the purpose of detention under Section 3 of the Special Powers Act, 1974. They should be obliged to show their identity cards first while arresting the person. But far from obeying these instructions, the police forced the trio into the micro bus, blindfolded them, and had no warrant order against them. As it is evident in verdict, a person whether he is an offender or not, cannot be treated the way the three students were treated by the DB men. In this case, the policemen’s manner of arresting the persons is also contrary to the law and may be looked upon as a criminal offence punishable under the existing law as per the SC verdict. Furthermore, article 35(5) of Bangladesh Constitution prohibits torture and cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment and punishment. But it becomes obvious that the way the law enforcers allegedly treated the three students by pointing gun at them violates the students’ fundamental rights that our constitution guarantees.
Meanwhile, it is widely alleged that the police largely tend to disobey the law while remanding a detainee. There are many allegations that the police inflict torture on the detainees while interrogating them in the custody. Let’s consider a recent event to clarify the point. Just a few days ago internationally-acclaimed Bangladeshi photographer Shahidul Alam was arrested by some plainclothes DB men from his Dhanmondi flat (on charges of spreading propaganda and false information against the government). Reportedly, Alam, 63, who is also a social activist, has told his lawyers and family members that at around ten at night a group of plainclothes men got inside the flat and forcefully dragged him downstairs by using the elevator all of a sudden. They shove him into a HiAce car and drove away. The photographer was later placed on a seven-day remand. Later, he alleged, while talking to his lawyers and family members, that the plainclothes men blindfolded him, put hand cups on his hands, and most shockingly, beat him. Shahidul also told that he was tortured in the police custody during the remand. According to a new report, he alleged that something heavy was put on his head and his face was punched and made to bleed. But the marks were wiped up before he was taken to the court. When Shahidul Alam, 63, was being taken to the court for a hearing, barefooted and surrounded by the officials, he loudly proclaimed that he had been tortured in the custody. He said this before the magistrate in the court as well.
Now one may question here- does the existing law in our country allow the policemen to arrest an accused person in this manner or treat him in the way Shahidul has allegedly been treated during the arrest and at the time of his remand? We can refer to what our law says in this respect. Well, in a verdict in 2016, the Supreme Court of the country denounced all kinds of torture inflicted upon people by the law enforcement agencies. This correspondent talked to a Supreme Court lawyer Barrister Jyotirmoy Barua regarding this issue, who also referred to the verdict. When asked whether the members of law enforcement agencies are allowed to arrest an accused person in this manner and torture a detainee in the custody while cross-examining the person, he replied in the negative. He said, “Our constitution does not support inflicting any kind of torture on any person. As per the law, there is no scope for the police to beat a person.” Further, recalling the ‘Torture and Custodial Death (prevention) Act of 2013’, the lawyer said that this law of 2013 clearly states that no one shall be abused or tortured during one’s detention in the custody. “When you flog someone in the custody, it means that you are trying to use force to deliberately make the person give a statement against himself. Our constitution strictly prohibits this conduct”, he added.
It is also mentionable here that in October 1998 Bangladesh became a member of an international human rights treaty known as ‘Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment’. Every country that joins the convention has to promise to take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction. Despite all these promises and laws in the country, why does the trend of such misbehaviors by the law enforcement agencies still continue to exist in the country? However, the advocate points out that we commonly consider physical injury as the only form of torture. But, he explained, the law of 2013 holds that if someone is threatened (of death, etc.) or abused verbally, even it would amount to an act of torture. So if the police torture a detainee in the custody, whether it is physical or mental, it would be a breach of this law and therefore considered a punishable act. It is mentionable that a policeman may be sentenced to at least five years' imprisonment for inflicting torture on a person.But do the common people have the right to proceed against the police if the police torture the detainee in the custody? Well, the law of 2013 gives common people the right to seek legal remedy if they are harassed by the law enforcers. “Not only the victim, but also his family members, and even his friends can bring a charge against the errant police and seek legal remedy at the court,” said Barrister Jyotirmoy, “and then the magistrate will order a medical checkup of the victim at first. If the charge of torture is proved to be true, then the magistrate shall issue an arrest order and take immediate legal steps against the accused police officer.” However, such a case is rare in which a common citizen proceeds against the police, although a few examples can be found. The lawyer opined that although there is such a law, people scarcely dare to bring a lawsuit against the law enforcers, as we are yet to create an appropriate situation in the country (where a citizen can fearlessly bring a lawsuit against anyone, if he has justifiable cause). He said that common people usually keep away from seeking justice in such cases firstly out of fear, and secondly, out of their ignorance with regard to the law. This is why, although the anti-torture law is a timely legislation in our country that is meant for protecting the commoners from being harassed or subjected to torture by the law enforcement agencies, the implementation of this law is hardly taking place.
It is a matter of great dissatisfaction that in our country the way the policemen behave with the commoners shows that they hardly care about the dignity and respect of a citizen. It cannot be denied that if we don’t want to be looked down upon as a nation by other nations, we should infuse in ourselves a deeper sense of self-dignity and eliminate the culture of torturing people. The lawmakers as well as the enforcers should take examples from the civilized and developed countries to realize to what extent a democratic country guarantees the dignity and the right of its citizens, and to what extent it promises freedom to its people. If common people are not treated with respect even in a free county like ours, then will there be any meaning of the freedom that we achieved in 1971 through a bloody war?