Incidents of arrest and imprisonment of many innocent people in connection with criminal cases have come to light recently, exposing the lack of proper identification process as well as corruption.
Sometimes innocent people are being made scapegoats while real culprits are getting off scot-free due to the weak system for identifying persons at the investigation stage.
Wrongful imprisonment takes away important part of life of many people who are not properly compensated and rehabilitated.
Although the High Court ordered compensation for jute mill worker Jaha Alam who languished in jail for three years for the offence committed by another person, most of the victims are deprived of the opportunity for lack of state initiative.
Innocent people are arrested and harassed in many ways. Fake cases are filed against many persons for realising extortion from the victims and harassing them socially.
Sufferings of the accused in false cases really know no bounds if the complainants are ghost persons and cannot be identified by their names and addresses mentioned in the cases.
Social and economical dominance of criminals and corruption by a section of officials are creating scope for such incidents and aggravating the situation.
The practice of showing an innocent person as real accused in a case is primitive. Even state machinery was allegedly abused in this regard.
The allegation against innocent Joj Mia of committing the grenade attack on an Awami League rally on August 21, 2004 is a glaring example of the illegal practice.
In 2009, Awami League came to power only when real culprits were identified through reinvestigation into the incident.
Like Joj Mia, innocent people are often subjected to arrest and imprisonment in connection with cases in various parts of the country.
Noted jurists have stressed the need for proper identification of the persons accused in a case and exemplary punishment to those involved in harassing innocent people.
Talking to the Daily Sun, Attorney General AM Amin Uddin said, “The complainant of any case is primarily responsible for identifying the accused. Severe punishment should be meted out to the complainant and others if they’re found involved in imprisoning any innocent person. If anybody voluntarily goes to jail to save real accused, he/she should also be punished.”
At least five incidents of arrest and imprisonment of “innocent people” were reported during a period from March 3 to June 14 this year.
The wrongful arrest and imprisonment of innocent people not only tarnish image of the victims and family members but also cause losses of money and time.
The majority of victims were arrested and sent to jail for having the name similarity.
For example, one Chanchal was arrested for another Chanchal in Jashore, one Manik of Shariatpur was arrested for another Manik of Sirajganj and one Chand Mia was arrested for another Chand in Tangail.
Poor and socially weak people are usually falling prey to the wrongful imprisonment.
Bribery, rivalry, improper investigation and lack of identification of the persons are responsible for imprisonment of the innocent.
Experts have suggested that plaintiffs and accused must be identified by photos, NID cards and official ID cards and other particulars to prevent such incident.
Some incidents of wrongful imprisonment of innocent people are given below:
The imprisonment of jute mill worker Jaha Alam instead of real culprit Abu Salek in the bank money embezzlement case had sparked criticism across the country. The incident was detected by the National Human Rights Commission which held an inquiry following media reports. Finally, Jaha Alam was released based on the order of the High Court.
Rafiqul Islam Dilu
Hailing from Barishal, Rafiqul Islam Dilu filed a writ petition with the High Court for quashing a “false” case filed by an unknown person. He spent several days in Barishal jail in connection with the case.
The complainant of the case introduced himself as Jakir Hossain from Dhanmondi in the capital but it was found that the name and address of the complainant were false.
The HC, on June 10, directed the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of police to investigate the allegation and submit a report within 30 days.
On Monday, the High Court made the submission of the NID card of the complainant and informant mandatory while filing any case with any police station or court against anybody.
The order came following a writ petition filed by businessman Ekramul Ahsan who is harassed in 49 “false” cases lodged by “unknown” people.
Senior Jail Super of Chattogram Central Jail Md Shafikul Islam Khan first detected the matter on March 18 last that one innocent woman named Minu was serving jail term for another female convict Kulsum Akter. The jail authorities, on March 21, produced her before the Chattogram lower court.
Appearing before the court, Minu said, “Three years ago, a woman named Marzina wanted to give me rice and lentil. I left my slum house and accompanied her to receive the items. Tactfully, she took me to jail.”
Kulsum Akter was sentenced to life imprisonment and fined Tk 50,000 in a case filed for murdering RMG worker Kohinoor Begum on July 9, 2006. Kulsum was arrested on October 26, 2007 and she was released on bail on February 18, 2009.
The Fourth Additional District and Sessions Judge’s handed down the verdict in the case on November 30, 2017 convicting Kulsum.
Acting on the newspaper report, the High Court asked for case documents.
Scrutinising the documents, it asked the superintendent of Chattogram Central Jail on June 7 to release innocent Minu.
Minu was finally released from jail on Wednesday.
In a drug case, fish trader Manik Hawlader was arrested from Bhedarganj upazila in Shariatpur on November 28 last year instead of real convict Manik Mia. Manik Hawlader hails from Sakhipur union of Bhedaranj.
A case was filed against Manik Mia with Salanga Police Station in Sirajganj on June 2, 2009 for carrying 668 bottles of Phensedyl. He was arrested the following day.
Manik Mia obtained bail from the High Court through forgery the same year. He concealed real the identity and address. Instead of Sirajganj, he showed his house located at Sakhipur union of Bhedarganj.
On February 11, 2019, a Sirajganj court convicted Manik Mia and three others.
Jahangir Alam Chanchal was sent to jail instead of Shahiduzzaman Chanchal in Jashore. Police arrested innocent Chanchal on May 6 this year. The arrest of innocent persons also took place in Jashore in the past.
An innocent person named Chand Mia in Tangail landed in jail in a dowry case filed against another person for having the similarity to the name.
According to sources, Chand Mia, son of Jahur Ali at Mirzabari union in Madhupur upazila, was sued by his wife Jamila Begum in 2019.
But, Chand Mia, son of Joru Sheikh of Kuragachha union under the same upazila, was arrested in the case on November 26, 2020. The court sent him to jail the same day.
In most cases, people directly and indirectly involved in the impersonation and forgery remain unpunished.
Shah Alam Babu
Shah Alam Babu was sentenced to death for a murder committed by Sundar Babu in Sutrapur area of the capital.
On August 29, 2006, the High Court ordered immediate release of Alam Babu from jail and arrest of the real culprit.
Gazi Liakat Hossain, a transport leader, was shot to death in his house in Sutrapur on March 14, 1998.
Sundar Babu along with others killed Liakat following a financial dispute. The investigation officer of the case allegedly presented Alam Babu as Sundar Babu.
Speaking about the issue, the attorney general said the complainant of a case is primarily responsible for identifying the accused.
He underscored the need for meting out severe punishment to the complainant and others involved in imprisonment or conviction of any innocent person. "If any innocent person serves a sentence voluntarily or gives proxy for any real culprit, the both persons should be punished," he said.
Ehsanul Hoque Samaji, a former metropolitan public prosecutor and criminal law expert, said the scope of impersonation of the accused increases due to non-application of the Identification of Prisoners’ Act 1920.
An investigation officer should collect NID of the accused person against whom charge-sheet is submitted so that innocent persons are not harassed, he said.
“During the course of investigation, if it is revealed that the arrested person is not the real accused in the case and such arrest is out of malafide intention, necessary legal action should be taken against the delinquent police officer,” the legal expert said.
When a person accused in a criminal case voluntarily appears before court at any stage of the proceedings, his/her bail petition should be supported by an affidavit, NID card and attested photograph, he opined. “If the apex court passes a directive to a lower court to follow strict measures of identification of the accused, the problem will be resolved.”
Former Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) Kazi Reazul Hoque said he assigned commission officials to investigate the Jaha Alam issue and brought wrongful imprisonment to light. “When I was NHRC chairman, I initiated investigation into the imprisonment of Jaha Alam and found that he was made a scapegoat. I informed the Anti-Corruption Commission officials of the incident. Later, a lawyer brought the issue to the notice of the apex court which ordered the jail authorities to release Jaha Alam.”
Checking corruption and raising public awareness are needed to stop wrongful imprisonment of innocent people, he opined. "Money and corruption are acting behind impersonation. Maybe, a section of investigating officers is making innocent people scapegoats to save real accused in exchange for money. Sometimes poor people are serving sentences instead of real convicts for money," said the former NHRC chief.
Advocate Manzill Murshid, president of Human Rights and Peace for Bangladesh, said, “When a person is victimised by false case initiated by a group of people, the state should detect and punish the group. The state ought to compensate the victim by money to be realised from them.”
Terming the arrest of any innocent person in connection with a case violation of human rights, he said, “The investigating authorities should arrest the right person. If not, the government should punish the wrongdoers and ensure compensation for victims.”
The people affected by illegal arrest and imprisonment may file writ petitions with the High Court seeking compensation, he observed.