BANGLADESH: Minister endorses torture 

Bangladesh’s State Minister for Home Affairs Mr. Shamsul Haque Tuku has advised the journalists to keep a ‘safe distance’ from the country’s police while both the journalists and the police are on duty. The minister is cited in the national media including The Daily Star’s online edition on 30 May 2012, that he said, “I will tell my journalist friends that they can avoid such unwanted incidents if they collect news or take photos through keeping a safe distance {from police}. I hope you {journalists} will consider it.” The remarks were made in a meeting held at the Dhaka Reporters’ Unity on 29 May.

It is understood that the minister referred the incidents of police brutality on three journalists of Daily Prothom Alo, who have got their limbs fractured as a result of police torture at Agargaon in city of Dhaka on 26 May. The remarks of the State Minister for Home Affairs sound dangerous while he is asking the journalists to keep a safe distance from the police instead of taking any convincing action to change the police’s official habit of using torture against the people of Bangladesh. It appears that the minister did not think about what he was telling to the people. The minister’s comment also exposes that how unrealistic mindsets the cabinet members of the government posses as the people may ask a counter question that how many million people can maintain the so called safe distance from the police while torture is endemic in the country.

The police have proven the minister’s point completely wrong on the same day. The minister, who is legally authorised to control the law-enforcing agents of the country, made this advice to the journalists in a meeting in the morning while during the rest of the day another group of three journalists, two lawyers and a family with two women were publicly tortured by the police at the premises of the Chief Metropolitan Magistrates’ Court of Dhaka.

Why did the police torture the journalists and lawyers at the Court premises? The answer is, according to the media reports, journalists were listening to a teen-aged girl, who was molested by the police at the Police Club while her parents were tortured by the police at the CMM Court area and the three persons of the same family were arbitrarily detained. The police did not want the journalists to get the girl to share the story of her being molested while her parents were tortured. So, they beat the journalists up! Two lawyers, who argued with the police officers for illegally arresting the same girl and her parents, were also tortured in public and in the Kotowali police station. The police also allegedly threatened to fabricate charges against the lawyers for their imaginary involvement in an Islamic militant group. However, they were released following interventions by a human rights group and a number of lawyers of the Dhaka Bar Association.

Torture in the hands of the law-enforcing agents is unavoidable according to the current law-enforcement system. Torture is also not ‘unwanted’ in the country as every ruling regime use torture against their political opponents by using the State-agents as their hired musclemen in the given political culture of Bangladesh. The police, Rapid Action Battalion, security forces and intelligence agencies of the country use torture against everyone as part of their ‘official’ practice. Wherever there is a presence of any member of the agencies of the State the possibility of someone to be tortured also exists in Bangladesh. The volume and trend of using torture establishes the fact that no place is safe for protecting someone from torture. Obviously, the truth is, no distance is a ‘safe distance’ unless a person is out of the boundary of the national territory of Bangladesh.

The State Minister for Home Affairs and his colleagues in the cabinet should develop effective and practical mechanism to prevent the law-enforcement agencies from using torture, if the minister was not joking with the journalists at the meeting on 29 May 2012. The government, if it has sincere commitment for stopping the torturous culture in the country, should immediately legislate “Torture and Custodial Death (Prohibition) Bill-2011”, which has been unanimously recommended by the Parliamentary Committee on Private Members’ Bill and Resolution to enact as a law, in the ongoing Budget Session of the Jatiya Sangsad (Please see the original Bangla version Report of the Parliamentary Committee and an unofficial English version here), as one of the priorities. The government must implement ‘zero tolerance against torture’ by establishing right to fair trials for every victim of torture whenever torture takes place regardless of political or social or religious identities of the survivors of torture, without any form of impunity to the perpetrators torture of any agency. In order to ensure justice to the parties the government should also initiate thorough reforms of the country’s criminal justice institutions including the criminal investigation system, prosecutorial system and the system of administering justice by enabling them to function credibly and independently with judicial mindsets. There is an immediate need of an effective ‘witness protection mechanism’ in Bangladesh for the sake of establishing justice as well.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-114-2012
Countries : Bangladesh,
Issues : Freedom of expression, Human rights defenders, Right to life, Torture,