Wild West in the East: Four stories of State persecution Bangladesh Desk Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong The reality of the rule of law in Bangladesh can be viewed clearly in the experiences of victims of human rights abuses. Daily, countless citizens fall prey to the violence of state agents. The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has documented numerous cases. The documentations depict a nightmarish life of people awash with atrocities, harassment, arbitrary deprivation of life, and denial of justice. In recent years, abductions by men in civilian clothes, followed by the disappearance of those abducted, has risen alarmingly in Bangladesh. There has been no report of victims receiving judicial remedy in cases of enforced disappearance. Amidst such chilling realities, human rights defenders have been targeted for state persecution, for exposing truth. Out of a few hundred documented cases, 47 have been compiled in this edition. The incidents cover a period from 2009 on, following rule by the military-controlled emergency regime during a period of “democracy”. The following four cases have been chosen by the AHRC to let its audience know how the state apparatus – from top to bottom – are engaged in persecuting citizens. The stories expose a harsh truth to Bangladeshis and to the people of the world: Bangladesh possesses neither democracy nor the rule of law. The case of Adilur Rahman Khan There is similarity between the detention and harassment of Adilur Rahman Khan (See Story No. 1) and the ordeals faced by victims of disappearances in Bangladesh. The agents of the state who picked up Adilur did not wear any law-enforcement agency uniform. No warrant was presented to Adilur concerning any criminal charge against him. When a team from Odhikar approached the nearest police station, the Gulshan station, the police personnel there expressed ignorance about Adilur’s arrest. Even by midnight on 10 August 2013, two hours after Adilur was picked up, the Gulshan police had no official record to justify Adilur’s arrest, and no information specifying his whereabouts. Following intervention from media and human rights defenders, the police admitted that the Detective Branch (DB) of the Dhaka Metropolitan Police had arrested Adilur. The police registered two General Dairy Entries (GDEs) against Adilur after detaining him. They produced him before the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate’s (CMM) Court of Dhaka the following morning under the two GDEs. The CMM Court sent him to police remand for five days in violation of the law. Adilur’s wife had to challenge the CMM Court’s order before the High Court to protect her husband from torture in remand. The events suggest the government actions were arbitrary. Their intention superseded the purview of law in Adilur Rahman Khan’s case. The subordinate judiciary, i.e. the Magistracy and the Cyber Crimes Tribunal, acted as if it was the tool in the hands of the government, mandated to harass human rights defenders. The judge of the Cyber Crimes Tribunal, Dhaka, would disappear from his office on the dates when the Tribunal was supposed to entertain the applications of Adilur’s lawyers. Not having the judge’s signature on certain documents prevented the lawyers from seeking remedy in higher courts. No official explanation was made public about the judge’s absence. This absence appears deliberate. The police investigation reports accusing Adilur and Elan of committing crimes under the Information and Communications Technology Act, 2006, is nearly a verbatim copy of the General Diary Entries. The prosecution witnesses for the case are police officers and people defined by the police as “experts” of information technology. Testimony of such governmental “experts”, who have no known background in the field, can jeopardize the rights to a fair trial and justice if treated as credible by judges. The Attorney General undermined the independence of the judiciary. His office intervened and stalled the release of the two detained rights defenders. As a result, even after Adilur and Elan were granted bail, and the court order had reached the prison authorities, they were not released. Ultimately, Elan was released two days later, and Adilur was released three days later. The repression of Odhikar and its key leaders indicates that the government of Bangladesh stands against them. All this is organised by the regime to close down Odhikar and silence the voices of independent human rights defenders like Adilur Rahman Khan. In Bangladesh, no remedy is accessible or affordable to protect oneself from persecution by the state. The case of Mohammad Imam Hassan Ruhul Amin and his wife Minara Khatun (See Story No. 8) talked to their son in the office of the RAB-2 on four occasions, after paying a 40,000 taka bribe. As parents, they tried their best to rescue their son from the custody of the paramilitary force, which officially claims to be an “elite force”. The “eliteness” of the RAB lies in bribery and a trade in crime, amidst impunity. The RAB’s involvement in any crime – as offenders, facilitators, or masterminds – prevents other state institutions from executing their mandate. Police refusal to record Ruhul’s complaint while his son was in RAB custody again exposes this reality. The RAB, apart from demanding bribes, insisted that the parents file a complaint with the police, as a precondition for Badal’s freedom from its custody. This kept the parents busy with the police. At the same time, the police know that they are not allowed to register complaints if there is any hint of RAB involvement in any alleged crime. The refusal of the police to register such a complaint shut the doors to the Magistracy for victim’s relatives. The Supreme Court, as the last resort for victims of state orchestrated crimes, seals victims’ fates by conducting result- less actions. Imam Hassan Badal’s case is just one of the habeas corpus writs filed. There have been, at least, a few hundred disappeared victims since 2009. The High Court Division of the Supreme Court held only one hearing to issue a Rule against the respondents in Badal’s case. The judiciary in Bangladesh does not believe it has any responsibility to provide a remedy to an average justice-seeker. Rather, it is the victims’ sole responsibility to keep pursuing their cases, hoping that hearings will not be stalled, and dreaming of a just result. Often, even the High Court’s Rules are ignored by law-enforcement agencies. The respondents, due to the absence of judicial consequences, do not respond to the Rules in time. Subsequently, Rulings against state agents in cases of grave human rights violations become a mere joke for the perpetrators, and a fruitless exercise for the relatives of the victims. The law-enforcement agencies consistently keep denying their responsibilities for disappearing the citizens concerned. Bangladesh’s incumbent Attorney General remains ever prepared to serve state perpetrators. The Attorney General sometimes takes the role of a postman and sometimes becomes a microphone of the law-enforcement agencies, when the cases of disappearance or extrajudicial executions are heard in the Supreme Court. He submits the law-enforcement agencies’ denials that are no different from the media release circulated by the agencies. The Supreme Court, which is overburdened with politicised recruitments, accepts such denials. Matters get stuck there without any remedy for victims. The highest judiciary has not provided any remedy to victims of disappearance since 2009, in terms of rescuing disappeared persons or punishing perpetrators. The Supreme Court has not yet taken enforced disappearance seriously. There have been no directives from the Court regarding the pattern of disappearances in Bangladesh. Relatives of victims run around with hope and end up in despair. Ultimately, all the state apparatus offers to the people is distrust, despair, and sheer terror. The case of Limon Hossain Limon Hossain’s (See Story No. 14) case informed the people of Bangladesh of how the Rapid Action Battalion is a highly destructive paramilitary force. The “elite” paramilitary force deliberately shot an innocent college student to further its business of “success” in crime control. The case shows how difficult it is for a victim to register a complaint against offenders belonging to the state despite massive public support. One may imagine conditions of tens of thousands of victims of human rights abuses that get no publicity or support. Limon’s case shows how crimes of the law-enforcement agencies maim not only individual victims but also the criminal justice institutions of the country. The criminal investigation by the police tried to turned truth to falsehood and the investigation report claimed wrong as right. The prosecution complied with the cover up by rubberstamping the police reports. The Magistracy and Sessions Courts proved that they do not exist as institutions for administering justice. The Sessions Court of Jhalkathi deferred Limon’s mother’s revision petition nine times. All the institutions – the complaint mechanism, the criminal investigation units, the prosecution, and the judiciary – are exposed in this case as a mere facade to protect the criminals of the state. They survive to brand innocent citizens as criminals. This case also exposes how the National Human Rights Commission stands against people’s aspirations for justice. By insisting that Limon’s family withdraw the case against officers of the RAB, the NHRC Chairman showed his complicities with the government’s position, denying justice to victims of human rights violations. The state compounds crimes of its own agents at the cost of taxpayer money, wellbeing, and hope. The policymakers of the state dance according to the requirements of the militarised agencies. The state stands united against ordinary citizens. The case of F.M. Abdur Razzak A police team stayed in F.M. Abdur Razzak’s village home (See Story No. 16) from 9 December 2011 to 3 December 2013. Around eight members led by a Sub Inspector (SI) of Police, and comprising an Assistant Sub Inspector (ASI) and six Police Constables were there for the first six months. Later, the number reduced to four to five personnel led by an ASI. During the two years presence the police could not help Razzak’s family establish their right to by the gang of the military officer’s brother. For example, the police did not prevent the offenders from cutting down trees of Razzak’s family or catching fish from Razzak’s pond. Razzak and his family have not yet been able to exercise their right to harvest their crops from their own lands despite the police presence. Some members of the police were found playing carom with the perpetrators. A few police personnel were compassionate to Razzak’s family and expressed their helplessness in establishing his family’s right to enjoy their own assets. Officially, there were no supplies of food for the on duty police personnel at Razzak’s house during the entire period. Razzak’s family, who did not have enough for everyone, nevertheless often shared their meals with the police personnel as a result. The Officer-in-Charge (OC) of the Paikgachha police station withdrew the forces from Razzak’s home on 3 December 2013 because of “security threats to the police”, according to a General Diary Entry registered with the Paikgachha police. The police took the advantage of the High Court’s order, which did not have any specification about the duration of the presence of police in Razzak’s home. One can easily assume the condition of the general public’s security in a particular place when the law-enforcement agency itself claims to be under “security threat”. In last four years, 15 cases were registered by the perpetrators against Razzak, his family members and others who stood beside them either in public or in a Court of law. Seven out of the 15 cases are GR (General Registrar) cases; seven non-GR cases and a CR (Complaint Registrar) cases filed by the perpetrators. The police filed untrue investigation reports against the defendants in all these fabricated cases, due to pressures from the military officer and bribery. Seven Non-GR cases and a GR case are under trial in the Village Courts. Seven other cases are under trials before the relevant Courts. At least, in three cases the defendants, e.g. Razzak and his relatives and friends, may be convicted due to the distorted police report and false deposition by the perpetrators. During the same period Razzak, his father, brother and few neighbours had filed seven criminal cases regarding physical attacks on them and looting of their assets by the perpetrators. One of these cases was the attempted murder of Razzak following abduction and gouging his eye described earlier. Only in this case the police have filed a relatively fair investigation report to the Court due to numerous pressures from the international human rights organizations including the Asian Human Rights Commission. And, in the rest of the cases the investigation reports were poorly made which benefited the perpetrators. Apart from the criminal cases, Razzak filed a civil case seeking his right to enjoy all his properties that are illegally occupied by the perpetrators. In response to Razzak’s claim for a permanent injunction on occupying his family’s properties the Senior Assistant Judge’s Court of Paikgachha has yet to conclude its order since 23 March 2011. The reality that Razzak and his family have been forced to face in Bangladesh says volumes about the condition of the rule of law of the country. Military officers are publicly perceived to be above the law in Bangladesh. The power of an army officer and his family’s gang seems to be much stronger than the institutions that are obliged to uphold the rule of law. Moreover, one of in- laws of the military officer is a high profile official at the Office of the Prime Minister. Because of the governmental endorsements the country’s military rules do not apply to him. Impunity and corruption reign in the nation replacing the rule of law. It is hard to believe that human beings are behind the operation of the state apparatus in Bangladesh. The state compounds endless crimes orchestrated by a military officer and his goons. Institutionally, there is hardly any visible feeling about the plights of Razzak and his family. Their houses were looted without any protection from the state. Their valuables were taken with the knowledge and acceptance of the police. They were prevented from harvesting and growing new crops in their own lands without any affordable remedy. The elderly, the women, and the children were forced to live a life of gypsy for more than a year. People of all ages and gender of the family and their well-wisher-neighbours had to survive physical attacks, some of which were deadly, that the law-enforcement agencies had complicit to the crimes. For four years the family has been witnessing that those who attempted to assassinate their dear ones are taking the fruits of their orchards away. The same perpetrators are consistently enjoying fish from their own ponds. The offenders are cutting away the matured trees from the family’s lands to make money. The family of Razzak has to witness of all these painful illegal actions without any possible remedy. The state never tries to realize how the people feel when they have to live with the utter absence of rule of law that ruins their life. Conclusion These four individual cases include almost all the institutions of the state. The Office of the Prime Minister, the highest executive power of the state, the military and paramilitary forces, the police, the prosecution, the judiciary, and other civil administration of the country are directly involved in these cases. The most recent example is the seven persons’ abduction and subsequent disappearance by the RAB in Narayanganj in April 2014 for bribery. The rest of the cases published in this edition of article 2 shows how justice is deliberately denied to the victims of torture and extrajudicial executions. The people’s life – from rural to urban – is chained with state orchestrated repressions. Can such a life be imagined in any rule of law based democracy.