Stories of innocent people spending years behind bars without trial seem to be straight from the pages of novels. Popular Indian Bangla movie Shobar Upore depicted a similar story years ago, about an innocent man being locked up and forgotten for years. Mohammad Shipon is not the protagonist of anyone’s story, but the story of his unjust imprisonment is not short of a tragedy. In 1994, a man was killed in a clash between two groups at Sutrapur in the capital. The victim’s relatives filed a case, making Shipon No. 2 accused. Police arrested him in 2000 and a court sent him to jail. There he remained, forgotten, without trial, for the last 16 years. Last year, a private TV channel aired Shipon’s story, bringing this grave injustice to light. Finally, on November 8, the high court granted him bail until the case was settled, and Shipon walked out of prison after 16 long years. Shipon’s story is not an isolated incident. There are a large number of prisoners who have been virtually forgotten by the system. Without any trial, these people have been languishing in prison for decades.
High Court asks for bail of seven inmates The High Court of Bangladesh has issued a rule asking the government to explain why seven prisoners, who have been serving in Kashimpur Jail without trial in separate cases for over 12 years, should not be granted bail. It also asked the authorities concerned to produce the seven prisoners before the court on January 24. Moreover, the records of these cases have been summoned. Of the seven inmates, two have been imprisoned for 11 years, two for 12 years and three for 13 years. One of the inmates is a member of the Garo community. According to human rights activists, over 500 inmates are held in jails without trial countrywide. By keeping them locked up this way, their constitutional rights have been violated. The government should pay compensation for wasting the precious years of their lives, said the activists. However, the government is saying that these people are locked up for so long because no one carried out the legal battles on their behalf.
The countrywide scenario Recently, the Supreme Court Legal Aid Committee (SCLAC) has sought the lists of prisoners who remain imprisoned in jails for a long time without trial in all the prisons in the country. On December 7, the office of the inspector general of prisons has submitted the report to the SCLAC. As per the report, currently 462 inmates, serving time for five years or more, are locked up in the 25 prisons of the country. Of them, 21 are imprisoned for over a decade, 40 for 10 years, and 401 for 5+ years. Member-secretary of SCLAC and additional Registrar (admin and trial) of High Court, Mohammad Sabbir Fayez, said, “We have received the full list of the prisoners being held without trial. After examining and analyzing the list, they will be given legal assistance through panel lawyers. Some of them have already received legal aid.” According to the list, Gulshan resident Imran aka Ismail Musa (45), and Sutrapur resident Komol (31) have been imprisoned in Dhaka Central Jail since April 25, 2003 and July 24, 2004 respectively. Their cases are under trial in the Additional Metropolitan Session Judge Court. So far, Komol has been presented before the court 92 times and Imran 81 times.
Osman Goni, 28, from Manikpur have been in jail since December 8, 2003, and Satyajeet Pal from Raujan since August 11 of the same year. Mohammad Nurul Amin, 23, from South Bardhona Bahari Para has been incarcerated since August 15, 2005 and Sumon Sen alias Sumon, 45, from 92, Momin road, Jhautola have been serving time in the Chittagong Central Jail since January 8, 2006. The jail authority has presented each of them before the Chittagong Additional Session Judge Court at least 80-95 times. In the Cox’s Bazar Central Jail, inmate Mohammad Kalu alias Kala Mia, 35, from Chaufoldondi, has been serving time since October 20, 2000, Mohammad Ismail, 33, from Vedorganj since March 27, 2001, and Monir from Daudkandi, Comilla since March 29 of the same year. Nurul Islam from Ramu has been in jail since April 18, 2003, Abul Kashem from East Boro Veula since May 21, 2005, Mohammad Sunny alias Liton (32) from Boalmari, Faridpur since October 11, 2006 and Sultan Ahmed from Myanmar since October 19, 2006. Of them, Mohammad Sunny has been presented before the court a staggering 637 times, which is the highest recorded number in the country’s history.
Among the 6 long-term inmates in Sylhet Central Jail, Raju Jaganath from Habiganj has been imprisoned without any trial since March 3, 2003, Faruk Hossain, 25, from Kamalganj, Moulvibazar since February 9, 2005, and Selim Mia from Brahmanbaria since April 21 of the same year. So far, Faruk has been presented before the court 131 times, Selim 122 times and Raju Jaganath 112 times, but none of them was ever granted bail. In addition, Sabbir Ahmed alias Dulal, 45, from Brahmanbaria has been in jail since March 9, 2006, Saiful Alam Belal since May 7, 2006, and Mohammad Dana Mia, 55, since December 14, 2006. In Kashimpur High Security Central Prison, 6 inmates are locked up without trial. Of them, Mohammad Sanaullah, 38, has been presented before the court 153 times and Jamil Hossain, 50, 134 times. Sanaullah has been serving time since May 8, 2005 and Jamil since March 31, 2006. Three inmates in Kashimpur-2 prison, 5 in Satkhira district prison, 5 in Mymensingh district prison, 2 each in Khulna and Tangail district prisons, and one each in Kishoreganj, Narshingdi, Munshiganj, Pabna, Natore, Laxmipur, Sunamganj, Bagerhat, Pirozepur and Comilla central jails are held without any trial for over 10 years.
Recently, a HC bench led by justice Enayetur Rahim granted bail to a number of prisoners who were locked up in jail for years without any trial. The chief justice Surendra Kumar Sinha said, “Due to lack of witnesses, the proceedings of the penal cases are being unnecessarily prolonged. As per the 171 (2) act of penal code, police has the responsibility of presenting witness to the court. Presenting a proper and honest case report and ensuring the presence of the witnesses in the court to ensure punishment of the real culprit are much harder than arresting people.” Sinha also said, “Unfortunately our police administration is not as skilled in bringing the witnesses to court as they are in arresting criminals. As a result, most of the cases’ results are highly unsatisfactory. We have to realize that the old cases are not only embarrassing to us, but also burdensome for the justice-seekers.”