Brisbane, April 4, 2015 (Alochonaa):In Bangladesh people are seeing in recent times an alarming rise in the unsolved, poorly investigated and/or unattended cases of rape, murder, disappearances of political opponents, bank heist etc. etc.
Most shocking among these is the case of recent murder of Tonu, a 17 year old college girl who was also a budding stage actor. It is further suspect that prior to her murder Topu might have been raped as well. In this murder incident what is also quite puzzling is that Tonu’s family lives within the protected compound of Army cantonment in Comilla and this makes this murder even more complex especially from the investigation point of view for the killers are likely to be residents of cantonment itself and this is what may be contributing to the lackluster if not diversionary tactics the police is employing in the investigation of the case. As almost all vital evidences of the murder have already been removed from the murder scene people have already started to smell foul play and thus believe that this murder case will also face the similar fate of other similar cases of recent past, make it drag its feet for a while until the whole thing gets forgotten and the case gets buried into the fading memory of a nation that seems to get more worked up by the International Cricket Council’s ban of their favourite cricket hero than gross lapses of their criminal justice system that allow murderers, rapists, plunderers walk the streets free, leaving the victims and victim’s near and dear ones grieving bereft of justice.
Reflecting on the questionable nature of Tonu’s murder investigation someone has recently observed in a Dhaka newspaper that “Our police have little interest in rape and murder investigations. They make no credible effort to find the culprit for as we see in Tonu’s case that instead of focusing on and investigating and finding the perpetrator/s of this heinous crime the police have shown extraordinary zeal in taking the distraught parents of the murdered child to the police station at the middle of night where they were kept till early morning and were subjected to most aggressive interrogations where some of the officers even had the gall to question the grieving parents as to why have they not got Tonu, a young and attractive girl married off yet, implying that had they done so this rape and murder would not have happened.” Implicit in this observation of the police is the message that by allowing Tonu to pursue her study and letting her decide her own future including that of her marriage the parents in fact have contributed to her murder – how shockingly disgustingly insensitive could one get especially with grieving parents of a murdered child!
Indeed, the depth of moral degeneration of Bangladesh’s police and its criminal justice system has plunged so deep and ugly that it is not only difficult to fathom but horrifying to picture.
The other not-so-recent unsolved murder involves the double murder of a well-known husband/wife journalist team, Sagar and Runi who were stabbed to death in their own apartment on 11 February 2012 in Dhaka, the capital city.
Despite the promises, albeit outwardly, made by the Prime Minister herself, the Home Minister and the Police chief no tangible progress have so far been made in identifying and bringing the murderers to justice and the fact that this murder happened at a time when the murdered journalists were investigating and preparing a TV documentary of an alleged corruption at the highest level of the government makes one wonder and explains somewhat police’s visible lack of enthusiasm in the case. What also makes the situation more tragic if not depressing is that when journalists at one time queried the Prime Minister why prominent journalists like Sagar/Runi that lived in a gated property in the capital city could not be safe, she arrogantly responded by saying that, “Government cannot give guarantee of safety of life to people in their bed rooms!”
Indeed, when the Prime Minister of a country takes an arrogantly irresponsible position on a murder case such as Sagar/Runi’s that was not only brutal but also looked revengeful in its execution, it is hardly a surprise that the case’s investigation has gone the way it has, into a cold storage. In this morbid scenario of Bangladesh’s dented criminal justice system the worst sufferer is Sagar/Runi’s orphaned son who was then 5 and now 10 year old, in whose presence this gruesome double murder happened, perhaps wonders what crime his parents did to deserve such a brutal and premature ends to their lives and how long more should he wait to get justice?
Similarly, the murder investigations of Dipon, Niloy, Avijit, Rajib – the atheist bloggers who were murdered by the extremists for their anti-religion bloggings are also encountering familiar delays and distortions. Many believe that as the nabbing, prosecution and punishment of these religious killer bigots has the risk of shaking the political applecart the delay is deliberate, perhaps.
Apart from these high profile murders cited above those that took place in Dhaka and the nearby city, murder, rape, extra-judicial killings etc. have become daily occurrences throughout the country over the last several years with virtually no proper investigation of and no effort made to nab and prosecute real culprits. Instead police is said to exploit these criminal acts to harass innocent people by arresting them as ‘suspects’ on a mass scale to extract rent, giving credence to the theory that Bangladesh’s law and order agencies may be callous but when it comes to organizing entrepreneurial endeavours, they do not lack in ideas.
Furthermore, ineptness if not outright collusion of the government (this is what many suspect) in cases relating to recent enforced disappearances of opposition political activists such as Illiyus Chowdhury and hundreds more, who by now are feared dead are examples of dangerous level of extent of absence of accountability that pervades the criminal justice system of Bangladesh at the present times.
Add to these individual cases of unlawful and unsolved murders the collective massacre of officers of the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR, a paramilitary border force) by the mutinous soldiers in 2009 that happened within months the current government first came to power that some claim to have been a politically motivated occurrence, orchestrated from outside led to the murder of 57 Army officers, some of Bangladesh’s finest. Two investigations of the massacre – one by the Army and the other by a civilian committee – were conducted, but only part of the civilian committee’s report has so far been made public and the one by the army never saw the light of the day. Also the dubious manner in which trials of mutineers have since been conducted in camera has given rise to the theory that aspiration of justice and fairness especially in cases where political stakes are high is not only a futile ask but a risky proposition as well. In this context it may thus not be too irrelevant to gaze at two interlinking outcomes that this BDR carnage have produced since – firstly, it has weakened the capacity as well as the morale of the army, as a contender of power and secondly, it has given the government rapacious hands in governance.
Let us also now shift our attention from murders etc.to another issue which by no means is less important and this involves recent rise in rampant and glaring plunder of public money. Take the case of Bangladesh stock market scam of 2011 that made hundreds and thousands of small investors destitute and the behind-the-scene manipulating robber-barons filthy rich overnight. Good news was that the scam was duly investigated but the bad news was that the investigation report was never made public and the reason? This is what the Finance Minister had said at the time, “The report has listed names in the scam that are so highly placed [highly politically connected, that is] that I do not dare mentioning them”. That was the end of it – none of scam scumbags have ever been identified and none ever punished.
Other cases of financial malfeasance of grand scale that include but not limited to are Hallmark (in this case a company stole millions from a nationalized bank through false documentations and influencing/bribing of bank authorities); the BASIC Bank, Sonali Bank (similar strategy but parties involved are different and both are public banks) heists; and lately, the Bangladesh Bank (the reserve bank of Bangladesh) heist from where millions of dollars got stolen.
These cases of plunders that have been conducted under the very nose of and some allege in collusion with the powers-to-be have never been properly investigated nor as can be expected, any of perpetrators brought to justice ever. On the contrary, as in the case of Bangladesh Bank (BB) heist which involved electronic theft of $100.00 million that happened in February this year but the news of the heist never reached nor was disclosed by the Bank to the public in Bangladesh till late March when the media in Philippines where the bulk of the stolen money ended up made it known. This is how dangerously non-responsive and defiant Bangladesh’s public institutions have become. However the most shocking aspect of the whole thing is that when a Mr. Zoha, a young Bangladeshi digital security expert who after carrying out initial probe of the heist in BB raised few valid questions regarding security lapses at the Bank’s computer system and even hinted at and indirectly identified the guilty parties was not only not heeded to, but after he made these observations in public was abducted way home and released after a week of detention from an undisclosed location where he was most likely tortured looked visibly shaken and now, gone completely mute after his return.
In Bangladesh the old saying that stealing is great if you can get away with it seems to have found itself a safe home and a fertile ground to breed and proliferate.
Many argue and with some justification that the sad state that Bangladesh’s criminal justice system has reached is mainly due to, inter alia, the aggressive politicization of the public administration as a whole and the law enforcement agencies and the judiciary in particular where officials of these agencies operate more as the cadre of the ruling party than public servants with no obligation to adhere to or observe the barest minimum of standards of integrity and accountability. In these circumstances asking for fairness, accountability and justice from these agencies or for that matter from the government itself would be like asking Donald Trump to shun rude words.
Another sad aspect of increased politicization of Bangladesh’s institutions is the apathy and the partisanship of the civil society and the media that on the one has made some passive onlookers to injustices mainly out of fear of retribution and others, tacit endorsers of everything that the government does in exchange of loyalty and patronage, respectively.
Indeed these are despairing moments and this may sound like a drowning person’s straw but given Bangladesh’s consistent poor record in accountability and given its predatory government’s firm grip on power that obliterates all possibilities of change in near future a sense of fatalism seems to have descended upon its people, prompting some to seethe in discontent and others to seek Allah’s bichar (judgement) on the ‘Roj Hashorer Din’ or the ‘Yawm al-Qiyāmah’, the Day of the Final Judgement, when according to Islam none else but only HE irrespective of caste, colour, creed and positions of people would make the final and just determinations between the wrong and the wronged and punish the guilty and reward the righteous!
* The author is a professor at the School of Social Science, University of Queensland, Australia and a retired senior policy manager of the United Nations. The author can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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