|Volume 6 | Issue 07 | July 2012 ||
'The way police are behaving is both unlawful and corrupt'
SULTANA KAMAL has been an indefatigable campaigner for human rights issues. She is the executive director of Ain O Salish Kendra, an organisation that provides shelter and legal assistance to vulnerable social groups and individuals. She has involved herself in all the progressive political movements of the country including the liberation war. Having finished her post-graduation in English Literature from Dhaka University in 1971, she received another master's degree in Development Studies from the Institute of Social Studies, Holland. After her work with village women in the post-independence era, she studied law to stand by women who were often victims of violence. In her multifaceted career, she has voluntarily worked for numerous rights and welfare organisations both at national and international levels. From 1989-90, she worked for the Vietnamese Boat People in Hong Kong as the Legal Consultant with the UNHCR. She received the John Humphrey Freedom Award 1996 Canada for her contribution in protecting human rights. At present, she is also the Chairperson of Transparency International Bangladesh. In this interview with RIFAT MUNIM, she talks about the recent incidents of police excesses and how they get away with their unlawful activities.
Rifat Munim (RM): A recent spate of police brutalities on journalists and civilians, especially on Farzana and her parents at the Dhaka Magistrate Court premises has raised serious questions about law enforcers' abuse of certain powers. Actually, what does our law say about this? Does any law support such brutalities on the part of the police?
Sultana Kamal (SK): The simple answer is no. The police are an organised force. They have to abide by a strict chain of command and they are to be people friendly. They cannot use their power without having any reference to the norms and conditions of the power and authority that they are given to maintain law and order. So there is no scope either in the law or in the police code for abusing their power like that.
RM: Then we can decisively say that such misconducts are unlawful. Perhaps there's a provision in our law for a victim of police brutality to file a lawsuit against the perpetrator. Then why don't we ever see a police officer facing a trial and then be punished just like any other citizen?
When I went to the police station in Lalbagh area to stand by Farzana and her family, the first evening it took me four hours to convince the police to take her statement and let the family come with me so that they could come back to the station next day to file a complaint. And the next day, they went there about 8 o' clock in the night and the case was actually filed at 2 o' clock in the morning. That clearly shows how seriously the police officers thwart the whole process.
RM: And this when an organization such as Ain O Salish Kendra was so closely involved with the whole process. Then what happens where ASK and media cannot reach out?
RM: Since this is the prevalent scene in the present system, is there a need for a new mechanism, may be a new department, where lodging a complaint or filing a case against any police officer will not be a problem?
RM: So, you don't think a new mechanism is necessary.
And of course, police are an exploited force, both politically and economically. All those exploitations will have to be ended. They are poorly paid, most of their duties don't relate to policing. They are rather basically engaged in protocol duties for very long hours. Finally, as we all know their number is kept in an unrealistic proportion which is one policeman for 1200 people. At another level, they are expected basically to serve the powerful any deviation from which may cause them trouble.
RM: BLAST, ASK, Shommilito Shamajik Andolon and several individuals filed a writ petition in the High Court challenging the abuse of police powers to arrest without warrant under Section 54 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrCP) and the abuse of powers regarding taking the accused into remand (police custody) under Section 167 of the CrPC. Another law is the 1974 Special Powers Act. Do you think such draconian laws provide incentives for police to abuse their powers?
Through our writ, we applied to the court to see that those sections are not used inappropriately. There are certain safeguards and rules related to these sections which the police must follow but normally that doesn't happen. Say, for example, there are nine different clauses that actually control the abuse of power given to police by Section 54. To mntion a few of those clauses, they have to produce the arrestee within 24 hours before a court; his health has to be checked properly; then they have to submit the charge sheet within a particular period of time; above all, they can only use that power when there are certain situations like let's say, if there are real reasons to believe that the person is dangerous or if he is capable of creating a situation where a lot of people may be at risk or if he has escaped from one police station to the jurisdiction of another station something like that. These are the particular directions under which police can apply this section to arrest someone. Otherwise, they cannot arrest anyone without warrant.
RM: You have already addressed the consequences of politicisation of the police force. How do you think this trend can be reversed? May be you are aware that OC Salahuddin who was supervising the brutalities inflicted on Farzana and her parents on that day, comes from Gopalganj and he was previously an active member of the BCL.
Police cannot behave like that and this is totally unacceptable. All police personnel for such unlawful and arrogant behavior must be brought to justice. Otherwise, the perpetrators feel there is nothing that can prevent them from going against the civilians. It is only by giving the state forces a sense of accountability that we can stop such behaviours by them.
RM: So it is obvious that police are abusing their power violating people's basic rights and despite constant media focus and angry protests from human rights organizations, nothing is happening. What do you think the government should immediately do to bring this situation under control?
Rifat Munim is Senior Editorial Assistant, The Daily Star.
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