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     Volume 5 Issue 88 | March 31, 2006 |

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Human Rights

Protectors turn into Predators

Morshed Ali Khan

It was brutality in broad daylight, in front of dozens of media personnel, who recorded the event. A group of policemen and policewomen dragged Shahin Sultana Shanta, a mother of a ten-year-old boy and three months pregnant, out of the clinic, at the intersection of Road 27 and Mirpur road, and beat her mercilessly. She was caught and beaten as she was wearing a pair of trainers and assumed that she was an activist of the opposition, who participated in the day's protest programme on March 12. The time was 12-10 PM and protesters had already clashed with the police several times, setting a passenger bus ablaze round the corner.

The beating did not end on the road. As men and women police personnel unleashed their violent anger on the helpless housewife, others dragged her inside a prison van nearby. About half a dozen policemen and policewomen entered the van and beat her again. She screamed in agony. An hour or so later as she lay in pain she was forced to sign a blank paper and set free.

Just following the incident, when the pictures of the police brutality started to emerge in the media, top police officials embarked on justifying the acts. Police press releases were issued, in which police attached photocopies of documents, trying to prove that Shanta was indeed an activist of the opposition Awami League.

Policemen and policewomen swoop on Shanta in full view of photojournalists

On 14 March, Shanta sued 28 policemen and policewomen, including two police commissioners with the Chief Metropolitan Magistrates accusing the police of assaulting her mentally and physically. Daughter of Justice Shamsul Huda and wife of Supreme Court lawyer, Shanta narrated to the court how mercilessly she was tortured. The Metropolitan Magistrate AJM Abdullahel Baqui directed the Inspector General of Police to appoint an investigating officer and submit a report on the matter by April 16.

On March 19, flanked by her lawyers, a limping Shanta, filed a second case against the same policemen and policewomen with the First Special Tribunal for Prevention of Women and Children Repression, Dhaka. The judge in-charge of the tribunal Mujibul Kamal ordered a judiciary probe and asked the probe body to submit a report within seven days.

Now the police were desperate. They had to find something to teach Shanta a lesson. On March 22, two cases --- one for "extortion and another for "theft" --- were filed by one Daud Mia and one Firoz Mia separately implicating Shanta and her husband with the crimes at the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate's court. But both the cases bore tell-tale signs of police manipulation and an investigation by The Daily Star found out that none of the accusers used correct addresses in their complaints.

Crying for justice. A badly injured Shanta recounts her terrible ordeal

For Shanta, it was a nightmare to think that the police were coming to arrest her. Her family prepared to obtain anticipatory bail from the High Court. In the afternoon of March 24 when police learnt that Shanta and her husband would appear before the High Court from her hideout and obtain the bails in the two cases, another case was filed at the last moment with the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate's Court. The police 'thought' they would be able to arrest Shanta with the last minute case of arson and deployed extra forces at the High Court premises. As Shanta emerged from the court with the bails on "extortion" and "theft" cases news of the last minute case was related to the family and lawyers. By then the High Court was about to be closed for the day's business.

"The lawyers rushed back to the High Court bench and explained to the Justices about the third case, filed by a bus driver accusing Shanta of setting his bus ablaze. The High Court bench immediately granted the third bail to the relief of the family and well wishers.

At present Shanta is undergoing treatment at an undisclosed clinic, recovering from wounds all over her body. But she lives in terror. She says she has been scarred for life. "I am an admirer of Bangabandhu but I do not do politics. Now I cannot sleep thinking that if the police take me into their custody again, I will not survive this time," she says.

Shanta says she is a diabetic patient and therefore takes long walks as per advice of the doctors, the reason why the was wearing trainers. On the day of the incident, she was near her son's school and took shelter inside the clinic when clashes erupted between the police and the protesters.

"I had nothing to do with the political events of the day," she maintains.

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