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August 24, 2003 

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Police must work to regain their image

After three constables lost their arms during a night patrol in Uttara in April, few believed their story that they were drugged by miscreants. Weeks later the doubters proved correct. Golam Dastagir, one of the constables, confessed to police that he helped a gang of extremists drug him and his colleagues and steal the weapons. Why he did that? Dastagir told investigators he made a deal with the terrorists in exchange of an attractive amount of money.
Dastagir's confession has hardly been a surprise. In Bangladesh police are not known to be clean. There are many dark spots in the linen of the country's police force. Newspapers carried the news of Dastagir's arrest on May 7. The same day there was another report involving police. According to that report, a day-labour died in police custody at Ekbarpur village in Rajshahi district. His family accused police of beating him. Police are accused of abuse of power, violating of human rights and corruption.
In Bangladesh police are not friends of the people, a seminar in Dhaka was told on May 7. The keynote paper presented at the seminar said, "Police are neither custodians of human rights nor friends of the people. Rather they are considered as patrons of criminals."
Police themselves have also been involved in corruption and other crimes. Consider the rape-related death of Yasmin in Dinajpur. The policemen who were supposed to protect the poor girl raped and then left her dead in a roadside canal. Bangladeshis still remember the case of Seema who died in police custody in Chittagong. There are plenty of such cases of violation of human rights and abuse of power in which police are involved.
Transparency International, a Germany-based anti-corruption watchdog, has found Bangladesh police force as the most corrupt organisation in the country, - a dubious distinction the force has received for two consecutive years.
In a recent survey conducted by Development Options Opinion Reviewers, 67 percent of those interviewed don't consider police as friends. And 87 percent of the interviewees said the criminal gangs get police patronage. And 90 percent of the people said the country's police force must undergo drastic change to act against criminals.
``It's important for us to restore the dignity of the country's police force, "says Ali Ashraf Khan, a Dhaka University student. "We all want to see an honest and dedicated police force."
However, Bangladeshis get disappointed when they see corruption and petty irregularities committed by police irrespective of their ranks. The victims of police range from street vendors to businessmen. Senior police officials, however, argue that it will be wrong to criticise only the police force. There are corrupt people in other sections of the society and administration too. Police are caught because it is easy to identify them. Says Inspector General of Police Shahudul Haq: ``There are corruption everywhere. Police are easily caught because of their uniform. It's wrong to blame only the police force for corruption."
Says Prof. Muzaffar Ahmed of Transparency International Bangladesh, ``Corruption is rising in Bangladesh. It has spread to all parts of the administration, mainly because of abuse of power. There is corruption in police because of the system. There is not enough allocation in the national budget for police. This is one of the key reasons why police are corrupt."
Prof. Ahmed argued that people's awareness about laws could greatly help reduce abuse of power by police. ``We also need to establish ideal police stations to set examples."
According to a retired senior police official, police in Bangladesh enjoy greater power than any other government department. ``Those who have power usually grow prone to abuse the authority," says the official, speaking on condition of anonymity. The abuse of police by the government for political motives is another reason why police become corrupt and abusive of power, says the former official. ``There are corrupt politicians who build a nexus with corrupt police. In fact, corrupt politicians encourage police to resort to corruption and abuse of power."
However, there are rays of hope. Corrupt policemen are being punished. Eight policemen and their informers have recently been sentenced to four-year imprisonment on charges of extorting money from a businessman, -Suresh Kumar-, in Dhaka. Another police sergeant Zakir Hossain and Constable Nurul Islam have been sentenced for three years imprisonment for extorting Tk.100 from a truck driver. Kazi Mohammad Shafi Iqbal, an assistant police commissioner at Rapid Action Team (RAT) has been arrested on charge of abuse of power.
These are good developments. However, this good trend must be sustained.

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