The father of Felani Khatun, the girl in the iconic photo showing a body hanging from a barbed-wire fence, has rejected the verdict of an Indian court that once again acquitted a BSF man of shooting his daughter on Indo-Bangla border in January 2011.
Constable Amiya Ghosh of Border Security Force (BSF) was brought to a second round of trial earlier this week after he was exonerated in 2013.
Hearing the retrial, the General BSF Court in West Bengal's Cooch Behar district on Thursday upheld the previous judgment that Amiya was "not guilty", sources told our New Delhi correspondent yesterday.
“We don't accept this verdict because the accused already admitted to killing her [Felani]. We want a fresh trial by an international court," Felani's father Nurul Islam told The Daily Star over the phone in a chocked voice.
In its reaction, Indian human rights group Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM), which closely follows the trial, termed the trial “eyewash”, reported BBC Bangla Service.
Kirity Ray, chief of the organisation, said, "It was already decided at the BSF court what the verdict would be. The trial was mere eyewash."
The organisation has yet to decide whether it would take any legal step in this regard, but it would definitely think about it, added the rights activist.
On January 7, 2011, on her way home from New Delhi, 15-year-old Felani was shot while crossing into Bangladesh illegally as her clothes got stuck in the barbed-wire fence at Aanatapur border point in Phulbari upazila, Kurigram.
The photo of her body hanging from the top of the fence triggered a fresh global outcry and renewed the call for an end to border killings.
Amid pressure from rights organisations, India opened investigations and the trial started at the BSF court in August 2013.
Felani's father Nurul Islam and relatives had testified in the proceedings.
On September 6 that year, the court cleared Amiya of the murder charge, drawing further anger from the victim's family and rights activists of both countries.
Not even the BSF chief “agreed" with the findings of the court. A retrial was ordered after Bangladesh expressed displeasure and took the matter to Indian border force top-brass in New Delhi.
The retrial began only to end with the accused being acquitted again.
"Though very disappointing, it is not surprising at all," noted rights activist Sultana Kamal told The Daily Star last night.
"We didn't have any expectation as it was the same special court that delivered the previous verdict over the Felani killing and got the charge to conduct the review,” she said.
“Besides, they [Indian authorities] were delaying the process; they unnecessarily took seven months for the review," said Sultana Kamal, executive director of rights body Ain o Shalish Kendra.
"The whole process has given us a message that they are not willing to do anything regarding the case. Even if they do something, it will be just whatever they wish," she said.
Also a former caretaker government adviser, Sultana Kamal said the verdict was unfortunate also because the accused BSF member had admitted to the shooting in his confessional statement. But the court acquitted him, depriving Felani and Bangladesh justice.
There is another reason for disappointment for Bangladesh, said Sultana Kamal. India has lost a great opportunity to prove that it has at least the political will to ease border tensions, she added.
According to an Ain o Salish Kendra study, at least 12 people were killed -- eight shot and four tortured -- at the hands of BSF men in the first half of last year.
From January to June this year, 15 were killed in BSF firing while eight were tortured to death and 38 others injured.
Replying to a query, Sultana Kamal said Bangladesh government has legally nothing to do about the verdict as the trial was conducted by an Indian court. If Dhaka wants to do something, it can proceed through diplomatic channel.
She also urged all human rights organisations of both the countries to raise their voice for justice for Felani.
Kurigram Public Prosecutor Abraham Lincoln, lawyer in Felani's case from Bangladesh, said the verdict went against the principles of "human rights and justice."
"Indian judicial system might come under question because of this judgment. Besides, further crisis in the border management might emerge," he told The Daily Star.
Lincoln said the Indian government could appeal against the verdict. Besides, Felani's father can also appeal to Indian upper court.
Contacted, BGB Director General Maj Gen Aziz Ahmed said he was disheartened. "Like you, I heard of the verdict from different sources and I was also disheartened like you," he said.
The BGB chief said there is no scope for the Border Guard Bangladesh to take any legal step in this regard. "But, like on previous occasions, we will certainly assist Felani's family if they take any further legal step."
Rejecting the verdict, Salma Ali, executive director of Bangladesh National Women Lawyers Association, said, “We knew that we would not get justice from this court. That's why, after the first verdict, we filed a petition with the Indian Supreme Court seeking a fair trial and compensation.”
Referring to a rape case of a Bangladeshi woman by Indian railway officers, she said the Indian Supreme Court in its judgment on January 28, 2000, handed down 12 years' imprisonment to all the accused and ordered to give the victim Rs 10 lakh in compensation.
“We have brought the reference of the rape case in our petition and hope we will get justice,” she said, adding the Supreme Court fixed July 14 for hearing the petition.