Dr Syed Shamsuddin Ahmed, former professor and head of Burn and Plastic Surgery Unit of Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH), has been languishing in prison since February 28, 2017. The crime of this expat doctor, who is now a US citizen, was that he wanted to treat the least privileged people of the remote areas of Bangladesh. However, being allegedly deceived by his partner, this sexagenarian man who is also a diabetic and cardiac patient, is going through the indescribable sufferings of incarcerated life.
It all began in 2014 when Jahangir Selim, a businessman from Dinajpur met Dr Ahmed as a patient. He developed a cordial relationship with the simple-minded Ahmed and convinced the latter to set up a hospital in Birampur Upazila of Dinajpur district in one of his (Selim's) buildings. Upon agreement, Dr Ahmed supplied medical equipment worth of Tk 3, 39, 27,120 to Selim to set up the hospital in September 2014 (according to the complaint petition of the case no: 737/15).
When Selim did not allow Dr Ahmed to start treatment in the hospital even in March of 2015, he became suspicious. Upon realising that he had actually fallen in the trap of Selim—who had actually seized all the valuable medical equipment and sold many of those by that time—Dr Ahmed filed a case (case no: 737/15, section 420/406) at Dhaka Metropolitan Magistrate Court on April 5, 2015. The court summoned Selim; his bail petition was refused and he was sent to jail. However, on April 21, 2015, Selim was granted bail on the condition that he would resolve all the issues with Dr Ahmed and that was the beginning of the doctor's misfortune.
Instead of resolving the issues, Selim filed a case against Dr Ahmed (case no: 107/16, section 420/406) claiming that Dr Ahmed had borrowed Tk 30,00,000 from Selim on April 17, 2014, which he did not return it in time. Consequently, Dr Ahmed was summoned by a Dinajpur court and sent to jail. However, soon it was proved that Selim's claim of borrowing Tk 30, 00,000 was false. The Treasury Branch of the District Commissioner's office of Dinajpur certified that the three stamp papers, each worth Tk 100 that Selim submitted as the deed to borrow the money, was supplied to the stamp vendor by the Treasury office only on November 22, 2016. So, it was impossible for Dr Ahmed to sign those stamp papers back in 2014. As a consequence, the Dinajpur court granted Dr Ahmed's appeal for bail on March 2, 2017.
However, Dr Ahmed's ordeal did not end there. When he was about to be released on bail, the jail authority informed him that a production warrant had been issued against him by the Dhaka Metropolitan Magistrate's Court, as a person named Abdul Oresh Parvez filed a case (case no: CR 60(A)/17) against him claiming that Dr Ahmed took Tk 15, 00,000 from Abdul to send him to the USA. So, Dr Ahmed was transferred to Keraniganj Central Jail. In the next few days, five more cases were filed against Dr Ahmed on similar allegations in the courts of Dhaka, Gopalganj, Thakurgaon and Dinajpur. However, in most of these cases, when the court summoned the plaintiff to submit the original copy of the deed, nobody turned up. And, in one particular case, where an individual called Helal Mia alleged that Dr Ahmed took Tk 12, 00,000 from him for sending him to the USA, Helal himself admitted that he was forced by Selim to file the case as he used to work for Selim. Helal finally withdrew the case as stated in the report submitted by the Police Bureau of Investigation.
When Selim was asked about this case and the forged documents, he first threatened this reporter not to proceed with the report. He also introduced himself as a special correspondent of ATN Bangla, which upon investigation proved false, and repeatedly requested that no report be filed by The Daily Star. He also argued, “As an aggrieved person I have the right to file cases and what you are talking about is absolutely false. I will speak before the court and I am confident that I will get justice.”
A total of seven cases were filed against Dr Ahmed and as none of the plaintiffs appeared before the court, Dr Ahmed was either granted bail or the case was dismissed. However, due to these cases, a veteran physician like Dr Ahmed has spent more than three months in two different prisons of Bangladesh without any conviction. Although the bail order has already been issued by the High Court, due to bureaucratic complexities, Dr Ahmed has still not been released at the time of writing this report. As his health condition has deteriorated, he has been transferred to the prison ward of DMCH.
Dr Ahmed started his career as an assistant surgeon at DMCH in 1981. He was one of the first surgeons of the Burn and Plastic Surgery Unit of DMCH and was later promoted to the head of that unit. At Bangladesh America Specialised Hospital in Dhaka, he used to conduct free surgery for poor patients. Professor Dr Samanta Lal Sen, a colleague of Dr Ahmed and also a former head of Burn and Plastic Surgery Unit says, “I have worked with Ahmed for a long time; from 1982 till his retirement probably in 2010. He is a very sincere, professional and efficient physician. It is very unfortunate that an experienced physician like him has been taken to custody without proved conviction.”
Dr Ahmed's ordeal reveals a dark side of our legal framework that allows incarceration of a person without any conviction. However, we can only hope that in the end Dr Ahmed will get justice and compensation so that he can continue his humanitarian work in Bangladesh.
The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org