Earlier this week, death-row convict Sheikh Zahid was acquitted by the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court, after 20 years of his languishing in prison.
Zahid (48), was sentenced to death when he was 28 years old for the alleged murder of his wife and daughter. Although not a singular incident, the case has brought to forefront pertinent questions regarding the accused's rights in case of blatant miscarriage of justice and violation of their fundamental rights.
The Constitution of Bangladesh guarantees the right of every citizen to equal protection of law in Article 27. Article 31 states that no actions detrimental to the life, liberty, body, reputation or property of a person except in accordance with law. The cumulative effects of these guarantees reiterate a need for due process of law and a criminal justice system that can adequately protect the citizens from wrongful conviction and imprisonment.
In fact, wrongful imprisonment has been identified as a violation of fundamental rights in the case of Bilkis Akhter Hossain v. Bangladesh and Others (17 BLD 395). The High Court Division, in this case, awarded monetary compensation in favour of the detenu.
According to news reports, the Appellate Division found inconsistencies in the investigation against Sheikh Zahid and expressed doubt about the witness statements recorded by the investigating officers. In case of such miscarriage of justice, victims of violation of fundamental rights are entitled to compensation.
In 2016, the High Court Division ordered the state to pay 50 lakh in compensation to one Abdul Jalil, who was wrongfully convicted to life and kept imprisoned for 14 years. The trial court had tried Abdul Jalil, who was 15 years old at the time of the alleged offence, under the Nari O Shishu Nirjatan Daman Ain instead of the Children Act 2013.
Apart from the constitutional obligations, the right to compensation of those wrongfully convicted is upheld in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). When asked about these obligations, Supreme Court lawyer Advocate Kawser Ahmed opined, "It is an utter miscarriage of justice to languish in jail for 20 years as a death row inmate for wrongful conviction. At the same time, this incident attracts Bangladesh's human rights obligation to compensate the victim in accordance with article 14(6) of the ICCPR."
"However, it appears that Bangladesh has not yet put in place an adequate legal framework to implement this obligation. Hence, legislative measure is expeditiously required for creating avenues to remedy such miscarriage of justice through administrative and judicial means. Until legislative measures are adopted, the higher judiciary of the country can play an important role in this regard," he added.
"In Bangladesh, we seldom talk about the rights of the victims of miscarriage of justice. Whereas, the number of incidence of miscarriage of justice does not seem quite negligible. Against this backdrop, the civil society and intellectuals should come forward and engage in discussion more and more on this matter -- which will be beneficial to not only the lawmakers or judges but also the entire community at large," Ahmed observed.