A Saudi court has rejected the bail petitions of three accused arrested in a case filed for the murder of a Bangladeshi domestic worker in Saudi Arabia two years ago.
Abiron Begum Ansar, who went to Saudi Arabia in 2017, was tortured allegedly at her employer's house and killed on March 24, 2019. Her body was kept in a mortuary there for seven months before arrival in the country.
During a hearing on Wednesday, the Criminal Court-6 in Riyadh asked the accused to submit a written reply in this regard. The family of Abiron, through their representatives, told the court that they wanted Qisas or similar punishment if her murder was proven in court.
In Islamic jurisprudence, Qisas is the legal doctrine providing for punishment equal to the crime in cases of murder or intentionally caused physical injury. Qisas forms part of the law in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Iran.
The court has fixed January 20 as the next date of the hearing in the case, confirmed the Bangladesh Embassy in Saudi Arabia, the Ministry of Expatriate Welfare and Overseas Employment and Abiron's family.
From Paikgachha of Khulna, forty-year-old Abiron went to the Gulf country through a recruiting agency in Dhaka and with the help of a local agent named Rabiul.
The family alleged that during her stay, Abiron endured severe physical assault at her employer's house where she worked as domestic help. When she spoke to her sister the last time, she spoke of the brutal torture she had to face.
There were eight people living in the house. The employers would not give her food and even used to pour hot water on her and put her head into a grill, they alleged.
And at one point, her family completely lost communication with her.
As they did not get the body after her death, they contacted Brac and an application was filed. Her lifeless body finally arrived in the country on October 24, 2019, through the Wage Earners Welfare Board. The reason of Abiron's death was stated as murder in her death certificate.
When this news was published the next day, the country's National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) on its own formed a fact-finding committee headed by its member Dr Nomita Halder.
On November 25, Dr Nomita visited Abiron's home in Ramnagar village of Paikgachha and talked to the family members. She also spoke to the agency, ministries and embassies and submitted a detailed report on December 15.
The commission's report said Abiron was tortured and beaten to death, identifying negligence of the agent, recruiting agencies and government officials.
A case was filed in Khulna under the Prevention and Suppression of Human Trafficking Act, 2012, where Rabiul was the main accused. Khulna CID is not dealing with the case now.
The NHRC recommended seeking legal action, compensation for the murder and providing exemplary punishment to the accused by the court.
The charge sheet filed against the accused in the case alleged specific and intentional murder.
After getting the power of attorney from Abiron's family, the trial began in the Criminal Court-6 of Riyadh on December 16 last year -- a rare instance in Saudi Arabia.
The first secretary of the embassy in Riyadh Shafiqul Islam and translator Sohail Ahmed were present at the hearing with the power of attorney on behalf of Abiron's family. Representative of the Saudi Public Prosecution Abdullah Mohammed Abdullah was present at the hearing.
Three Saudi nationals arrested in connection with the killing -- Basem Salem, Abirons employer, his wife Ayesha al-Jizani, and the couple's son Walid Basem Salem -- joined the hearing virtually from jail.
At the beginning of the hearing, the embassy representative handed over the power of attorney and authorisation letter sent by the heirs of the deceased.
The court verified and uploaded those in the system of the Saudi Ministry of Justice.
The court wanted to know from the embassy representative the demands of Abiron's heirs. The representative said that Abiron's family wanted Qisas instead of compensation.
As the court wanted the accused statement in this regard, the accused verbally denied the allegation and said that they would submit a written statement through a lawyer.
The lawyer of the accused sought bail for Basem Salem, the head of the family, but the court rejected the bail petition and asked them to submit the written reply, and adjourned the case till January 20.
Mehedi Hasan, counsellor (labour) of Bangladesh Embassy in Saudi Arabia, sent a letter to the secretary of the expatriate welfare ministry in Dhaka. The letter requested Khulna District Employment and Manpower Officer (DEMO) to inform Abiron's family about the latest progress of the case.
"We have been keeping in touch Abiron's family regularly and sending information and documents requested from the embassy. The family told us they wanted exemplary punishment for the incident," Mohammad Ali Siddiqui, deputy director of the Khulna DEMO, told The Daily Star yesterday.
SM Ayub Ali, husband of Abiron's sister Reshma Khatun, who is looking after the family, said Abiron was tortured from the beginning.
"When her corpse arrived in the country, it was so horrible that we could not look at it. We want harsh punishment for the killers, no compromises, so that no more people die a death like Abiron's," he said.
Abiron is not a lone case.
About 500 bodies of Bangladeshi migrant women have been brought to the country in the last five years. The bodies of at least 200 of them came from Saudi Arabia.
But those responsible for the incidents were not punished.
Contacted, Nomita Halder said, "Abiron's death is not an isolated incident. Poor women like Abiron are dying regularly. We have recommended to improve the process of sending women abroad."
"But the recommendations were not implemented. What action has been taken against the government employees and the brokers? The progress of the case in Khulna is disappointing," said Nomita, also a former secretary in the expatriate welfare ministry.
She, however, expressed optimism that there would be a fair trial for Abiron's murder.
"There was little precedence of a formal trial in Saudi Arabia. I hope Abiron will get justice. However, it is important to take appropriate measures so that no such incident occurs again," she said.