Police want law against custodial torture scrapped

PM says she doesn't know if it would be right to do so

Police have demanded repeal of the law that prohibits both mental and physical torture in custody by law enforcement agencies.

To get the law scrapped, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's intervention was sought as she attended the Police Welfare Parade at Rajarbagh Police Lines yesterday.

Earlier in 2015, the police department had sent a proposal to the home ministry for bringing major changes to the law and wanted safeguards from prosecution for custodial death and torture.

Some other demands, which include increasing residential and hospital facilities and job quota for dependants of police officers, were also placed at yesterday's programme.

The Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention) Act, which the Jatiya Sangsad passed in 2013, stated that torture in custody by law enforcers or government officials is a punishable criminal offence.

AL lawmaker Saber Hossain Chowdhury placed the Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention) Bill in 2009 in line with Article 35(5) of the constitution which also prohibits torture.

"No person shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment or treatment," reads the article.

Yesterday was the first time the prime minister attended such an event of police and listened to policemen -- from constable to Additional SP.

Earlier, only officials from SP to deputy inspector general were allowed to place demands before the home minister -- that too during indoor meetings.

In response to the demand for cancellation of the law, Hasina said it was piloted by a man who was tortured severely during the BNP rule. When he became a parliament member, he placed the bill in parliament.

“I don't know whether it would be right to repeal the law which has been passed by parliament,” the prime minister said while speaking on the demands of the policemen at the welfare parade.

She mentioned if anyone lodges any false complaint, the complainant will be equally punished under this law.

Referring to November last year's Supreme Court verdict that directed magistrates to take action against errant police officers for infringement of the anti-torture law, the PM said since the court issued the directive, she would not make any comment.

But, Hasina said, she did not know why the court delivered such a verdict.

Additional SP of Comilla Tanveer Salehin Emon, who demanded cancellation of the act, said as per the law anyone can file a case over mental torture, but it did not say what will be the yardstick for mental torture. So anyone can file false cases against police.

Besides, the High Court ordered the judicial magistrates to accept suo moto cases against investigation officers, officers-in-charge and commanding officers without any investigation into any sort of allegation of torture, he mentioned.

The law is curbing the rights of law enforcers, claimed the official.

It will eventually dampen policemen's enthusiasm to interrogate the accused. They will be demoralised and lose the spirit of work, and public safety will be compromised as a result, he said, seeking the prime minister's intervention in this regard.

In the 2015 proposal to the home ministry, police wanted the Rapid Action Battalion (Rab), Criminal Investigation Department (CID), Special Branch (SB) and Detective Branch (DB) of police excluded from the purview of the anti-torture law.

In defence of the proposed changes, police argued that the law might cause impediment to the duties of law enforcement agencies to save lives and properties during political instability, especially from arson and other subversive activities.

The home ministry had formed a committee to scrutinise the proposals and made a move to bring amendments. At that time, rights organisations, including Amnesty International and Ain o Salish Kendra, expressed deep concern and denounced the government move and the police demand.

At the welfare parade, Constable Khairun Nahar, thanked the PM for increasing ration facilities. She, however, mentioned they only get two sets of uniform a year and one full sleeve shirt for winter.

She demanded at least three sets of uniform.

Sergeant Moshiur Rahman of Jhenidah expressed satisfaction for upgrading the post of sergeant to class-II from class-III.

Demanding more staff quarters, he said they are facing space shortage in police stations and police outposts.

Suza Kumar Kundo, sub-inspector of Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime unit, demanded at least 10 percent job quota in the force for dependants of police officials.

Monirul Islam, inspector at Keraniganj Police Station, wanted for police modern and unique hospital services that would include the ICU facilities. 

At the beginning of welfare parade, IGP AKM Shahidul Hoque gave the welcome speech.

The prime minister stayed at the event for almost five and a half hours. She listened to the officials in a friendly atmosphere, chatted with them and made jokes.

Mentioning different steps her government has so far taken for the welfare of police, the prime minister said she thinks it's her duty to look after the wellbeing of those “who are working for me”. 

The PM said the demand for three sets of uniform is logical and asked the home secretary to take steps in this regard.

“Police will carry out their duties smartly,” she said.

Hasina said two or three more barracks, like that in Rajarbagh, will be constructed in Dhaka and the search for locations has begun. Residential facilities will also be built for police outside the capital.

The PM said she will ensure designated seats at all hospitals across the country so that policemen can take treatment in case of emergency.