The shocking death of private university student Shamim Reza Rubel in police custody 18 years ago had triggered a storm of protest in the country, prompting some rights bodies to launch a legal battle against police's discretionary power to pick up people on suspicion and torture of arrestees in remand.
The rights organisations had filed a writ petition with the High Court in 1998, challenging the arbitrary arrests of people and torture of accused in remand to obtain confession.
The petitioners' lawyers argued that the discretionary power of police goes against the fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution. The HC on April 7, 2003, delivered a verdict barring the government from arresting a person under the Special Powers Act upon detention on suspicion.
It also came up with 15 directives and ruled that sections 54 and 167 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) dealing with the arrest on suspicion and subsequent remand were not consistent with the fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution.
But the then BNP-led alliance government opted to challenge the verdict by filing an appeal with the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court.
Yesterday, the apex court upheld the HC directives with some changes and guidelines to stop arbitrary arrests by police on suspicion and torture of arrestees in remand.
The SC verdict was viewed by legal experts and human rights activists as a boost to people's fundamental rights. They said the judgment also set an example of how a student's tragic death created hopes for ensuring these rights.
Rubel, a BBA student of Independent University in the city, was picked up by a team of Detective Branch of Dhaka Metropolitan Police from in front of his Siddheswari residence on July 23, 1998. Then DB assistant commissioner Akram Hussain led the team.
The 24-year-old student was tortured to death in DB custody the same day.
The following day, Rubel's father Abdur Rob Miah filed a murder case with Ramna Police Station, accusing 14 people, including Akram and Roksana Begum alias Mukuli Begum, a neighbour of Rubel.
In June 2002, a Dhaka court sentenced 13 accused, including Akram, to life imprisonment and Mukuli Begum to one year in prison in the case.
Following separate appeals filed by the accused, the HC on May 5, 2011 acquitted Akram and 11 others, including Mukuli Begum, of the murder charges, saying that the allegations brought against them were not proved beyond reasonable doubt.
The court, however, upheld the life imprisonment of then police official Hayatul Islam Thakur in the case.
Late advocate Serajul Huq defended AC Akram in the trial court while his son Anisul Huq, the incumbent law minister, appeared for him in the HC.
The Appellate Division on August 30 last year allowed the government to move a regular appeal before it challenging the HC verdict that acquitted Akram in the case. It also ordered the sacked DB official to surrender to the lower court.
Akram later surrendered and obtained bail from the lower court. He is now staying at his village home in Tangail, said his lawyer Sheikh Baharul Islam.
The hearing in the murder case has been pending since then, he added.