Defending Limon, challenging impunity
Why has Limon become such a well known face in the media? Why are so many people lining up from Jhalakathi to Dhaka in his defense? The answer is simple: to ensure that the state does not default on its obligation to protect a citizen's right to life, that security forces do not have impunity for lawless law enforcement.
The incidents following Limon's encounter with Rab are a source of anxiety for all. As Henouara Begum prepared to file her naraji petition, on August 30, against the police report which absolved Rab of blame in shooting Limon's leg, and the hearing on the arms possession was due on September 2 the family was subjected to violence and intimidation. On Eid day Ibrahim, allegedly a Rab informer, attacked Limon and his family on the roadside. On the same day, Ibrahim also accused Limon's father, mother, brother and seven others of attacking him and implicated him in the death of his brother in law.
This has happened a year and five months after Limon was shot in his leg. It was to support Henouara Begum's struggle for justice that a team of lawyers, journalists, cultural activists, university teachers and students took an overnight journey to Jhalakathi. Many others have lined up in demos precisely because she has challenged the impunity of state agencies and the attempt to perpetrate falsehoods in the name of justice.
The going has been tough: Not only did Rab refuse to admit to shooting Limon in the leg (as alleged by Limon) in Rajarpur Thana of Jhalakathi on March 23, 2011, but they have charged him on two counts for possession of arms and obstructing the law enforcement agency. While Limon and his family face legal charges filed by Rab, Henouara Begum's complaint against Rab was not registered by the police until after the court issued orders. Restoration of his leg was left to private medical care since the state failed to provide medical care or compensation for his recent disability. Limon has to appear at each hearing on charges filed against him, but he was not able to do so on September 2 when the case on possession of arms came up because of an injury to his ear sustained during the attack by Ibrahim on Eid day.
Henouara Begum has stood her ground against injustice. This is why she decided to file a naraji petition rejecting as false the police report of August 23 which absolved Rab of responsibility for shooting Limon. With help from ASK lawyers and the Human Rights Defenders Forum in Jhalakathi Henoura Begum's petition was accepted by Judge Nusrat Jahan, who fixed the next hearing for October 17.
Limon's case raises alarming questions of the state's impunity for lawless law enforcement, manipulation of justice by state agencies and intimidation by local toughs. For almost 18 months, since Limon lost his leg, the chronology of his legal battles shows how the "rule of law" can be perverted.
Let us first look at Rab's responses. No one was present at the site of the occurrence, except Limon, his cows and six Rab personnel. Immediately after the incident General Mukhlesur Rahman of Rab apologised for the accident. But an elite force never admits to its fallibility so officials have gone out of their way to file charges against Limon on two counts, first possessing arms and second obstructing the law enforcement agencies. Its senior officers including Commander Sohail Rahman, who as RAB's Legal and Media Director should know better, and the PM's defense advisor, who spoke out in Dhaka, with no direct evidence of what actually happened in Jhalakathi, have reportedly claimed that Limon is a "terrorist."
Even though Rab falls under the mandate of the home ministry and not under defense, the home minister conceded to the defense advisor's condemnation of Limon. An accusation is not sufficient ground for punishment, so even if Limon is guilty of "terrorism" or any other crime, should this not have been proved in court rather than through an arbitrary shootout? Without investigation, without charges being forwarded and evidence being produced to support the charges and without giving the court a chance to decide.
And if a person is a "terrorist" (however that may be defined), should the answer lie in maiming, killing or making him disappear. In other instances of its extra judicial killings Rab has usually taken cover under the excuse that death occurred in "crossfire." Formed under an amendment in 2003 to the Armed Forces Battalion Ordinance 1979, Rab has claimed immunity on grounds of self- defense under Section 100 of the Bangladesh Penal Code. But in this case there was no crossfire, only a 16 year old boy at the mercy of a trigger happy team.
Rab has yet to account for its wanton use of gun power. It was precisely to restore constitutional guarantees and to end impunity of security forces that ASK, BLAST and Kormojibi Nari filed a writ petition (no 4152 of 2009). In a suomotu case the High Court issued a rule nisi to the home ministry to show cause why such extra judicial deaths in "crossfire" or encounter should not be declared as illegal. Needless to say, the report has not yet been submitted. And notwithstanding the attorney general's guarantee to the contrary extrajudicial killings have continued.
The police's handling of the case is open to question as well for its delays in investigation and filing of charge sheets. In the arms possession case, charges were filed against Limon on April 24, 2011, under the Juvenile Crime Prevention Act. As a juvenile he should have been placed in the Juvenile Correction Home rather than in jail. In the second case of obstructing law officers, it took the police over a year to file the charge sheet on July, 1, 2012. When Henouara Begum tried to file her complaint against Rab, police did not register this until the court ordered them to do so. Then after over a year of delays, the police investigation report in Henouara Begum's case submitted in August absolved Rab of responsibility in shooting Limon. Is this credible? Since no one else seems to have been present on the culvert where the incident took place, except for Limon's cows, are the latter to be accused, or could Limon shoot himself?
Although Limon was able to obtain bail from the court in both cases, the hearings have run for over a year, and Rab's cases have been transferred from the Jhalakathi Magistrate's court to the District Special Tribunal 1. Which means that Limon has had to disrupt his studies for court appearances. On August 30, the court fixed the next hearing on Henouara's charges against Rab for October 17 and rejected the charges filed by Ibrahim alleging assault and murder of his brother in law by Limon's family.
Dragging this case has led to other complications when law enforcement agencies rely upon village informers, who may be entangled in age old village rivalries, and probably rely on their Rab connection to flex their muscles. Should not law enforcement be above local level rivalries?
Challenging impunity of the state is a daunting task for individuals. This is why lawyers have taken up Limon's case and why the media has given so much coverage to Limon and his mother, as they take their fight to the courts and mobilise fellow citizens against injustice. There is a growing demand for the state to:
-Constitute an independent judicial enquiry commission to establish accountability for the shooting of Limon;
-Provide security to Limon and his family against possible attacks;
-Compensate Limon for his disability and to ensure that he can complete his education;
-Abide by its constitutional and international obligations to protect the right to life (of all citizens including alleged criminals) and put an end to the impunity of lawless enforcement.