Pahela Baishakh Sexual Assault: Trial in limbo

Only 3 out of 34 witnesses gave depositions in 5yrs

Trial of the case filed over the Pahela Baishakh sexual assault incident at Dhaka University (DU) did not make any headway even after five years, due to the prosecution's failure to produce witnesses before court for their statements.

During Pahela Baishakh celebrations on DU campus on April 14, 2015, a group of young miscreants went berserk at TSC area for about an hour, sexually assaulting at least 20 women.

Till March 6 this year, only three out of 34 prosecution witnesses gave their depositions, after charge framing, according to the prosecution.

Among the remaining 31 witnesses, 11 did not show up in court to give testimonies for unknown reasons despite being summoned, throwing the trial into uncertainty, the state lawyers said.

The trial is now pending at the Women and Children Repression Prevention Tribunal-8 of Dhaka.

The court has issued several summonses with non-bailable arrest warrants against the 11 absentee witnesses, as they did not comply with multiple court orders in the past, said Monira Begum Moni, a state lawyer.

The 11 witnesses are police inspector Zahid Anowar, assistant sub-inspector Monirul Islam, constable SM Rezaul Haque, Bangladesh Chhatra Union DU unit's former president Liton Nandi, DU marketing department's former student Ishat Kashfia Ila, Suman Sen Gupta, and four DU campus-based tea sellers – Mohammad Shahjahan, Mohammad Malek, Mohammad Masud and Mohammad Shahalam.

"Our responsibility is to inform the court for issuing summonses or non-bailable arrest warrants for witnesses to appear before it [court] on the scheduled date for depositions. But police is the only agency obliged to produce such witnesses before court, as per provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure, after finding their whereabouts," special public prosecutor Mohammad Rezaul Karim told The Daily Star.

"If police fail to do so, there is nothing for the court or prosecution to do," he said. "Trial proceedings are being delayed, as the witnesses are not coming to court on time."

The Daily Star spoke to police officer Zahid Anowar, Shahjahan, Malek, Masud and Shahalam over the phone yesterday.

Zahid, who is now posted at Fenchuganj Police Station, claimed that he did not get any court summons for testimony. No one informed him about the depositions.

The four other witnesses echoed the police officer.

A day after the incident, police filed a case with Shahbagh Police Station against some unknown people.

On December 18 that year, Dipak Kumar Das, a sub-inspector of police's detective branch, submitted the final report to the court, saying none of the assaulters was identified or arrested.

On February 26, 2016, Police Bureau of Investigation (PBI) was given charge of the investigation, after the prosecution filed a no-confidence petition with the court against the final report.

Later, DB arrested one of the suspects, Mohammad Kamal, from Chawkbazar.

With the lone arrest, PBI inspector Abdur Razzak submitted a charge sheet to the court on December 19, 2016. The trial court framed charges against the arrestee on June 19, 2017.

Accused Kamal is now on bail.



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