Impunity undermining justice
IT has been three years since the tortured body of labour organiser Aminul was discovered in Ghatail, Tangail, about 100 km away from his work place in Ashulia. He was abducted a day before and was last seen with one Mustafizur, a resident of the area.
Aminul, 39, was a plant-level activist, organiser of the Bangladesh Centre for Workers' Solidarity (BCWS) and leader of the Bangladesh Garments and Industrial Workers' Federation. For his union activities he incurred the wrath of the local industry leaders, Bangladesh Export Processing Zone Authority (BEPZA) and the police administration. On occasions he was detained by the authorities and was subjected to torture. In 2010, the registration of his organisation, the BCWS, was revoked. It was subsequently restored the following year. His colleagues note that prior to his killing, Aminul was fearful of his life, his movement was under constant surveillance and his cell phone tapped. His family and workmates firmly believe that Aminul was liquidated for his labour activities, and BEPZA and a particular intelligence agency are responsible for his abduction, torture and subsequent murder.
Aminul's killing created a furor in various quarters. Labour and rights activists and organisations both at home and abroad were aghast with the killing, and demanded impartial investigation and immediate action against the perpetrators.
Initially a fair degree of progress was made in the inquiry. Within months the Detective Branch (DB) identified Mustafiz as a major suspect. He was found to be a non-working employee of a hospital run by the BEPZA, receiving a monthly salary of Tk 7500. The Investigating Officer of DB, Humayun Kabir, unearthed Mustafiz's links with three officers of the National Security Intelligence. Before the case was fully uncovered, in November 2012 it was handed over to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) for unknown reasons. The Investigating Officer of the case was changed three times. The police submitted the charge sheet to the court in November 2013. To the dismay of the family and the group 'Justice for Aminul', the investigation report was fraught with inconsistencies and failed to address some of the most pertinent questions.
The final report named a total of 25 witnesses. Included among them were four investigating police officers, one police official who arranged for the transfer of the body of the deceased, two doctors who conducted the autopsy on the body, the concerned magistrate, the associates and landlord of Aminul as well as the accounts officer of BEPZA who processed Mustafiz's salary.
Supporters of Aminul fail to understand why the charge sheet did not include names of officers of an intelligence agency whom the investigators found to have been in touch with Mustafiz, the principal perpetrator of the heinous crime, on the night of April 4, 2012. They are perplexed that the charge sheet did not name senior BEPZA security functionaries, Lt. Col. Mustafizur Rahman Khan and Major Shahjahan Kabir, as suspects. The duo were neither arrested nor named as witness although their names appear in the report.
A leading Bangla daily quoting the charge sheet reported that officers of "an intelligence agency" and senior officials of Dhaka EPZ were in contact with the suspected killers several times on the night before Aminul's body was recovered. This corroborates the CID's submission to the 71st meeting of the Sensational Cases Monitoring Cell of the Ministry of Home Affairs of November 3, 2012 in which the agency reported that the alleged killer, Mustafiz, had several phone conversations with NSI Assistant Director Mamunur Rashid and Field Officer Lutfor Rahman.
In that context, they justifiably ask, whose support did the perpetrator/s receive? At which site was Aminul tortured? In which vehicle was he or his body taken to Tangail? The investigation report does not address any of the above, nor does it provide any clue about the contents of phone conversations of the intelligence agency functionaries and senior security officials of BEPZA with Mustafiz, the low level informant on the fateful night.
Aminul's case has thrown a major challenge to those at the helm of the State. Inordinate delay and arbitrariness in the investigation process, failure to clearly identify the executors and abettors of the crime and to apprehend a single person even after three years of the occurrence, and the questionable findings of the final investigation report all point to the fact that a powerful interest group is at play to protect the real perpetrators. The current administration has shown its resolve in ending impunity granted to the wrong-doers in the past that subverted the due process of law. Time has come for it to reiterate that this applies to the wrong-doers of the present as well. It must institute a re-investigation of the case by a credible, impartial and independent body to bring all perpetrators, including those in state security agencies, to justice.
The writer teaches International Relations at the University of Dhaka. He researches and writes on migration and rights issues.