A trial 24-years-old and still running
Should the trial of a case last for 24 years? What does it say about a judicial system if a case for alleged possession of drugs runs for a quarter of a century, without any hope in sight of its completion? In a country where the rule of law is respected in letter and spirit, this is incomprehensible.
Ahad Ali has been caught in the tangle of our intricate legal process since 1998 on charges of drug possession. This case encapsulates everything that is wrong with our legal system. Firstly, the circumstance of his arrest is dubious. A packet containing heroin was found nearby where he was sitting while waiting in Gabtoli for a bus home in 1998. He was not found in possession of it. Does proximity to a banned substance merit arrest? If so, was he the only one in that area? From his statement, it appears that he may have been framed, the intention of the police being to extort money from him. He failed to pay up the Tk 5000 they had demanded, and that has cost him 25 years of his precious life.
Secondly, should it take a quarter of a century to dispose of the case? We must ask: Why hasn't a single witness been produced after all these years? The case is so old that the current OC of Mirpur Thana knows nothing about it, and for all that he knows, and we can guess, the policemen involved in the arrest may well have retired or be dead by now. And what can be more pitiful than to find that the main witness, the sole one produced after 24 years, knows nothing about the case? So is the case with witness number two.
Admittedly, the case is serious, since possessing heroin over 25 grams is a penal offence which carries the maximum sentence of death. But we wonder why the court has not considered the repeated dismissal petition of the defendant. Is it the fault of the accused if the state fails to prepare the case and conduct it properly in court? We agree that trial judges go by the evidence produced. But if no witness is produced to corroborate the charges even after 24 years, should the ruling of the court not go in favour of the accused, since everyone is innocent unless proven guilty?
We believe this is a case the High Court should take cognizance of. The logic and even the legal position of giving fresh dates every time after a hearing, when no witness has been forthcoming for so long, has to be explained. Such miscarriage of justice should be righted, and be never repeated.