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Monday, September 28, 2009

Bangladesh's chain of corruption undermine victim's rights to Justice

By Rater Zonaki
Column: Humanity or Humor?

Bangladesh's law-enforcement agencies claim that they have a strong chain of command to maintain law and order in the country. Likewise policymakers and politicians, who are close to the center of power, claim that they are dedicated to the great cause of upholding the rule of law in the country.
However, the opposition – regardless who they are – always criticize the rulers for destroying the concept of the rule of law. And "chain of command" in the law-enforcement agencies exists only in the imaginations of its officers, along with the illusion of rule of law.
A girl we will call Chobi – not her real name – was raped by a man named Sohel in Chhetra village in Kishorganj district on June 13. The rape victim reportedly went to the Nikli police station to register a complaint against the rapist.
The police refused to record the case, as the alleged accused was the son of an influential person in the locality, and had already bribed the police before the victim approached them.
Chobi had to go to the Special Tribunal on Women and Children Repression Prevention of Kishorganj district in order to register her case. The tribunal judge ordered the same police station to record the complaint as a first information report. Then the complaint was recorded with the police.
Police Sub-Inspector Shashank Kumar Sarkar was assigned to investigate the case. A medical report from public hospital doctors who had examined her asserted that Chobi had been raped – a strong starting point for the prosecution.
Chobi’s family was hopeful that the legal process would lead to justice – but they were about to experience a different reality.
The investigating officer demanded 30,000 takas (US$436) as a bribe in order to submit a rape charge against the accused – despite the fact that all evidence, including witness statements and the medical examination report, supported the complaint of rape.
Chobi's poor family, which had already spent a sum beyond their capacity to bring the case this far, was unable to pay the demanded bribe. The family managed to pay 6,000 takas (US$87) and give fish worth 1,000 takas to Shashank. This means that the investigating officer received bribes in cash and in kind for investigating a rape case.
The police officer insisted that the family pay the remainder of the bribe. When they could not do so, Shashank took his revenge by accepting a bribe from the accused instead. He then submitted a report to the court stating that the claim of rape was false.
Chobi, a victim of rape, now has no hope of justice unless the court orders another agency or a judicial officer to reinvestigate the complaint. Yet no one can predict the outcome of another investigation.
Chobi told her story on Sept. 15 at a press conference, where she handed out a written statement to reporters. She also applied to the district superintendent of police, seeking his intervention. The assistant superintendent of police at another police station was asked to inquire into the matter.
However, it is hardly believable that the authorities will take action against the Nikli police or Sub-Inspector Shashank. This is because Bangladesh's whole law-enforcement system follows a chain of corruption rather than a chain of command.
For example, Police Inspector Hashem Ali Khan, who detained human rights defenders in a fabricated kidnapping case at the Paikgachha police station in Khulna, a southwestern district, told the detainees that he had to pay his superior officers when he brought in detainees for a five-day stay. He said he needed money for fuel and other things. He also warned them that they would be tortured if they didn’t pay the bribe he demanded.
A number of police departments and the Ministry of Home Affairs inquired into this matter, which took place in November, 2008. Yet it yielded nothing – inspector Hashem Ali Khan has been enjoying his policing elsewhere.
Due to intervention by the Asian Human Rights Commission, a Hong Kong-based rights watchdog, the Khulna district police authority inquired into a complaint against Sub-Inspector Ayub Ali of the Paikgachha police station.
On June 13 Ayub Ali visited the house of Shahidul Islam, who had been held on fabricated charges and tortured while in detention for four days without any official record or lawful grounds.
The police officer told Shahidul's mother, "Do you know what will happen to me and you now? I will have to pay to settle the matter and I might be transferred. But the police will be here forever, and I will arrange for your son and his advisers to languish in jail for years."
These threatening words carry the truth that any police officer who is accused of violating the law of the land can walk free by bribing his superior authorities. In reality, Ayub was transferred to Kustia district without facing criminal prosecution or departmental action after an inquiry was conducted.
It is an open secret in Bangladesh that police officers consider a particular jurisdiction a good place to work if more crimes take place there. More crimes bring more bribes. Officers must pay bribes in order to be posted to those "good places," the amount determined by the rank of the job-seeker and the possibilities of income from the targeted posting.
The recipients of bribes also include bureaucrats in the ministries, parliamentarians of the concerned constituencies and influential local politicians. Thus a chain of corruption is established from the top to the bottom of society.
The ordinary poor are compelled to pay bribes far beyond their capacity, up to all their assets, while those in power enjoy the taste of corruption and make the country a heaven of bribery.
The Bangladeshi policymakers should accept this article as an open challenge to prove these stories untrue. There are thousands of similar stories across the country. The authorities can win this challenge only if they acknowledge this deep national problem and reform this system and chain of corruption.
(Rater Zonaki is the pseudonym of a human rights defender based in Hong Kong, working at the Asian Human Rights Commission. He is a Bangladeshi national who has worked as a journalist and human rights activist in his country for more than a decade, and as editor of publications on human rights and socio-cultural issues.)

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