Anatomy Of Torture: The Alarming Case of Bangladesh

Israfil Khosru

On 28th of October 2023, we all witnessed a reprehensible unfolding of events where brute force was employed by the state apparatus of Bangladesh to thwart a peaceful public gathering organized by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). The ensuing violence led to unfortunate deaths of party activists and a police officer. The juggernaut unleashed by the current regime to impede a political program by the opposition for most part looked preplanned. The events of October 28th were followed by mass arrests of opposition leaders and activists all over the country. The nature of arrests were in most cases violent and devoid of human dignity. A substantial number of the grassroots activists were tortured in custody as well. Their accounts reveal a ghastly pattern of violation of basic human rights.

“I was taken to the Detective Branch Office in Mintoo Road on the 28th of October”, says Nur Mohammed Shumon who is one of the countless party activists who were arrested on the 28th of October from Naya Paltan. Shumon is a member of the Chawk Bazar Thana Shechchashebok Dal (the volunteers wing of the BNP) of the Chittagong City Unit. He exuberantly made the trek to Dhaka to attend the grand public meeting organized by his party but circumstances soon turned nightmarish for him. “I was beaten brutally with a plastic pole in the joints by approximately 5 individuals, whose faces were covered”, says Shumon. As per his accounts, he was recurrently asked to make a 164 (confessional statement) in order to implicate party leaders which he incessantly refused despite being under duress. He was then handed over to the court the next day. To add to his suffering, he was again remanded for 7 days as per the court’s order. Furthermore, he was hospitalized for 6 days to recover from his injuries. “My phone was taken away when I was picked up by DB but after I was released the phone was never returned back to me”, claims Shumon. It is highly probable that if more descriptions from victims are taken, we will see a disquieting trend appear.

For instance, let us look at the case of Mohammed Abdul Gani, who holds the post of Senior Joint Vice President of Chatro Dal (the student wing of the BNP) of Mostofa Hakim College in Chittagong. Gani was arrested by police on 31st of October from the City Gate area in Chittagong. “I was taken to the police station and my mobile phone was taken away immediately”, says Gani. According to Gani, he was given no proper justification as to why he was being arrested. “I was taken to the Second Officer’s room and was subsequently beaten with a stick. To add to my humiliation I was also slapped and beaten by the Duty Officer”, whimpers Gani. Both in the case of Gani and Shumon, no reasoning or legal rationale was provided for their arrests and consequent confiscation of their mobile devices.

In another unsettling instance, both Nesar Ahmed and Abir Sahahdat were arrested together on the 29th of October from the Cornel Haat area in Chittagong city around 1:30 pm. Nesar is the Secretary of Tanti Dal (the weavers wing of the BNP) of Akbar Shah Thana and Abir is a member of the Shechchashebok Dal (volunteers wing) of the same area within the Chittagong City Unit. Nesar’s description of the nature of his arrest was harrowing to say the least. “ I was continuously beaten by multiple law enforcing officers while being arrested. They kept beating me while I was in handcuffs which eventually broke my wrists and right knee. I was also continuously slapped while being taken to the police van. At one point, I begged for medical attention and water but was vehemently denied”, describes Nesar. The pain in Nesar’s body was evident as he was describing his experience but the emotional scar could be felt even deeper. His eyes clearly exhibited that he was struggling to reconcile and accept the loss of dignity he had to endure for just being an opposition party activist. The price to pay was indeed too high.

Abir on the other hand was beaten senseless during his arrest. “They chased me and once they got a hold of me they beat me brutally and at one point I lost consciousness. Then they threw me in the van while I was unconscious, which caused my nose to break”, says Abir. According to Nesar, he got alarmed when he saw Abir foaming from the mouth lying flat on the floor and begged the law enforcing officers to stop beating him and provide him with immediate medical assistance but to no avail at that particular moment. In this whole ordeal, Abir came out with a broken left knee and multiple bruises all over his body. Like Shumon and Gani, the modus operandi of illegal seizure of mobile devices was no exception in the case of both Abir and Nesar.

In the case of all the four individuals, the common sequence of illegal arrest followed by forced confiscation of mobile devices and custodial torture is lucidly evident. Furthermore, politically motivated cases in all four instances have been filed after the individuals were taken into custody. Basic human rights and legal rights were flagrantly violated at multiple levels in each of these instances. Such callousness and ferocity is a testament to how far the state machinery is willing to go to quell dissent and prolong its stint in power. It is quite apparent from accounts provided by victims of torture that the state has a mechanism in place to actively contain opposing views by violating personal spaces and using brute force. It is important to note that The Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention) Act, 2013 was enacted in October 2013 as a landmark move by the parliament. However, given the will and intention of the state it is safe to say we will not see the efficacy of this law come to fruition anytime soon. Manipulation of the judicial process is an integral part of this mechanism which is specifically foisted to propagate and instill fear among citizens. As long as this arrangement is in place, the quality of justice in Bangladesh will continue to diminish. Torture does not only inflict physical pain, it is also a soul crushing experience that one carries through their entire life. However more fatally, torture with impunity endorsed by the state creates a vicious cycle of resentment, which if not pacified will consume our society entirely and the dream of a Shonar Bangla will always be a distant reality.

The writer is a concerned citizen.