Bangladesh: End impunity for torture and uphold victims’ right to reparation

Authorities in Bangladesh must end impunity for torture and other ill-treatment by police and security forces, hold perpetrators to account and ensure reparations are given to victims, Amnesty International said on International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.

Despite ratifying the UN Convention Against Torture (CAT) in 1998 and enacting the Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention) Act 2013, there has only been one conviction under the torture law in more than a decade as impunity continues to prevail for police and security forces in Bangladesh.

In a recent alleged case of drug possession, on 2 June 2024, 40-year-old Afroza Begum died in police custody following her arrest in Abhaynagar sub-district. Her elder son, Arif Hossain Munna, told Amnesty International that he witnessed two police officers planting drugs on her and beating her before taking her to Abhaynagar police station. She died the next morning while in police custody.  

It’s a damning indictment of the entrenched impunity that this law has only seen one solitary conviction despite mounting reports of custodial deaths over the last ten years.

Taqbir Huda, Amnesty International’s Regional Researcher for South Asia

“Torture and other ill-treatment are abhorrent and never justified. Bangladesh’s authorities must ensure that allegations of widespread and persistent torture and other ill-treatment at the hands of law enforcement officers are thoroughly, impartially and independently investigated, and suspected officers are brought to justice through fair trials. Those suspected of causing harm must be suspended from their positions, pending the completion of investigations, so they cannot commit further violations,” said Taqbir Huda, Amnesty International’s Regional Researcher for South Asia.

“It’s a damning indictment of the entrenched impunity that this law has only seen one solitary conviction despite mounting reports of custodial deaths over the last ten years. Afroza Begum’s death is one in an appallingly long and ever-growing list of those allegedly tortured and killed in custody.”

In September 2023, the Bangladesh government reported to the UN Human Rights Council that 24 cases had been filed under the 2013 torture law so far.

Custodial deaths continue to be reported in Bangladesh’s media with alarming frequency. Between January 2013 and May 2024, rights group Ain o Salish Kendra has documented 138 deaths which were allegedly caused due to physical torture by law enforcement agencies. It also documented 923 deaths in jail custody which were reported in the media in the same time period.

Extortion, harassment and torture

Afroza Begum’s son, Arif Hossain Munna, said police had long harassed his family before the raid on their home.

“Two police officers who had been harassing us for extortion barged into our home at midnight along with a known drug dealer. Since they could not find my father, the police physically searched my mother, tied her hair against the fan and slapped her non-stop,” he told Amnesty International.

“They then seized 188,000 taka (US$1,590) from my mother’s safe and planted 30 yaba pills from the drug dealer’s pocket on her before telling her she was being arrested for drug possession. They planted the drugs in front of my eyes to avoid the possibility of a torture and theft case being filed against them.”

Munna said the police did not allow him to give food or medicine to his mother when he went to visit her at the police station the morning she died: “She died because of their torture and cruelty.”

Munna said his family have been threatened with death if they file a case against the police: “My younger brother was going to school on 10 June when the drug dealer threatened ‘we will kill you like we killed your mother if your family dares to file a case’.”

Only one conviction under 2013 torture law

The only ever case of torture that has led to a conviction under Bangladesh’s 2013 torture law, involved Ishtiaque Hossain Johnny and his brother Imtiaz Hossain Rocky, who were tortured by police officers in Pallabi Police Station in Dhaka, after being arbitrarily arrested on 9 February 2014. The police officers demanded money from the brothers, beat them with sticks and kicked them under the instruction of Sub-Inspector (SI) Jahidur Rahman.

Although Rocky eventually recovered from his injuries, his elder brother Johnny succumbed to his injuries the day after the arrest. Rocky and his family fought an uphill legal battle to secure justice for Johnny under the 2013 torture law, resisting a range of threats, intimidation and offers for informal settlements outside the purview of the law, such as payment of a large sum of money in exchange of the torture case being withdrawn. In September 2020, a trial court in Dhaka convicted and sentenced Jahidur Rahman and two assistant SIs to life imprisonment for Johnny’s death and ordered each of them to pay 200,000 taka (US$1,700) as compensation to Johnny’s family.

Despite the compensation being deposited by two of the convicted officers, Rocky and his family have not yet received a penny as the Supreme Court has suspended payment of the compensation while an appeal is underway.

Jahidur Rahman, the police inspector convicted in this case, was also accused in July 2014 of subjecting to torture or other ill-treatment another man, Mahbubur Rahman Sujon, a trader, to death. According to the case complaint obtained by Amnesty from Sujon’s family, Jahidur Rahman along with others, forcibly entered Sujon’s residence, looted cash and other valuables and subjected him to torture while also injuring his wife and 5-year-old son. Sujon was then arrested under a fabricated arms case, and taken to Mirpur Model Police Station, where the torture continued despite pleas from his wife and son who were confined in another room from where they could hear Sujon scream in pain.

It is unconscionable that there has been little to no accountability for these brutal crimes.

Taqbir Huda

According to a general diary filed by Sujon’s mother with the police, she was offered a large amount of money to withdraw the case against them. Police later filed a narcotics case against her and she was arrested in February 2019 and imprisoned for six months before securing bail. The torture case filed under the 2013 Act for Shujon’s death remains pending.

“It is unconscionable that there has been little to no accountability for these brutal crimes. In light of the painfully slow progress towards delivering justice to the victims of torture and their families, Bangladesh must establish a compensation fund for victims of torture. It must also ratify the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention Against Torture so that if impunity persists victims can file complaints directly to the UN Committee against Torture,” Taqbir Huda said.