03/11/2015, 00.00
BANGLADESH
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Bangladesh police wants torture ban overturned

Top law enforcement officials want especially changes to the provision in the 2013 law that bans torture in a "state of war, threat of war, internal political instability or any public emergency;" or following "an order of a superior officer or a public authority". For human rights activist, such a request is unconstitutional.

Dhaka (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Bangladeshi police wants the Home Affairs Ministry to drop some provisions in a law that bans the torture and inhuman treatment of people in custody or in prison by police.

Specifically, the country's law enforcement community wants Section 12 of the 'Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention) Act' of 2013 scrapped. The provision in question says, neither a "state of war, threat of war, internal political instability or any public emergency;" nor "an order of a superior officer or a public authority; shall be unacceptable as an excuse" for torture.

Human rights activists reacted immediately to the request, noting that the proposed amendments "are in direct contrast with the constitution," a rights activist said.

The call for changes to the law comes after several allegations were made that law enforcement agencies engaged in indiscriminate arrests, suspicious deaths and torture of people in custody during the political violence of the past two months.

The victims are mostly militants and supporters of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and the Jamaat-e-Islami (Islamic fundamentalist party), which have been blamed for causing unrest, and organising roadblocks.

Police want the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), the Special Branch (SB) and the Detective Branch (DB) of police excluded from the purview of the Act by changing the definition of law enforcement agencies.

As the law is currently written, the Bangladesh Police, RAB, BGB, Customs, Immigration, CID, SB, DB, Ansar, VDP and Coast Guard fall under the category of law enforcement agencies. Thus, the act is applicable to all these agencies.

However, for the police, the law leaves the door open to false complaints against all the agencies, making it harder for them to take effective steps in saving people's life and property from destructive activities during political instability, strikes (hartal), blockades and arsons.

The problem is Article 35 (5) of Bangladesh's constitution, which says that "No person shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment or treatment."

At the same time, the Bangladeshi government signed the 1984 UN Convention against Torture in 1998, which the Bangladeshi parliament turned into law, albeit only in 2013, making torture by law enforcement or government officials a criminal offense.

Under the 2013 Act, the maximum penalty in case of death in custody is life imprisonment or a fine of BDT 100,000 (US$ 1,300). The offender also has to compensate the victim's family up to BDT 200,000 (US$ 2,600).

According to a report from Amnesty International, at least nine people died in police custody between January and July 2014, allegedly from torture.

Methods included beating, suspension from the ceiling, electric shocks to the genitals and, in some cases, shooting detainees' legs.

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