A number of female suspects in various cases alleged that they were not interrogated by female officials while in custody, but instead by their male colleagues in the law enforcement agencies.
They were also badly treated during the interrogation, they disclosed.
While some of female suspects or accused, who are now on bail, were willing to share their experiences with New Age many were not as they thought that they could get into further trouble if they disclosed their experiences.
Police officials concerned, however, claimed that they maintained the highest standard during the interrogation of any female accused or suspects in their custody by engaging female rankers for the protection of the suspects and by quizzing them through female officials.
The issue of interrogation of women by male officials came up especially after a male police officer was found quizzing a female victim of sexual harassment in Sonagazi in Feni, when he also filmed the interrogation and later circulated it.
On June 17, the Cyber Crime Tribunal sent the former Sonagazi police station officer-in-charge to the jail after rejecting his bail application following his arrest on June 16 evening on charge of recording and sharing the video of the sexual assault victim.
On April 15, Supreme Court lawyer Sayedul Haque Sumon filed a case against Mouazzem under the Digital Security Act for spreading a video of Feni’s madrassah student Nusrat Jahan Rafi being quizzed on social media without her consent.
The Police Bureau of Investigation found that Mouazzem forcibly videoed Nusrat’s statement at his office on March 27, shared the video with journalists on April 8 and posted it on social media for creating social unrest and attempting to disrupt law and order by spreading the video.
On April 6, when Nusrat went to the madrassah to sit for her Alim examination was set afire and she died at the Dhaka Medical College Hospital on April 10, triggering nation-wide protests and international criticism.
New Age made attempts to speak to a number of female suspects about who questioned them and how, but they hardly wanted to speak up about the matter.
On January 21, 2019, Rapid Action Battalion-7 personnel arrested Jatiyatabadi Mahila Dal Chattogram unit publicity secretary Dewan Mahmuda Akhter Lita, 25, in Lalpur area of Feni while she was travelling in a bus to Dhaka. She was quizzed in the custody.
Mahmuda told New Age two weeks ago that she was dropped off from a running bus and was arrested by male RAB members.
‘I was kept waiting until their female colleagues came but was eventually interrogated by male officials keeping their lady colleagues apart,’ said Mahmuda, adding, ‘I was scolded during the interrogation and finally a policeman told me “No good girl joins politics.” The male interrogators finally raised questions about my character.’
On August 4, 2018, RAB members arrested actress and model Quazi Nawshaba Ahmed at capital’s Uttara in an ICT case over spreading rumours of deaths among student protesters during the campaign for safe roads.
She was later taken in custody by the Cyber Unit of the Dhaka Metropolitan Police.
During her interrogation both under the RAB and the police, she was quizzed by male officials in the presence of female officials or rankers.
‘They [law enforcement agencies] treated us as if we are doing politics only for our livelihood,’ said Arifa Sultana Ruma, assistant secretary-general of the immediate past central committee of the Jatiyatabadi Chhatra Dal.
She was arrested on November 15, 2018 and was released on February 19, 2019.
Arifa said that she was interrogated by male officers, not by any female ones, during her five-day remand in the custody of the DMP Detective Branch.
Like Arifa, Bangladesh Nationalist Party executive committee member Nipun Roy Chowdhury was remanded for five days in police custody on November 16, 2018.
She described how she and other women in custody were subjected to ill treatment.
She named one assistant commissioner of police Atikur Rahman who quizzed her in the presence of a lady constable. ‘At one point of the interrogation, Atikur told me, “You need to be hung upside down and to be beaten.” It is understood what he meant by hanging a lady.’
Nipun, also a Supreme Court lawyer, said that she received complaints from other inmates and suspects in custody that they were subjected to sexual molestation.
‘We kept in a grill-fenced enclosure inside the DB building where anyone can see how we [the inmates] sleep at night,’ said Nipun.
She further said, ‘I was asked to sit on a sofa during the interrogation by additional commissioner Abdul Baten, but another official raised the question as to why I was allowed to sit on a sofa,’ adding that the male persons were humiliating them everywhere and one of their female colleagues who was escorting them was helpless seeing the ill treatment.
Assistant inspector general (media and public relations) Sohel Rana at the police headquarters said that the standard procedure of interrogating any female suspect or accused should be by female officials and definitely in their presence and that there was no alternative to it.
‘If we receive any allegation on doing otherwise, stern action is to be taken,’ said Sohel.
Deputy commissioner of police Sunanda Roy, who looks after the training of DMP officials, said that they were continuously sensitising their colleagues over dealing with female suspects.
‘Especially the police have learnt a lesson over the Yasmin killing case in 1995, which led policemen to be executed,’ she added.
Not only investigators in public cases but even the police fail to engage female officers to receive complaints or deal with female colleagues within the service.
The Bangladesh Police Women Network held a two-day workshop at Chattogram on June 26 and 27 with the 72 ‘women focal-point’ police officials from across the country.
Interestingly, of the 72 officials, police officials said, 40 were male and the rest were female.
On June 27, the Chattogram range deputy inspector general of police Khandker Golam Faruq told the concluding ceremony of the workshop that his range had no female officers to be appointed at circles or police stations.
Senior police officials said that in most cases female police officials were unwilling to serve outside Dhaka or major cities, contributing to the problem.
Home minister Asaduzzaman Khan told New Age that in most of the cases female suspects were interrogated by female police officers but sometimes male officers were compelled do the job.
He also said that the number of female officials and rankers was increasing and the issue of engaging female officials to question female suspects would be addressed.
Bangladesh Police Women Network president Amena Begum viewed that once the percentage of the female members in the force would increase, it would be easier to engage female officers in the interrogation process. She lamented over the poor percentage of females in the service.
According to the BPWN, the number of female officers and rankers in the police is currently13,402 among a total of 2,00,000 members , which translates to be only 7.10 per cent of the force.
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