THE death of crime suspects in ‘crossfire’ while they are in the custody of law enforcers continues apace but there seems to be none around to stop such execution of people having happened without judicial sanctions. In a situation like this, the High Court on Tuesday, while it was hearing a bail petition, wanted to know who would explain the death of crime suspects in ‘crossfire’ after their arrest. At least 204 people are reported, as rights group Ain O Salish Kendra statistics made public on July 1 say, to have been killed by the law enforcement agencies or died in the custody of the police or other law enforcement agencies in the first half of 2019. The incidents of extrajudicial killing that were reported involved almost all forces — the Rapid Action Battalion, the police, the Detective Branch, joint forces, Coast Guard and Border Guard Bangladesh, as the rights group report prepared based on news published in national daily newspapers said. A record number of extrajudicial killing took place in 2018, with 466 suspects coming to have been killed in ‘gunfight’, ‘encounter’, ‘shoot-out’ and ‘crossfire’ or in ‘gangland infighting’, which is three times the number of such death reported to have taken place in 2017.
Of the suspects, 292 were killed in the drive against trade in and abuse of drug substances that began on May 4, 2018. There are 10 directives, as Supreme Court officials say, mandatory for the police and other law enforcement agencies and nine other directives mandatory for judicial magistrates and judges to follow in dealing with arrest and detention cases. The directives were the outcomes of efforts to stop custodial death consequent on a writ petition filed in 1998 after three had died in the hands of law enforcers, especially a university student who died after being tortured in the custody of the Detective Branch in July that year. The writ petition was filed after recommendations of the one-member commission instituted to investigate the death of the university student remained ignored. Extrajudicial killing, which law enforcers often prefer to sugarcoat, undermines a couple of basic tenets of the law — the accused are innocent until they are proven guilty, which is for the court of law to decide, and the accused, suspects or even hardened criminals should get a fair chance to stand trial. Besides, such incidents break the link in crime chains while trampling the rule of law and weakening the judicial process, often adding to the risk of lawlessness in society. Such incidents also hold law enforcers from reaching people at play behind-the-scenes and, thus, save the politically and financially powerful quarters, if there are any, that harbour such criminals.
There must be someone somewhere who should be accountable for all such ‘crossfire’ death and law enforcers engaged in such ‘crossfire’ death should be prosecuted. It is, in this context, a welcome move that the court has raised the question. The law enforcement agencies must effectively deter crimes and arrest anyone standing in conflict with the law but there is no scope for them to assume the role of the judge, jury and executioner when they keep law. It is expected that the court would get on the government on the issue of death in ‘crossfire’ and end the train of such death for the greater good of society.
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