Speedy disposal of rape cases must be ensured

Published: 00:00, Apr 08,2021


AN EARLY dispensation of justice is critical in preventing crimes, yet victims and survivors of violence are left in the lurch for years as is evidenced in the case of the sexual harassment and murder of Nusrat Jahan Rafi, a secondary student who was set on fire in April 2019 as she refused to withdraw a legal complaint of sexual harassment that she filed against the principal of the Sonagazi Senior Islamia Fazil Madrassah. Her death sparked off protests and prompted the law enforcement agencies to complete the investigation of the two cases filed — a murder case and a cyber crime case against the Sonagazi police officer-in-charge who illegally recorded Nusrat’s deposition and made it public online. In October 2019, the Feni Women and Children Repression (Prevention) Tribunal sentenced all the 16 accused to death for killing Nusrat. In November 2019, the Cyber Crime Tribunal sentenced the officer-in-charge to eight years’ imprisonment. While all the accused in the cases are behind bars, they have sought a High Court review of the sentences. About a year and a half have passed, the matter has not been heard and the family is waiting for justice.

In October 2019, the High Court received the death references and the paper book of the case was completed. In March 2020, a bench was assigned to hear the death reference and the appeals. The bench, however, had to return the case to the death reference section as it did not have the power to hear death references. The closure of the High Court because of the COVID-19 outbreak has subsequently shelved the death reference and the appeals. Procedural delay in dispensing justice, especially in cases of gender-based crimes, is not uncommon. It is evident in other similar cases such as the rape and murder of Shohagi Jahan Tonu and the rape of five-year-old Puja in Dinajpur. Although the law stipulates that the court should dispose of a sexual violence case in 180 days after the charges are framed, in the case of Puja it has been three years, but the trial has not been completed. Meanwhile, Tonu’s family continues to face questions from the law enforcement agencies as the investigation has changed hands. In November 2020, the case was transferred to the Police Bureau of Investigation from the Criminal Investigation Department. Nusrat, Tonu or Puja are, however, on the list of sensational cases. The reported delay in these cases paints a grim picture for survivors of sexual violence seeking justice.

The government must, therefore, ensure that sensational cases are timely resolved so that they can set precedents and deter crimes. It must also address the shortage of human resources and other problems that Women and Children Repression (Prevention) Tribunals face so that tribunals can dispose of cases in the stipulated time.

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