Death-row convicts top 2,000 as 1,300 appeals await hearing   

CJ expresses concerns over backlog

M Moneruzzaman | Published: 00:04, Jun 10,2021


The number of death-row convicts has crossed 2,000 with over 1,300 appeals of such convicts pending for hearing by the High Court and the Appellate Division for years.

Inspector general of prisons Md Mominur Rahman Mamun told New Age that there were 2,006 death-row convicts as of June 9.

Of the death-row convicts, 1,952 are males and 54 female, he said.

A total of 76,935 prisoners, of whom 15,091 were convicted prisoners, were in the country’s 67 jails as of June 9, he said.

Chief justice Syed Mahmud Hossain while presiding over the six-member online bench of the Appellate Division on Wednesday told lawyers that 500 appeals of the death row convicts had been pending with the AD for the last five years.

He said that at least five years would be needed to dispose of the appeals.

Justice Mahmud Hossain said that the High Court was receiving 160-170 death references a year.

He said that the total number of death references was 60 when Justice ATM Afzal was the chief justice in 1997.

Justice Mahmud Hossain said that a total of 10 people had been hanged so far in West Bengal in India.

He asked the High Court’s special officer, Mohammad Saifur Rahman, to collect information on how many people had been hanged in Bangladesh so far.

Justice Mahmud Hossain informed the court that the jail authorities posted 24 wardens in eight shifts every day and night to monitor a death-row prisoner in the condemned cell of the jail.

He, quoting a letter sent to the law ministry by the jail authorities, also said that most of the wardens were being posted inside the jails to watch the death-row prisoners. 

Justice Mahmud Hossain asked lawyers not to seek adjournment of hearings in the appeals of death-row convicts to enable the court to dispose of the appeals speedily.

He said that the appeals of the convicted people could not be heard on a regular basis as the Appellate Division was occupied on the request from lawyers to hear miscellaneous petitions which were filed against bails and other orders given by the High Court.

High Court special officer Saifur Rahman, also the Supreme Court’s spokesman, has recently told New Age that 780 death references were pending with the High Court as of December 31, 2020 and 74 others have been added in five months until May 2021.

Court officials said that this was the record number of pending death references and appeals.

The number of the death-row convicts in the jails is also the highest ever, prison officials said.

Senior lawyer Munsurul Hoque Chowdhury told  New Age that a large of number of cases, specially the death references, were pending as there had been no hearings for the past one year due to the closure of the regular courts since March 24, 2020 amid the Covid pandemic.

He said that at present, no High Court bench was assigned to hear death references.

Munsuurul suggested hearing death reference cases on a priority basis.     

He said that courts opted to award offenders death sentences as maximum punishment instead of awarding life-imprisons for killings and other heinous offences.

In most cases, the death sentences of offenders cannot sustain scrutiny by the appeal courts, he added.

Jurist Shahdeen Malik said that the rate of hanging of offenders in Bangladesh was lower than other countries, although lower courts were awarding death sentences for murders.

He said that Bangladesh hanged in rare cases except the killers of the country’s founding president Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, war criminals and extremists like members of Jamaatul Mojahideen Bangladesh.  

After the 15th amendment to the constitution in 2011, Shahdeen said, all sentences of death need to be confirmed by the Appellate Division, causing further delay in the disposal of such cases which made the process more inhumane.

The number of death references was 83 in 2009 when the Awami League-led alliance came to power.

High Court officials said that 171 death references of 410 people were registered in 2017.

Since 2009, the death reference has risen every year except in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013

The number of condemned prisoners was 1,009 as of November 2011.

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