“I have explained to (name) that he is not bound to make a confession and that, if he does so, any confession he may make may be used as evidence against him and I believe that this confession was voluntarily made. It was taken in my presence and hearing, and was read over to the person making it and admitted by him to be correct, and it contains a full and true account of the statement made by him.”
sd/- A Magistrate
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One of Humayun Ahmed’s immortal characters is Himu, the Bohemian with a sixth sense. However improbable the stories may be, he is a lovable hero to our young readers. So, when I saw a Himu book named “Himu on remand”, I was slightly shocked. Unfortunately, I did not have time to buy and read the book, but presume eventually everything turned out to be for the better, and Humayun/Himu’s fans smiled after finishing the 70/80 pages.
In Bangladesh one of the most frightening words is “remand”, which has come to mean legalised torture, occasionally leading to death, by members of the law-enforcing agencies, purportedly to make the victim confess to a crime he may or may not have committed. Occasionally, the police want to interrogate with the genuine intention of finding out the truth. Since nobody in his right mind would admit to a murder, or a robbery, or even a petty theft, and since it takes too much effort, time and/or intelligence to find out the truth by nonviolent means, it is their rough and ready method of “solving” a case. A person with a low pain threshold would admit to a heinous murder, preferring the gallows to a continuation of the treatment being given to him, and the police officer performing the job can reflect philosophically and find solace and support in the thought that even God, the rahmanur rahim, can inflict the most excruciating agony on the nicest persons during a terminal disease, or in ghastly accidents. There is no antidote to bad luck!
Once at Dhaka airport I was checking in our baggage. Suddenly a fairly low-ranked custom officer appeared and requested the counter-man to check-in some of his friends first. I felt annoyed, but since I could see only two persons with baggage, I did not bother to protest. I stood on a side but soon discovered that the two passengers were only the tip of an iceberg. It was a team of nearly 15. I could not control my temper, and shouted “Stop, that’s enough for now” at the airlines man, who did stop as he was feeling uncomfortable. The custom’s man re-appeared on the scene and shouted obscenities at me, and then said something that absolutely stunned me, “You don’t know what I can do. I will put some drugs in your baggage and get you arrested. You will realize on remand your great mistake.” After I had recovered I told him quietly that I would like to have a talk with him in the VIP lounge where I was waiting for my flight, and the airport security chief, who was my ex-student, would also be there. The man disappeared quickly.
That is one advantage of being a teacher, you find students all over. A former student was a Deputy Commissioner of Police in the Detective Branch. One day on returning home I was told by my sister living in another flat that one of our neighbours had been arrested an hour ago. She did not know what the case was, but as the neighbour was a businessman who changed his car often, it probably had to do with fiscal matters. I called the DCDB and told him the truth, “I don’t know what the case is, or whether he is guilty or innocent, but he is my neighbour.” My student understood, “Don’t worry, Sir. I will instruct the OC to treat him well.” The gentleman came back the next day with a smile.
In Bidisha’s autobiography she narrates her arrest by the police on instruction from her powerful former husband. She describes in vivid detail what had been done to her, but I am not sure if there was not some exaggeration. Our former Home Minister Ms Sahara Khatun used to handle most cases of arrest of young Awami League workers when the party was in opposition, and once I stumbled across one of the reports. Apart from normal beating, there were descriptions of fingernails being extracted, hanging the person upside down, disorienting him by not letting him sleep.
A few months back I finally visited Ripley’s Believe It or Not exhibition in New York. There are authentic torture machines on display and I will not describe them here. But they were used a few centuries ago in the western world. We cannot be lagging that far behind in this age of universal communication. And yet in 2009, immediately after the Awami League came to power and the BDR massacre occurred, the girls living in Kuwait Moitree Hall near New Market could not stand the screams coming from within the BDR wall near their Hall when interrogation was in progress.
A couple of days ago a RAB suspect of the Narayanganj murders tried to commit suicide. If the belief is that anybody, guilty or not-guilty, can be forced to confess to any crime, under sufficiently strong duress, one should remember that this escape route always exists. Using a lie-detector and other modern physically harmless psychological methods are hardly less reliable, but may not be as satisfying to men who enjoy humiliating and causing pain to other people.
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“…and the Magistrate shall not record any such confession unless, upon questioning the person making it, he has reason to believe that it is being made voluntarily.”
Ahmed Shafee is a columnist.