Though a number of restrictions were put in place to combat the spread of coronavirus in the country since March, which have disrupted normal life of the people, including criminals, several incidents of violence against women such as rape and gang rape have been much discussed in the outgoing year 2020.
Among the incidents, a housewife in Sylhet M C College, video-viral on social media of a young woman violently assaulted and gang-raped by a group of men in the south-eastern Noakhali district were mostly talked of the country.
Besides, killing incident of Major (retd) Sinha Md Rashed Khan, who was shot dead by a police officer at at Shamlapur check post on Cox's Bazar-Teknaf Marine Drive on the night of July 31, has also much discussed in the outgoing year. He was on his way back to Nilima Resort in Himchhari area after filming a video on Marishbunia hill in Teknaf. Though police has been trying to preaching the incident as a gunfight instead of cold brain killing but the real picture has come to light when his sister Sharmin Shahria Ferdous subsequently filed a case against nine policemen on Aug 5.
Such frequent incidents of mass rape and women violence as well as the Maj (retd) Sinha killing have felt the government and law enforcement agencies into embarrassing position.
On September 25, a 19-year-old married girl was reportedly raped by a group of youths in a dormitory of Sylhet MC College in the evening after tying up her husband in a room of the hostel. The victim’s husband filed a case with Shah Poran Police Station following day early morning against six named accused, including Saifur Rahman, and three unnamed accused. Students of Sylhet MC College staged demonstrations blocking the road in front of the college protesting the ‘gang-rape’.
The heinous incident also sparked a countrywide protest that forced the government to take prompt action. Law enforcement have arrested eight people in this connection. They are now in police custody. Even the High Court on 30 September formed an investigation committee to look into the incident.
In first week of October, footage of a young woman being violently assaulted and sexually harassed by a group of men in the south-eastern Noakhali district went viral on Facebook, after the video was released by the attackers to blackmail and shame the victim.
Soon after these heinous acts, both Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal and Inspector general (IG) of Police Benajir Ahmed had strictly instructed all law enforcers to go for tough action against the offenders. As per their instructions, law enforcers including police and RAB went for action through arresting the culprits in most of the cases.
Home Minister had warned that those involved in the heinous and dreadful rape incident in Sylhet MC College hostel will not be spared.
Police on December 3 pressed charges against eight people in a case filed over the gang rape of a woman at Sylhet MC College dormitory. Investigation officer of the case Indranil Bhattacharya submitted the charge sheet before Sylhet Metropolitan Magistrate Court judge Abul Kashem. Police said they found direct involvement of six people in the rape while two others helped the others in the crime.
The video footage of five men torturing the Noakhali woman went viral on social media platforms has raised concerns among natives. Locals said the incident took place at a certain Noor Islam’s house in Khalpar area of Begumgonj upazila in Noakhali . After the video went viral, police detained a youth named Abdur Rahim, 22, for questioning.
According to the video and the locals, five youths Delowar, Badal, Kalam, Abdur Rahim along with an unnamed youth – all members of a criminal gang Delowar Bahini -- stripped the woman naked and brutally tortured her. Eight people have been arrested in connection with the incident.
In a statement on October 6, Amnesty International said Bangladeshi authorities must ensure justice to the Noakhali woman, who was stripped and severely beaten by a group of men for around half an hour, as a video of the incident emerged online. This is the latest incident in an escalating wave of violence against women in the country, the statement said.
“This truly disturbing footage demonstrates the shocking violence that Bangladeshi women are routinely being subjected to.
“In the vast majority of these cases, the justice system fails to hold the perpetrators responsible,” said Sultan Mohammed Zakaria, South Asia researcher at Amnesty International.
“There can be no excuses here – the Bangladeshi authorities must immediately launch a thorough and impartial investigation and bring those responsible for this vicious attack to justice through fair trials without recourse to the death penalty,” he added.
Between 2001 and July 2020, only 3.56% of cases filed under the Prevention of Oppression Against Women and Children Act 2000 Act have resulted in a court judgment and only 0.37% of cases have ended with convictions, according to data from the government’s One Stop Crisis Centre.
Local women’s rights organization Naripokkho examined the incidents of reported rape cases in six districts between 2011 and 2018 and found that out of 4,372 cases, only five people were convicted, Amnesty also said.
According to human rights organization Ain-o-Salish Kendra (ASK), between January and November 2020, at least 1546 rape cases were reported in Bangladesh, including 303 gang-rapes, While the figure was 1413, including 327 since January to December in 2019.
Meanwhile, as the killing of Maj Retied Sinha had become countrywide criticism, the Home Ministry formed a high-level probe committee on Aug 2 while allegations of ‘extrajudicial killings’ against the police also resurfaced.
Later, seven policemen, including in-charge of Baharchhara investigation centre Inspector Liakat and Officer-in-charge of Teknaf police station Pradip Kumar Das surrendered to the court in connection with the case filed by Sinha's sister. They were also suspended from their jobs.
The government also made wholesale changes to the police force in Cox's Bazar with almost all police personnel, including top officers and constables, being transferred out of the district.
Chief of Army Staff General Aziz Ahmed and Inspector General of Police (IGP) Benazir Ahmed have both visited Cox’sbazar on August 5. In a joint press briefing there, both of them stressed that the killing of retired Bangladesh Army major Sinha Md Rashed Khan will not create a rift between the two forces.
The army chief said a joint inquiry team had been formed at the behest of the prime minister, while the IGP said the committee, formed by the government will complete an objective investigation and action will be taken as per the recommendations of the committee.
Meanwhile investigation officer, RAB-15's ASP Md Khairul Islam of the Maj (retd) Sinha killing case has pressed formal charges in court on December 13 against former Teknaf Police OC Pradip Kumar Das, former in-charge of Baharchhara investigation centre Inspector Liakat Ali and 13 others over the killing of retired army major Sinha Md Rashed Khan at a police checkpoint in Cox's Bazar.
"In addition to the 14 arrested in connection with the case, another suspect has also been added to the charge-sheet," he said.
According to the human rights organization Ain-o-Salish Kendra (ASK), 184 people were killed in so called gun fights with members of law enforcement agencies between January and August 2020, but after the furore raised over the incident no such encounter/crossfire killing by the law enforcement agencies has been reported. And so it is just about possible that one bright spot emerged in the field of crime, law and order in 2020: an end, or at least a lull, in crossfire.