In its early history, Bangladesh was part of a succession of empires that included today's India and Pakistan starting with the Mauryan Empire (320-180 BC) during which Buddhism came to Bengal. Buddhism prevailed through the next two empires - the Harsha Empire (AD 606-47) and the Pala Dynasty (AD 750-1150). The orthodox and militant Hindu Senas replaced the Buddhist Palas until the Turkish conquest in 1201. During the Sena period, vast numbers of lower caste Bengalis were converted to Islam by Sufi religious teachers, followed by the spread of Islam under the Turkish Mughal Empire. The British who controlled India during the 19th Century defeated the Turks first in Bengal, and then extended their rule to all of India. British attempts to Westernize the culture of the region through revising its government and criminal justice system, as well as to make English rather than Persian the official language, ultimately led to a mutiny in 1857 started by Indian soldiers mostly from Bengal. The uprising, which seriously threatened British rule, has been called the "first war of independence." After this revolt, the Muslims become second class citizens for the duration of British rule, lagging behind the Hindus who more readily acquiesced to British reforms. In the words of Bengali commentator Mansur Ali, "In Bengal, the landlord is Hindu, the peasant Muslim. The moneylender is Hindu, the client is Muslim. The jailor is Hindu, the prisoner is Muslim. The magistrate is Hindu, the accused is Muslim." For the remainder of history, the religious divide between Hindus and Muslims dominated much of politics in India. In 1905, the British Governor General Lord George Curzon divided Bengal (then part of India) into eastern and western sectors, in part as a remedy to this problem. The Hindu dominated Indian National Congress (Congress) opposed Curzon with a "swadeshi" movement, boycotting British made goods, but the Muslim League supported the partitioning. Nevertheless, in 1912 the British voided the partition of Bengal. In 1916, the Muslim League signed the Lucknow Pact with Congress, a joint platform calling for national independence. In return for the Muslim League support, this pact included an understanding that Muslims would have separate communal electorates (the right to vote for and be represented by Muslims). After WWI, the idea of a separate Muslim state (Pakistan) was proposed by Sir Muhammad Iqbal, giving the Muslims a political orientation. In 1934, Mohammad Ali Jinnah took over leadership of the Muslim League. After WWII, the British attempted to prepare India for independence, but the Muslim League was excluded from the interim government, resulting in communal rioting. Originally proposed by the British viceroy Lord Louis Mountbatten, the India/Pakistan partition became a reality in 1947, and Jinnah took office as the first Governor General of the new Dominion of Pakistan. Pakistan itself was divided in two sections, Western Pakistan and Eastern Pakistan (today's Bangladesh) which were separated by 1,000 miles of Indian territory. Political instability and economic difficulties marked Pakistan's history from 1947 to 1971. Attempts at civilian political rule failed, and the government imposed martial law between 1958 and 1962, and again between 1969 and 1972. Almost from the advent of independent Pakistan in 1947, frictions developed between East and West Pakistan. East Pakistanis felt exploited by the West Pakistan-dominated central government. Linguistic, cultural, and ethnic differences also contributed to the estrangement of East from West Pakistan. Bengalis strongly resisted attempts to impose Urdu as the sole official language of Pakistan (preferring Bangla as their language). Responding to these grievances, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman--known widely as "Mujib"--in 1949 formed the Awami League (AL), a party designed mainly to promote Bengali interests. Mujib became president of the Awami League and emerged as leader of the Bengali autonomy movement. After the Awami League won all the East Pakistan seats of the Pakistan national assembly in 1970-71 elections, West Pakistan opened talks with the East on constitutional questions about the division of power between the central government and the provinces, as well as the formation of a national government headed by the Awami League. The talks proved unsuccessful, however, and on March 1, 1971, Pakistani President Yahya Khan indefinitely postponed the pending national assembly session, precipitating massive civil disobedience in East Pakistan. Mujib was arrested; his party was banned, and most of his aides fled to India, where they organized a provisional government. On March 26, 1971, following a bloody crackdown by the Pakistan army, Bengali nationalists declared an independent People's Republic of Bangladesh. As fighting grew between the army and the Bengali mukti bahini ("freedom fighters"), an estimated 10 million Bengalis, mainly Hindus, sought refuge in the Indian states of Assam and West Bengal. Indian sympathies lay with East Pakistan, and in November, India intervened on the side of the Bangladeshis. On December 16, 1971, Pakistani forces surrendered, and Bangladesh--meaning "Bengal nation"--was born; the new country became a parliamentary democracy under a 1972 constitution. The provisional government of the new nation of Bangladesh was formed in Dhaka with Justice Abu Sayeed Choudhury as President, and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman ("Mujib")--who was released from Pakistani prison in early 1972--as Prime Minister. Mujib came to office with immense personal popularity, but had difficulty transforming this popular support into the political strength needed to function as head of government. The new constitution, which came into force in December 1972, created a strong executive Prime Minister, a largely ceremonial presidency, an independent judiciary, and a unicameral legislature on a modified Westminster model. The 1972 constitution adopted as state policy the Awami League's (AL) four basic principles of nationalism, secularism, socialism, and democracy. The first parliamentary elections held under the 1972 constitution were in March 1973, with the Awami League winning a massive majority. Economic conditions remained precarious, however. In December 1974, Mujib decided that continuing economic deterioration and mounting civil disorder required strong measures. After proclaiming a state of emergency, Mujib used his parliamentary majority to win a constitutional amendment limiting the powers of the legislative and judicial branches, establishing an executive presidency, and instituting a one-party system, the Bangladesh Krishak Sramik Awami League (BAKSAL), which all members of Parliament were obliged to join. Despite some improvement in the economic situation during the first half of 1975, implementation of promised political reforms was slow, and criticism of government policies became increasingly centered on Mujib. In August 1975, mid-level army officers assassinated Mujib, and most of his family. His daughter, Sheikh Hassina, happened to be out of the country. Subsequently, political instability, attempts at parliamentary democracy, followed by reversion to martial law, and corruption have characterized Bangladesh's government. Successive military coups resulted in the emergence of Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ziaur Rahman ("Zia") as strongman. He pledged the army's support to the civilian government headed by President Chief Justice Sayem. Acting at Zia's behest, Sayem dissolved Parliament, promising fresh elections in 1977, and instituted martial law. In November 1976, Zia became Chief Martial Law Administrator (CMLA) and assumed the presidency upon Sayem's retirement 5 months later, promising national elections in 1978. Keeping his promise to hold elections, Zia won a 5-year term in June 1978 elections, with 76% of the vote. In November 1978, his government removed the remaining restrictions on political party activities in time for parliamentary elections in February 1979. The AL and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), founded by Zia, emerged as the two major parties. In May 1981, Zia was assassinated in Chittagong by dissident elements of the military. In accordance with the constitution, Vice President Justice Abdus Sattar was sworn in as acting president. He declared a new national emergency and called for election of a new president within 6 months--an election Sattar won as the BNP's candidate. President Sattar sought to follow the policies of his predecessor and retained essentially the same cabinet, but the army stepped in once again. Army Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. H.M. Ershad assumed power in a bloodless coup in March 1982. Like his predecessors, Ershad suspended the constitution and, citing pervasive corruption, ineffectual government, and economic mismanagement, declared martial law. The following year, Ershad assumed the presidency, retaining his positions as army chief and CMLA. Political life was further liberalized in early 1986, and additional political rights, including the right to hold large public rallies, were restored. At the same time, the Jatiya (People's) Party, designed as Ershad's political vehicle for the transition from martial law, was established. Despite a boycott by the BNP, led by President Zia's widow, Begum Khaleda Zia, parliamentary elections were held on schedule in May 1986. The Jatiya Party won a modest majority of the 300 elected seats in the national assembly. The participation of the Awami League, led by the late Prime Minister Mujib's daughter, Sheikh Hasina Wajed, lent the elections some credibility, despite widespread charges of voting irregularities. Ershad easily outdistanced the remaining candidates, taking 84% of the vote. Ershad continued his stated commitment to lift martial law. but in 1988, the government began to arrest scores of opposition activists under the country's Special Powers Act of 1974. In 1989, opposition to Ershad's rule began to regain momentum, escalating by the end of 1990 in frequent general strikes, increased campus protests, public rallies, and a general disintegration of law and order. On December 6, 1990, Ershad offered his resignation. On February 27, 1991, after 2 months of widespread civil unrest, an interim government oversaw what most observers believed to be the nation's most free and fair elections to date. The center-right BNP won a plurality of seats and formed a coalition government with the Islamic fundamentalist party Jamaat-I-Islami, with Khaleda Zia, widow of Ziaur Rahman, obtaining the post of Prime Minister. The electorate approved still more changes to the constitution, formally re-creating a parliamentary system and returning governing power to the office of the Prime Minister, as in Bangladesh's original 1972 constitution. In October 1991, members of Parliament elected a new head of state, President Abdur Rahman Biswas. In late December 1994, the opposition again resigned en masse from Parliament. The opposition then continued a campaign of marches, demonstrations, and strikes in an effort to force the government to resign. The opposition, including the Awami League's Sheikh Hasina, pledged to boycott national elections scheduled for February 15, 1996. In February, Khaleda Zia was re-elected by a landslide in voting boycotted and denounced as unfair by the three main opposition parties. In March 1996, following escalating political turmoil, the sitting Parliament enacted a constitutional amendment to allow a neutral caretaker government to assume power conduct new parliamentary elections; former Chief Justice Mohammed Habibur Rahman was named Chief Advisor (a position equivalent to Prime Minister) in the interim government. New parliamentary elections were held in June 1996 and were won by the Awami League; party leader Sheikh Hasina, daughter of Bangladesh's first Prime Minister, became Prime Minister. Sheikh Hasina formed what she called a "Government of National Consensus" in June 1996, which included one minister from the Jatiya Party and another from the Jatiyo Samajtantric Dal, a very small leftist party. The Jatiya Party never entered into a formal coalition arrangement, and party president H.M. Ershad withdrew his support from the government in September 1997. Only three parties had more than 10 members elected to the 1996 Parliament: The Awami League, BNP, and Jatiya Party. Jatiya Party president, Ershad, was released from prison on bail in January 1997. Hasina struggled with the countries economic problems, but a series of opposition-led strikes paralyzed the country. In 2001, a caretaker government leaded by Latifur Rahman was appointed in advance of parliamentary elections during which Zia and the BNP won a landslide victory, and she again became Prime Minister.
INCIDENCE OF CRIME
Bengalis have been opposing governments since those imposed by the Mughals in the sixteenth century. Bengali secession movements, first from Britain and then from Pakistan, were violent struggles that exacted an enormous human toll. This legacy of violence, coupled with the propensity to organize the population into mass movements to overthrow governments, carried over into the postindependence era. A number of fringe parties that embrace violence as an acceptable political tactic existed. In the mid-1970s, Maoist splinter groups such as the Bangladesh Communist Party/Marxist- Leninist carried on a rural-based insurrection. Acting under the direction of two renowned freedom fighters, Mohammed Toaha and retired Colonel M. Ziauddin, guerrilla bands executed landlords and moneylenders and staged hit-and-run raids on police stations and government armories. By the late 1970s, however, Maoism had lost much of its appeal in the countryside, and most guerrilla factions sought to become legal organizations. The Bangladesh
Communist Party/Marxist-Leninist, the Jatiyo Samajtantrik Dal, and dozens of other left-wing parties all followed this route. The country's mainstream Marxist party, the pro-Soviet Bangladesh Communist Party, did not promote organized antigovernment violence, although its student and labor union fronts have been suspected of engaging in violent acts. Government officials tend not to make a sharp distinction between ordinary crime and political crime or subversion but describe it all as destructive to the country. Customarily, authorities speak of criminal and subversive elements as "antisocial forces" or "miscreants" and frequently describe them as composed of persons who oppose independent Bangladesh. Probably the longest running source of domestic violence has been the tribal insurgency that has festered in the remote Chittagong Hill Tracts since the late 1970s. Spearheaded by the predominantly Chakma guerrilla band known as the Shanti Bahini (Peace Force), in the late 1980s the rebels were still seeking autonomous status for the Chittagong Hills, the expulsion of Bengali settlers from traditional tribal lands, the restoration of tribal rights and privileges enjoyed under British and Pakistani rule and subsequently repealed by the Mujib government, and the withdrawal of the army from the Chittagong Hills. With an estimated strength of 2,000 lightly armed guerrillas, the Shanti Bahini carried out attacks against Bengali settlers, government facilities, and army convoys. Through the late 1980s, military pacification efforts had been ineffective and often brutal. The Twenty-fourth Infantry Division, headquartered in Chittagong, was the army's largest formation with four infantry brigades and a specialized counterinsurgency unit based at Khagrachari. It mounted reprisal raids against civilian tribespeople as warnings against further attacks. Observers through 1986 estimated that about 400 security personnel had lost their lives in the Chittagong Hills; the civilian death toll was estimated at around 2,000. According to a September 1986 report by Amnesty International, the army regularly engaged in "unlawful killings and torture," acts that are specifically prohibited under the Constitution and various international accords to which Bangladesh is a party. Another human rights organization termed the army's Chittagong Hills campaign "genocide." Some commentators allege that the army has been overly zealous in stamping out the insurgency because the tribespeople are not Muslims. In the late 1980s, the Chittagong Hills remained off-limits to all outsiders without a special permit. Details of the fighting therefore have been sketchy. Ershad, like his predecessors, denied reports of human rights violations and maintained that tribal rights would be safeguarded if the Shanti Bahini laid down their arms, accepted government offers of amnesty and rehabilitation, and participated in elections. Aside from the domestic implications of widespread violence in the Chittagong Hills, the fighting also had serious regional consequences. Bangladesh has frequently asserted that India has aided the Shanti Bahini by offering arms assistance, military training, and bases. India has denied the charges and has countered that Bangladesh Army operations in the Chittagong Hills have precipitated a massive exodus of Chakma refugees into the Indian state of Tripura. Public demonstrations, marches and labor strikes are widely used as means of political expression in Bangladesh. A number of general strikes, or "hartals," have been called by the political opposition over the past several years, resulting in the virtual shutdown of transportation and commerce, and sometimes attacks on individuals who do not observe the "hartals." Clashes between rival political groups have resulted in deaths and injuries. Violence is a particular problem on university campuses. Following U.S. military action in Afghanistan in October 2001, Bangladesh has experienced some anti-American sentiment. In addition, there have been several anti-American demonstrations throughout Bangladesh. While these demonstrations generally occur on Friday afternoons, they have the potential to take place any time and to be unruly.
In addition to political violence, street crime is a growing problem in Bangladesh, particularly in the major cities of Dhaka and Chittagong. Weapons are increasingly used in criminal incidents. Pick-pocketing, purse-snatching, and other forms of street crime occur often, especially in areas frequented by foreigners.
In general, the criminal codes and procedures in effect in Bangladesh derive from the period of British rule, as amended by Pakistan and Bangladesh. These basic documents include the Penal Code, first promulgated in 1860 as the Indian Penal Code; the Police Act of 1861; the Evidence Act of 1872; the Code of Criminal Procedure of 1898; the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1908; and the Official Secrets Act of 1911. The major classes of crimes are listed in the Penal Code, the country's most important and comprehensive penal statute. Among the listed categories of more serious crimes are activities called "offenses against the state." The Penal Code authorizes the government to prosecute any person or group of persons conspiring or abetting in a conspiracy to overthrow the government by force. An offense of this nature is also defined as "war against the state." Whether or not an offense constitutes a conspiracy is determined by the "intent" of the participant, rather than by the number of the participants involved, so as to distinguish it from a riot or any other form of disturbance not regarded as antinational. Section 121 of the Penal Code makes antinational offenses punishable by death or imprisonment for twenty years. The incitement of hatred, contempt, or disaffection toward a lawfully constituted authority is also a criminal offense punishable by a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. Among other categories of felonies are offenses against the public tranquillity (meaning unlawful assembly), rioting, and public disturbances; offenses relating to religion; and offenses against property, such as theft, robbery, and dacoity (robbery by a group of five or more persons). Punishment is divided into five categories: death; banishment, ranging from seven years to life; imprisonment; forfeiture of property; and fines. The imprisonment may be "simple" or "rigorous" (hard labor), ranging from the minimum of twenty-four hours for drunken or disorderly conduct to a maximum of fourteen years at hard labor for more serious offenses. Juvenile offenders may be sentenced to detention in reform schools for a period of three to seven years. For minor infractions whipping, not exceeding fifteen lashes, may be prescribed as an alternative to detention. Preventive detention may be ordered under the amended Security of Pakistan Act of 1952 and under Section 107 of the Code of Criminal Procedure when, in the opinion of the authorities, there is a strong likelihood of public disorder. Bangladeshi regimes have made extensive use of this provision. Similarly, Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, frequently invoked by magistrates for periods up to two months, prohibits assembly of five or more persons, holding of public meetings, and carrying of firearms. In addition, the Disturbed Areas (Special Powers) Ordinance of 1962 empowers a magistrate or an officer in charge of a police contingent to open fire or use force against any persons breaching the peace in the disturbed areas and to arrest and search without a warrant. The assembly of five or more persons and the carrying of firearms may also be prohibited under this ordinance. Persons charged with espionage are punishable under the Official Secrets Act of 1911, as amended in 1923 and 1968. As revised in May 1968, this statute prescribes death as the maximum penalty for a person convicted of espionage.
The Armed Police is an elite unit of the national police system that is specifically charged with responding to violent disturbances and threats to public order whenever local police units prove unequal to the challenge. Functioning under the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Armed Police responds to emergencies anywhere in the country. The unit ordinarily cooperates closely with the army and paramilitary forces. It also operates an intelligence wing. Except for perhaps its elite Presidential Security Force, the army does not acknowledge having any specialized counter-terrorist squad for protecting dignitaries, thwarting hijackings, and rescuing hostages. Units of the Armed Police probably handle these functions. The police, or local constabulary, are the lowest echelon of Bangladesh's security forces. The upper echelons of the police, or "gazetted officers," rank high in the civil service and are relatively well trained and well paid. By contrast, the lower ranks are often poorly trained, poorly equipped, and poorly paid. In the subordinate grades, whose numbers account for about 90 percent of the police, advancement is slow and educational levels low. In addition, the police are overworked. Further, the police are often viewed by the public as an oppressive arm of government characterized by widespread petty corruption and political manipulation. Despite their reputation for corruption, inefficiency, and occasional brutality, the police remain the most vital component of domestic security. Total police strength in 1988 was estimated between 40,000 and 50,000 personnel.
The police services have had to be rebuilt by the new Bangladeshi government because during the independence war the police system of East Pakistan broke down and there was, in effect, no police system except that maintained by the combatant armies in the areas they controlled. The senior police posts had been held by officers of the elite Police Service of Pakistan, most of whom were from West Pakistan. Lower ranking officers and the police rank and file were Bengalis. When the war of independence broke out in March 1971, most of the East Pakistani police defected and either joined the Mukti Bahini or simply disappeared. Under administrative decentralization programs first introduced by Zia and later implemented and expanded by Ershad, police administration is headed by the inspector general of police, the equivalent of an army lieutenant general and popularly and officially referred to as the IG. He is responsible to the Ministry of Home Affairs. At the district level there is a superintendent of police, and at the subdistrict level, an inspector of police. Commissioners of police direct the work in major urban areas and report directly to the inspector general. As part of Ershad's political strategy of moving decision-making power closer to the grass-roots level, police administration in 1988 generally paralleled the administrative reorganization introduced by the Ershad regime. As discussed previously, police officers are categorized as gazetted and subordinate, roughly analogous to commissioned and noncommissioned officers in the military services. The top four gazetted police grades, in descending order, are those of inspector general, deputy inspector general, superintendent, and assistant superintendent. Below these gazetted ranks are the upper subordinate positions of inspector, subinspector, and assistant subinspector. Below them are the bulk of police in the lower subordinate grades of head constable and constable. The inspector general supervises staff departments handling criminal investigation, identification, communications, administration, and supply. He is further responsible for supervision over the police "ranges," each of which includes a number of districts and is under a deputy inspector general. Within the ranges, police superintendents control districts and supervise one or more assistant superintendents, a number of inspectors, and other personnel. The station house, at the subdistrict level, is supervised by one of the upper subordinate officers, called the station house officer, with about ten head constables and constables at the station. Assisting the regular police are part-time village constables and Village Defense Party volunteers, who report violations to the nearest police station or apprehend offenders on police orders. These village constables are recruited locally and receive a very small salary. At all levels, the senior police officer responds to the chain of command within the police organization, but he is also responsible in many matters to the general direction of designated civil government officials. These multiple lines of command sometimes cause confusion and disagreement, but the principle of ultimate civilian control has remained dominant since the colonial period. At the national level the inspector general reports to the home secretary; at the range level the deputy inspector general answers to the division commissioner; and at the district level the police superintendent is subordinate to the deputy commissioner, who is in charge of tax collection, law and order, and administration of justice. Although the deputy commissioner has no authority to interfere directly in the internal organization and discipline of the police, one of his duties is to inspect the police stations of his district at regular intervals. If the deputy commissioner and the police chief disagree on issues relating to police functioning, the deputy commissioner's judgment prevails, but he is dependent upon police cooperation. In case of serious differences, however, both may refer the disputed matter to higher authorities for reconciliation; the deputy commissioner to his commissioner and the superintendent to his deputy inspector general. The Home Affairs Ministry controls the police and paramilitary forces, which have primary responsibility for internal security. Primarily due to the police's accountability to the executive, police often are reluctant to pursue investigations against persons affiliated with the ruling party. The Government frequently uses the police for political purposes. There is widespread police corruption and lack of discipline. Police officers committed numerous serious human rights abuses and were seldom disciplined, even for the most egregious actions. The Constitution prohibits torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment; however, police routinely employ physical and psychological torture and other abuse during arrests and interrogations. Torture may consist of threats, beatings and, occasionally, the use of electric shock. The Government rarely convicts or punishes those responsible for torture, and a climate of impunity allows such police abuses to continue. Police commit a number of extrajudicial killings, and some have persons died in police custody under suspicious circumstances. Police frequently beat demonstrators. Most police abuses go unpunished, and the resulting climate of impunity remains a serious obstacle to ending police abuse and extrajudicial killings. Police corruption remains a problem and there were credible reports that police facilitated or were involved in trafficking in women and children.
The Government arrests and detains persons arbitrarily and uses national security legislation (the Special Powers Act (SPA) and Public Safety Act (PSA)) to detain citizens without formal charges or specific complaints being filed against them. The Constitution states that each person arrested shall be informed of the grounds for detention, provided access to a lawyer of his choice, brought before a magistrate within 24 hours, and freed unless the magistrate authorizes continued detention. However, the Constitution specifically allows preventive detention, with specified safeguards, outside these requirements. In practice authorities frequently violate these constitutional provisions, even in nonpreventive detention cases. In an April 1999 ruling, a two-judge High Court panel criticized the police force for rampant abuse of detention laws and powers. There is a system of bail for criminal offenses. Police sometimes detain opposition activists prior to and during general strikes without citing any legal authority, holding them until the event is over. Newspapers report instances of police detaining persons to extract money or for personal vengeance. Under the SPA the Government or a district magistrate may order a person detained for 30 days to prevent the commission of an act likely "to prejudice the security of the country." Other offenses subject to the SPA include smuggling, black market activity, or hoarding. The Government (or magistrate) must inform the detainee of the grounds for detention within 15 days, and the Government must approve the grounds for detention within 30 days or release the detainee. In practice detainees sometimes are held for longer periods without the Government stating the grounds for the detention or formally approving it. Detainees may appeal their detention, and the Government may grant early release. An advisory board composed of two persons who have been, or are qualified to be, high court judges and one civil servant are supposed to examine the cases of SPA detainees after 4 months. If the Government adequately defends its detention order, the detainee remains imprisoned; if not, the detainee is released. If the defendant in an SPA case is able to present his case before the High Court in Dhaka, the High Court generally rules in favor of the defendant. However, many defendants either are too poor or, because of strict detention, are unable to obtain legal counsel and thereby move the case beyond the magistrate level. Magistrates are subject to the administrative controls of the Establishment Ministry and are less likely to dismiss a case. Detainees are allowed to consult with lawyers, although usually not until a charge is filed. They are not entitled to be represented by a lawyer before an advisory board. Detainees may receive visitors. The Government has held incommunicado some prominent prisoners. According to a September 2000 study carried out by a parliamentary subcommittee, 98.8% of the 69,010 SPA detainees over a period of 26 years were released on orders from the High Court. The study asserted that SPA cases generally are so weak and vague that the court had no alternative but to grant bail. In response to a deteriorating law and order situation, Parliament passed the restrictive new PSA in January 2000. The law established special tribunals to hear cases under the act, and made particular offenses non-bailable. Opposition leaders expressed fears that the law would be used to arrest political opponents of the ruling party, as the law, like the SPA, allows police to circumvent normal procedures designed to prevent arbitrary arrest, and precludes detainees from being released on bail, which often is the result of arrests based on little or no concrete evidence. It is difficult to estimate the total number of detentions for political reasons. In some instances, criminal charges may apply to the actions of activists, and many criminals claim political affiliations. Because of crowded court dockets and magistrates who are reluctant to challenge the Government, the judicial system does not deal effectively with criminal cases that may be political in origin. There is no independent body with the authority and ability to monitor detentions, or to prevent, detect, or publicize cases of political harassment. Most such detentions appear to be for several days or weeks. Defendants in most cases receive bail, but dismissal of wrongful charges or acquittal may take years.
There is a system of bail for criminal offenses. Bail is granted commonly for both violent and nonviolent crimes. However, some provisions of the law preclude the granting of bail. The Women and Children Repression Prevention Act, passed in January 2000, replaced an earlier law of the same name. The act provides special procedures for persons accused of violence against women and children. The new law calls for harsher penalties, provides compensation to victims, and requires action against investigating officers for negligence or willful failure in duty. Persons arrested under this act cannot be granted bail during an initial investigation period of up to 90 days. Some human rights groups express concern that a large number of allegations made under the act are false, since the nonbailable period of detention is an effective tool for exacting personal vengeance. Typically, fewer than 3 percent of detainees under this Act are convicted. If bail is not granted, the law does not specify a time limit on pretrial detention.
Rape of female detainees in police or other official custody has been a problem. Police sometimes rape women who are not in custody. In addition after women report that they have been raped (or are involved in family disputes), they frequently are detained in "safe custody" where they endure poor conditions, and sometimes are abused or, as has been reported in prior years, are raped. Although the law prohibits women in safe custody from being housed with criminals, in practice, no separate facilities exist; therefore, women in safe custody are kept with women convicted of crimes. Men and women are detained separately. While women initially may consent to this arrangement, it often is difficult for them later to obtain their release, or to gain access to family or lawyers. There have been reports in prior years of police raping women in safe custody. By law, juveniles are required to be detained separately from adults; however, due to a lack of facilities in many areas, in practice many are housed with adult prisoners.
The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, under a longstanding "temporary" provision of the Constitution, the lower courts remain part of the executive and are subject to its influence. The higher levels of the judiciary display a significant degree of independence and often rule against the Government in criminal, civil, and even politically controversial cases; however, lower level courts are more susceptible to pressure from the executive branch. There also is corruption within the legal process, especially at lower levels. The court system has two levels: The lower courts and the Supreme Court. Both hear civil and criminal cases. The lower courts consist of magistrates, who are part of the executive branch of government, and session and district judges, who belong to the judicial branch. The Supreme Court is divided into two sections, the High Court and the Appellate Court. The High Court hears original cases and reviews cases from the lower courts. The Appellate Court has jurisdiction to hear appeals of judgments, decrees, orders, or sentences of the High Court. Rulings of the Appellate Court are binding on all other courts. The government operates courts in the regions, districts, and subdistricts that make up the local administrative system. The judges in these courts are appointed by the president through the Ministry of Law and Justice or the Ministry of Home Affairs. Most cases heard by the court system originate at the district level, although the newer subdistrict courts experienced an increased caseload in the late 1980s. Upon appeal, cases may go up to the Supreme Court, but litigation may be very slow; in 1987 there were 29 Supreme Court judges dealing with 21,600 pending cases. The Supreme Court, as of June 1988, had permanent benches--called the High Court Division-- in Dhaka, Comilla, Rangpur, Barisal, Sylhet, Chittagong, and Jessore. It hears appeals from district courts and may also judge original cases. The Appellate Division of the Supreme Court in Dhaka reviews appeals of judgment by the High Court Division. The judges of both divisions are appointed by the president. At the grass-roots level, the judicial system begins with village courts. An aggrieved party may make an official petition, which requires a fee, to the chairman of the union council (the administrative division above the village). The chairman may call a session of the village court with himself as chairman and two other judges nominated by each of the parties to the dispute. The parties may question the impartiality of the chairman and have him replaced. The majority of cases end at the village court level, which is inexpensive and which hands down judgments that reflect local opinion and power alignments. There are occasions, however, when the union council chairman may reject an official petition to constitute a village court or when one party desires a higher opinion. In these cases, the dispute goes to a government court at the subdistrict level. Cases may wind their way up from district courts to permanent benches of the High Court Division. Once cases leave the village courts, they become expensive affairs that may last for years, and few citizens have the financial resources to fund a lengthy court battle. Rapid political changes in independent Bangladesh have compromised the court system. The Constitution originally stated that the president could remove members of the Supreme Court only if two-thirds of Parliament approved, but the Proclamation (Amendment) Order of 1977 included a clause that eliminated the need for parliamentary involvement. The clause set up the Supreme Judicial Council, consisting of the chief justice and the next two senior judges. The council may determine that a judge is not "capable of properly performing the functions of his office" or is "guilty of gross misconduct." On their advice, the president may remove any judge. In addition, executive action has completely eliminated judicial authority for long periods. For example, under martial law regulations enacted in 1982, the Supreme Court lost jurisdiction over the protection of fundamental rights, and all courts operated under provisions of law promulgated by the chief martial law administrator; special and summary martial law courts handed down judgments that were not subject to review by the Supreme Court or any other court. Furthermore, the Fifth Amendment and the Seventh Amendment placed martial law proclamations and judgments outside the review of the court system. In these ways, the courts have been forced to serve the interests of the ruling regime, rather than standing as an independent branch of government.
The court system suffers from an overwhelming backlog of cases, which produces long pretrial delays. Trials underway typically are marked by extended continuances while many accused persons remain in prison. These conditions, and the corruption encountered in the judicial process, effectively prevent many persons from obtaining a fair trial or justice. According to one independent survey conducted by Transparency International Bangladesh, more than 60 percent of the persons involved in court cases paid bribes to court officials. According to research by one human rights organization, most prison inmates never have been convicted and are awaiting trial. The Government explains that many convicted persons who are appealing their cases sometimes mistakenly are counted as pretrial detainees. Government sources report that the period between detention and trial averages 6 months, but press and human rights groups report instances of pretrial detention lasting several years. Trials often are characterized by lengthy adjournments, which considerably prolong the incarceration of accused persons who do not receive bail. One human rights organization asserted that the average time in detention before either conviction or acquittal is in the range of 4 to 7 years. Reportedly some prisoners awaiting trial have been in prison longer than the maximum sentence they would receive if convicted. Due to the judicial system's million-case backlog, the Ministry of Law initiated a pilot program in Comilla offering Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) in some civil cases, whereby citizens have the opportunity to have their cases mediated by persons with a background in law before filing their cases. According to Government sources, the pilot program has been very successful, and is popular among citizens in the area. This program also has been implemented in Dhaka and Chittagong.
Trials are public. The law provides the accused with the right to be represented by counsel, to review accusatory material, to call witnesses, and to appeal verdicts. State-funded defense attorneys rarely are provided, and there are few legal aid programs to offer financial assistance. In rural areas, individuals often do not receive legal representation. In urban areas, legal counsel generally is available if individuals can afford the expense. However, sometimes detainees and suspects on police remand are denied access to legal counsel. Trials conducted under the SPA, the PSA, and the Women and Children Repression Prevention Act are similar to normal trials, but are tried without the lengthy adjournments typical in other cases. Under the provisions of the PSA and the Women and Children Repression Prevention Act, special tribunals hear cases and issue verdicts. Cases under these laws must be investigated and tried within specific time limits, although the law is unclear as to the disposition of the case if it is not finished before the time limit elapses. Persons may be tried in absentia, although this rarely is done. There is no automatic right to a retrial if a person convicted in absentia later returns. Absent defendants may be represented by state-appointed counsel, but may not choose their own attorneys, and, if convicted, may not file appeals until they return to the country.
The custody and correction of persons sentenced to imprisonment is regulated under the Penal Code of 1860, the Prisons Act of 1894, and the Prisoners Act of 1900, as amended. The prison system has expanded but in 1988 was basically little changed from the later days of the British Raj. The highest jail administration official is the inspector general of prisons or, if this office is not separately assigned, the inspector general of police. At the division level or the police range level, the senior official is called director of prisons; at the district level, he is the jail superintendent. Below the district jail level are the subdistrict and village police lockups. Dhaka Central Jail is the largest and most secure prison and has more extensive facilities than those at the successive lower echelons. Prison police usually permanently assigned to this duty staffs all installations. In general, prisons and jails have low standards of hygiene and sanitation and are seriously overcrowded. Rehabilitation programs with trained social workers were rudimentary or nonexistent through the late 1980s. Prison conditions are extremely poor for the majority of the prison population. Rape of female detainees in prison or other official custody has been a problem. Most prisons are overcrowded and lack adequate facilities. Government figures indicate that the existing prison population of roughly 66,550 is 278 percent of the official prison capacity. Of those, approximately 25 percent of those detained had been convicted and 71 percent were awaiting trial or under trial. In some cases, cells are so crowded that prisoners sleep in shifts. The Dhaka Central Jail reportedly houses more than 9,775 prisoners in a facility designed for fewer than 3,000 persons. A 1998 judicial report noted that the physical condition of jails is poor, and food is unhygenically prepared. Drugs are abused widely inside the prisons. The treatment of prisoners in the jails is not equal. There are three classes of cells: A, B, and C. Common criminals and low-level political workers generally are held in C cells, which often have dirt floors, no furnishings, and poor quality food. The use of restraining devices on prisoners in these cells is common. Conditions in A and B cells are markedly better; A cells are reserved for prominent prisoners. A new prison facility in Kashimpur, north of Dhaka, opened in September. Few facilities exist for children whose parents are incarcerated. Prison conditions are extremely poor for most prisoners. One human rights organization reported that 72 persons died in prison or police custody during the year 2000. According to credible sources, poor conditions were at least a contributing factor in many of these deaths.
Probation as a correctional program, in Bangladesh, came into existence through the promulgation of the probation of Offenders Ordinance in 1960. During second 5 - year Plan period, two projects: Probation of Offenders project and After Care Service Project were initiated (in 1962). At the beginning, these programs were started separately in ten places in the country. Later in 1965, these two projects were merged into an integrated one and since then 21 units have been in operation in 21 district headquarters (mainly old) under the management of the Social Service Department, Government of Bangladesh.
Violence against women is difficult to quantify because of unreliable statistics, but recent reports indicated that domestic violence is widespread. A report released by the U.N. Population Fund in September 2000 asserted that 47 percent of adult women report physical abuse by their male partner. Much of the violence against women is related to disputes over dowries. According to a human rights group, there were 126 dowry-related killings during the year 2000. The law prohibits rape and physical spousal abuse, but it makes no specific provision for spousal rape as a crime. According to one human rights organization, 622 women and girls were raped during the year 2000. Prosecution of rapists is uneven. While some rapists receive sentences of "life imprisonment" (in practice generally 221/2 years), other cases are settled by village arbitration councils, which do not have the authority to prosecute criminals and therefore issue only a fine. Many rapes go unreported. The Government also has enacted laws specifically prohibiting certain forms of discrimination against women, including the Dowry Prohibition Act, the Cruelty to Women Law, and the Women and Children Repression Prevention Act. However, enforcement of these laws is weak, especially in rural areas, and the Government seldom prosecutes those cases that are filed. According to a human rights organization, there are 7 government-run and 13 privately run large shelter homes available for use by women who are victims of violence. Some smaller homes also are available for victims of violence. However, these are insufficient to meet victims' shelter needs. As a result, the Government often holds women who file rape complaints in safe custody, usually in prison. Safe custody frequently results in further abuses against victims, discourages the filing of complaints by other women, and often continues for extended periods during which women often are unable to gain release.
Human rights groups and press reports indicate that incidents of vigilantism against women--sometimes led by religious leaders--at times occur, particularly in rural areas. These include humiliating, painful punishments, such as the whipping of women accused of moral offenses. Acid attacks are a growing concern. Assailants throw acid in the faces of numerous women and a small but growing number of men, leaving victims horribly disfigured and often blind. According to the Acid Survivors' Foundation, a local organization that offers assistance to acid attack victims, approximately 300 acid attacks occur each year. Nearly 80 percent of acid attack victims are female; more than 40 percent are under the age of 18. Even after extensive treatment in the country and abroad, victims remain severely scarred, making social reintegration very difficult. The most common motivation for acid-throwing attacks against women is revenge by a rejected suitor; land disputes are another leading cause of the acid attacks. Few perpetrators of the acid attacks are prosecuted. Often the perpetrator flings the acid in through an open window during the night, making cases difficult to prove. Of approximately 750 reported assaults with acid since 1998, 25 perpetrators have been found guilty. Of the 25 guilty verdicts, 9 perpetrators were sentenced to death. Sentences are commensurate with the extent of the victim's burns. The law prohibits trafficking in persons and trafficking is a serious problem. There is extensive trafficking in both women and children, primarily to India, Pakistan, and destinations within the country, mainly for the purpose of prostitution, although in some instances for labor servitude. Some children also are trafficked to the Middle East to be used as camel jockeys. The exact number of women and children trafficked for purposes of prostitution is unknown; however, human rights monitors estimate that more than 20,000 women and children are trafficked from the country for such purposes annually. Most trafficked persons are lured by promises of good jobs or marriage, and some are forced into involuntary servitude outside of the country. Seeing no alternative for breaking the cycle of poverty, parents sometimes willingly send their children away. Unwed mothers, orphans, and others outside of the normal family support system also are susceptible. Traffickers living abroad often arrive in a village and "marry" a woman, only to dispose of her upon arrival in the destination country, where women are sold by their new "friends" or "husbands" into bonded labor, menial jobs, or prostitution. Criminal gangs conduct some of the trafficking in persons. The border with India is loosely controlled, especially around Jessore and Benapole, making illegal border crossings easy. The number of child prostitutes is difficult to determine. Prostitution is legal, but only for those persons over 18 years of age with government certification; however, this minimum age requirement commonly is ignored by authorities, and is circumvented easily by false statements of age. Procurers of minors rarely are prosecuted, and large numbers of child prostitutes work in brothels. Trafficking in women for purposes of prostitution carries a sentence varying from 10 years in prison to the death penalty. Trafficking in children for immoral or illegal purposes carries the death penalty or life imprisonment. However, few perpetrators are punished. Human rights monitors also credibly report that police and local government officials often ignore trafficking in women and children for prostitution, and easily are bribed to look the other way. The number of persons arrested for trafficking is difficult to obtain as charges against traffickers usually are for lesser crimes, such as crossing borders without proper documents.
Internet research assisted by Zara Smith