A meticulous account of how three men were forced to falsely confess to killing a Narayanganj girl, who disappeared and resurfaced one-and-a-half months later
They took him to a dark room in the police station, tied him up, turned him upside down, and hung him from the ceiling before pouring hot water through his mouth and nose. The torture continued in phases.
Md Abdullah went through this torture as police wanted to obtain his confession about a supposedly raped and murdered girl in Narayanganj.
"Sir, you can kill me but I would still say I did not murder her. I cannot make a false confession," Abdullah told his torturers.
His words enraged Shamim Al-Mamun, sub-inspector (SI) of Narayanganj Sadar Model Police Station, Mostafizur Rahman, officer-in-charge (OC-investigation), and policeman Abdul Hye. He was then subjected to another level of torture – inserting of needles underneath the fingernails.
At one stage, Abdullah could not take it anymore and gave in. To save his life, he agreed to make a confession in court.
This is how Abdullah, who confessed to raping and killing Jisa Akhter, described his ordeal to The Business Standard.
Jisa– also known as Jisa Moni, a fifth-grader – came back one and a half months after she had gone missing on 4 July this year and this put the authenticity of the case and police investigation into question.
Instead of returning home that day Jisa had eloped with her friend Iqbal, it was later revealed.
After Jisa turned up alive, the matter was taken to the High Court at the initiative of some local lawyers and the court ordered the chief judicial magistrate of Narayanganj to investigate the matter.
Abdullah, the prime accused in the case, told TBS that Jisa's parents came to his home around midday on 6 August. He was sleeping at that time.
"They were accompanied by SI Shamim and several other police officers. Jisa's parents asked me about the whereabouts of their daughter. They accused me of killing her," he recalled.
"Police detained me and Rakib, an autorickshaw driver, and took us to the police station. On the way, SI Shamim started beating us heavily. Jisa's parents also beat me," said Abdullah.
Upon reaching the police station, Abdullah was first taken to OC Mostafizur's room. The officer started beating him with a baton.
"Where have you kept the girl? Bring her out," the OC demanded of him.
Abdullah told the OC that he had hung out with Jisa on 4 July for the whole day and dropped her off at her home before evening.
"They detained me at the station for the whole day and tortured me. In the evening, they framed me in a case. They took me to court the next day and petitioned for two days' remand. The court granted it," said Abdullah.
Showing torture marks on his body, Abdullah said, "When the remand began at the police station, SI Shamim tied my hands behind my back and blindfolded me with a black cloth. He held a gun to my head, and hit me with its butt on the head and both feet. He threatened to kill me in a crossfire and said I had raped Jisa, strangled her to death, and then dumped the body in the River Shitalakshya."
Abdullah told the OC he had not killed the girl, and this infuriated him. Abdullah was then taken to a dark room in the police station.
"They tied me up, turned me upside down, and hung me from the ceiling. Then, SI Shamim and policeman Abdul Hye entered the room. They began pouring hot water on my mouth and nose, and this continued at15-minute intervals.
"They then brought me down and sat me on a chair. My hands were still tied behind my back. With a rope, Abdul Hye tied my legs to the chair. Then the OC insisted that I confess to killing the girl," said Abdullah.
"Sir, I did not kill her. How can I confess it?" he told the police officials.
They started stabbing his body with needles and inserting the sharp thing underneath his fingernails, he alleged.
"I was in extreme pain but I did not agree to the false confession," Abdullah told TBS.
"Then they started pouring hot water again. I could not take it anymore. I became disoriented at some point. I told them I would confess in court whatever they wanted me to."
"Please, don't kill me!" he had implored the police officials.
"They said I would have to say in court that I had hung out with Jisa, raped her on a boat, strangled her to death, and got rid of the body by throwing it in the River Shitalakshya.
"They took me to the court and reminded me of making the confession as they had told me to.
"They also threatened to take me in remand again or kill me in a crossfire if I did not do as I was told. I was scared and finally confessed to raping and killing Jisa," Abdullah said.
Abdullah's father Amzad Hossain runs a betel leaf and cigarette shop at Galachipa rail gate area, where he had met Jisa one and a half months before her disappearance. He said they developed a romantic relation and first hung out on 4 July.
How boatman Khalilur was implicated in the case
By torturing in a similar way, police forced boatman Khalilur Rahman, another accused in the case, to make a confession.
Police needed a boatman to prove the charges against Abdullah. OC Mostafizur and SI Shamim planned to incriminate Khalilur Rahman, a boatman at ghat No 5 in Narayanganj Bandar area.
Abdullah said the police had told him that they would bring someone to him.
"You will just say 'yes' when we bring that person to you," they told him.
Khalilur was brought to him on the night of 8 August. Abullah had never seen him before.
"I didn't want to implicate an innocent person in a false case. So, when they brought Khalilur to me, I could not say anything. SI Shamim prodded me with a stick and signalled with his eyes, commanding me to say 'yes'," Abdullah said.
"Khalilur was with you on the day of the incident," SI Shamim told Abdullah, expecting an affirmation.
Abdullah gave in and nodded to say yes.
Later, based on his confession, Khalilur was incriminated in the case.
Khalilur told TBS he went to his home at Ekrampur in the afternoon on 8 August. He returned to ghat No 5 with his three daughters for a walk around. That is when SI Shamim took him and five other boatmen to the police station, saying it was an emergency.
"Of the six men, I was the first to see Abdullah. The police insisted Abdullah and I had raped Jisa on the boat before killing her. I told them I had never seen Abdullah and I also did not know who Jisa was. I also told them Abdullah and Jisa had not got on my boat," Khalilur recalled.
Police asked Abdullah again whether he was with Khalilur. Abdullah nodded.
"They then took me to another room and told me they would take me to court the next day (9 August). They told me I would have to confess to the magistrate that Abdullah and I had raped and strangled Jisa to death before throwing her body in the river.
"When I did not agree, they began torturing me," said Khalilur.
In a room at the police station, they tied him up, covered his face with a gamchha, and hung him from the ceiling invertedly before pouring hot water on his face.
"When they poured hot water, I struggled to breathe. They kept torturing me and threatened that they would kill me in a crossfire if I did not confess.
"Anyone will die if subjected to this kind of torment.
"They tortured me, locked me up in the police station and forced me to make the false confession. The next day, I confessed before the court to doing what I had not done," said Khalilur.
He secured a bail in the case.
How autorickshaw driver Rakib was named in the case
Around a month and a half before the case was filed, Abdullah and Jisa had hung out in Narayanganj Bandar area and took a ride in an auto rickshaw driven by Rakib.
When police quizzed Rakib, he said he had dropped them off in the Bandar area in the afternoon.
"I do not know what happened next," he told the police.
His elder brother Md Rajib told TBS that police came to their village to detain Abdullah, and also talked to Rakib and the Panchayat Committee about the incident.
"Later, police took him and Abdullah to the police station. My brother was made the second accused in the case. Rakib told the court that Abdullah and Jisa had a ride on his auto rickshaw and that he had dropped them off at Bandar."
Why the false case was filed
Abdullah's father Amzad Hossain claimed that police at Narayanganj Sadar Police Station had earlier extorted large sums from him several times by threatening that they would implicate him in a narcotics case.
"As the Jisa incident involved Abdullah, police made another attempt to take money from me. SI Shamim had demanded an impossible amount from me. After I said I couldn't pay, they filed the false case," he said.
Abdullah's mother Sheuli claimed SI Shamim had taken Tk10,000 in two instalments through his source Kislu promising that her son would not be subjected to torture.
"But he still tortured my son brutally. I met him in the court area after Jisa's return. He approached me and told me he would return the money. He also asked me not to disclose this to anyone."
Abdullah's lawyer Md Rokon Uddin told TBS, "Police tortured them and forced them to make false confessions in the court."
What Jisa's father says
Jisa's father Md Jahangir told TBS that Abdullah and Rakib had called his daughter before going out together.
He said he had searched for Jisa widely including in his relatives' places but could not find her. Fifteen days after the incident, he filed a general diary with police.
"I found out the call came from Rakib's phone. When I talked to Rakib, Abdullah's name came up. Police arrested them and remanded them. They confessed to raping and killing my daughter," Jahangir said.
"Police told me that Abdullah had mentioned boatman Khalilur in his confession. Later, police implicated Khalilur also."
Speaking about Jisa's return, Jahangir said, "According to her, she had stayed with a 50-years-old man named Iqbal for one and a half months in Nabiganj.
"After Jisa returned, we sued Iqbal on charge of luring an underage girl into marrying him. He is under arrest now in that case."
Jahangir also said Jisa and Iqbal got introduced on the phone and later she decided to elope with him.
Statements of the accused policemen
SI Shamim, the first investigating officer of the case who is now suspended, told TBS that the arrestees had willingly confessed in court.
"They also confessed in front of the magistrate that police had not tortured them. A committee was formed at a higher level to investigate the case. I cannot give any more details," he said.
OC Mostafizur said he was not investigating the case.
"I know nothing about this," he said and hung up.
According to the case document, an abduction case was filed on 6 August after Jisa had gone missing. Later, confessions of the accused were obtained and it became a rape and murder case.
The three accused were sent to jail but things took an unexpected turn when Jisa returned home on 24 August.
The following day, five Supreme Court lawyers brought the matter of obtaining false confessions from Abdullah and Khalilur to the attention of the High Court bench comprising Justice M Enayetur Rahim and Justice Md Mostafizur Rahman.
After a hearing on 27 August, the court ordered SI Shamim and incumbent Investigating Officer SI Mostafizur Rahman to appear before it with the case document. They did so on 17 September and presented their explanations, saying the accused had willingly confessed in court.
The court on 24 September ordered the chief judicial magistrate of Narayanganj to investigate the case and submit a report by 4 November. But no report was submitted so far, said Reza Al Amir, one of the five lawyers who filed the writ with the High Court seeking investigation over the incident.
Nur Mohammad, former inspector general of police and an incumbent parliamentarian, described obtaining false confessions through torture as a heinous crime.
"It is a serious crime to accuse some innocent people in a murder case by forcefully obtaining false confessions under Section 164 without any scrutiny," he said.
The former police chief said the accused in the case were not involved in the incident.
"Higher officials have the responsibility to oversee the investigation and how investigators are obtaining confessions. In this case, those higher officials have shown negligence, and I think there should be an investigation into their actions, too," Nur Mohammad said.
Human rights worker Nur Khan Liton, former executive director of Ain O Salish Kendra, told TBS, "According to the families of the accused, police demanded money and did not get it. That is why they forced the accused to make false confessions in court."
He said the whole police department had been mired in controversy for such actions of some policemen.
"Only suspending or dismissing them will not be enough. Criminal cases have to be filed against them to ensure that they get due punishment," said the rights activist.
According to the Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention) Act, a law enforcement official will face a minimum of five years of imprisonment and fine if an incident of torture is proved. Also, the guilty will face a life sentence if such torture leads to the death of the confessor.
Supreme Court lawyer barrister Joytirmoy Barua told TBS that the act is meant to ensure citizens' safety but its enforcement is very poor.
"No action is taken by the police after such incidents of torture either," he said.
Joytirmoy said those who are subjected to torture by the police or other law enforcement units become too discouraged to file any case under this act.
He said three police officials were sentenced to life imprisonment and fined in the case filed over the 2014 killing of a young man named Jony in the custody of Pallabi Police Station.
"This verdict will act as a milestone," added Joytirmoy.