About 200,000 cases remain pending with woman and child repression prevention tribunals in 64 districts countrywide, many of which have been awaiting disposal for as long as 10 years
More than one and a half decades have passed since Abbas Ali filed a case in the rape and murder of his brother's wife, Farzia, at their own house in Dhaka.
He has literally become tired after moving around the court all these many years. But police have not been able to arrest any accused in the case, nor has the trial been completed in 16 years.
It is not just the Farzia rape and murder case. About 200,000 cases remain pending with woman and child repression prevention tribunals in 64 districts countrywide, according to the latest estimate by the Supreme Court. Out of these cases, about 40,000 have been pending for more than five years.
Again, about 70% of these 40,000 cases have been awaiting more than 10 years to be disposed of, said retired district judge Syed Aminul Islam, former registrar general of the Supreme Court.
The Farzia rape and murder case filed at Parshampur police station has been pending at a Dhaka court. The trial could not be disposed of as an investigating officer did not testify in the case, said Sabina Akter Deepa, a public prosecutor of the court concerned.
Abbas said his brother, expatriate Zahirul Islam Hafeez, married a Sri Lankan national, Sarah Ummah, in 1999 during his stay in Kuwait. After the marriage, he changed his wife's name to Farzia.
On April 11, 2003, Hafeez came back to the country along with his wife and only child, 3-year-old Shakil. He moved to his house on Shyampur Zia Sarani Gas Road in the capital.
Abul, a tenant at the house, his brother-in-law Mofiz Sarkar and friend Abu Zar alias Abu Zaher raped Farzia and strangled her to death after 10pm on January 27, 2004.
Trials of cases filed under the Woman and Child Repression (Prevention) Act do not end easily although the law has a provision for a quick disposal of these cases. As a result, the relevant tribunals have been experiencing a serious backlog of such cases.
Advocate Salma Ali, president of Bangladesh National Women Lawyers Association, said the law required the cases to be disposed of within 180 days but there is no record of the cases being completed on time.
There are thousands of cases that have been pending for more than a decade. The number of cases is much higher while, at the same time, the government does not have much initiative to settle the cases quickly, she added.
Trials in these cases are being delayed and the accused are walking around openly on bail. Defendants in most cases are often influential and they influence the judiciary in many ways, she explained.
The government should also take initiatives to enhance the skills of lawyers and judges in these cases, she stated.
Ayesha Khanam, president of Bangladesh Mahila Parishad, said the accused are being acquitted in 98% of cases. As a result, the tendency to commit the same crime is not decreasing.
Four years after the rape and murder of Sohagi Jahan Tanu, a student of history at Victoria Government College in Cumilla, no progress has been witnessed in the investigation into the case. There are many more such cases which have been pending for years for justice.
Sumaiya Akhter and her classmate Happy, two 8th graders at Mostafapur High School in Madaripur, were poisoned to death after being raped five years ago. The incident caused a stir across the country. The victims' families filed two separate cases seeking punishment of the rapists.
But their wait for justice is far from over. The accused have not even been listed in the chargesheet.
But as yet, no hearing has been held on the appeal at the Madaripur Woman and Child Repression Prevention Tribunal. The family of the deceased say that the police have intentionally removed the accused from the list to save them.
Law Minister Advocate Anisul Huq told The Business Standard that the law ministry has taken steps to expedite the disposal of cases with the woman and child repression prevention tribunals. Last year, 41 new tribunals were formed in 18 districts.
The ministry has also set up a monitoring committee to expedite the disposal of these cases, and the body is working toward that goal, he also said.
Regarding the rape and murder of Farzia 16 years ago, the minister said, "I have instructed the officials concerned at the ministry to make a list of such old cases. They are working. Initiatives will be taken for a speedy trial of those cases."
In a media statement, the Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK) on October 1 said 975 women were raped in the country in the last nine months, with an average of more than three a day.
Of these, 208 women were gang-raped. Besides, 43 were killed after rape and 12 committed suicide after being raped.
During this period, 161 women were sexually harassed, 12 of whom committed suicide afterwards. And 3 women and 9 men were killed for protesting sexual harassment.
Nur Khan, secretary general of the ASK Executive Committee, told The Business Standard that 1,413 women were raped across the country in 2019. In 2018, the number of rape victims was 732. Such incidents comparatively increased till October this year.
"The lack of rule of law and of justice for those involved in women repression is causing a rise in both the number and scale of these crimes. Criminals are constantly committing these crimes in more perverted ways. The Noakhali incident is big proof of that."
In the Nusrat Jahan Rafi murder case in Feni, the court ensured exemplary punishment for the culprits in a short period of time. Every case needs to be tried in a similar manner, Nur Khan opined.
Now it is seen that perpetrators of significant incidents of rape and torture have some connections, by any means, with the ruling party. Besides, many say a speedy trial of these cases is not possible without direct instructions from the prime minister, he said.
All concerned need to be more conscious to expedite the trials of these cases and stop the tendency to wait for instructions from the prime minister or anyone in power regarding the trial of each case, Nur Khan added.