(New York) – The Bangladesh government should immediately halt the imminent execution of three men convicted of a May 2004 grenade attack, which targeted the then British High Commissioner, Anwar Choudhury. Chowdhury survived the attack that took place outside the Hazrat Shahjalal shrine in Sylhet district, but was among dozens injured by the blasts. Three police officers were killed.
On March 19, 2017, the country’s apex court rejected the final review application of the three men on death row, all alleged members of the banned militant group Harkat-ul-Jihad (HuJI). The three men are: Mufti Abdul Hannan, HuJI founder, and two activists in the group, Sharif Shahedul Alam Bipul and Delwar Hossain Ripon.
“Criminals need to be punished, but Bangladesh is moving in the wrong direction by invoking the death penalty,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Bangladesh should instead initiate an immediate moratorium on capital punishment because it is inherently cruel and irreversible, and should never be used, regardless of the crime.”
The evidence against the three men is primarily based on their confessions, statements that magistrates say were freely given in front of them but that the men have said were forcibly extracted through torture in police custody. Human Rights Watch has previously documented numerous cases of torture to coerce confessions, and due process violations in the Bangladesh criminal justice system that have made it difficult for defendants to receive a fair trial, including in capital cases.
Noting that "custodial torture has become a persistent trend in Bangladesh," the country’s National Human Rights Commission recently said that, "Indiscriminate order of remand for extracting confessions immensely contributes to a culture of custodial torture."
Court documents show that Hannan had spent 77 days, and Bipul and Ripon 40 days each, in police custody prior to giving their confessions. During this time and throughout their interrogation, the accused were not provided access to any legal representation. All three confessions were made during this period.
Bangladesh courts have accepted allegations in previous cases that torture takes place in police custody, and local, and international human rights organizations contend that the practice is widespread. Nevertheless, the appeals court stated that, “These confessions are natural, voluntary, inculpatory, and corroborative to each other,” and were not “procured from them by means of coercion, duress, or torture.”
The United Nations Human Rights Committee, which interprets the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Bangladesh is a signatory, has stated that there must be no “direct or indirect physical or undue psychological pressure from the investigating authorities on the accused, with a view to obtaining a confession of guilt. That all three convictions are based on interrogations without a lawyer present strongly suggests that they violated article 14 of the ICCPR on the right to a fair trial.
Human Rights Watch opposes capital punishment in all countries and under all circumstances. Capital punishment is unique in its cruelty and finality, and it is inevitably and universally plagued with arbitrariness, prejudice, and error. A majority of countries in the world have abolished the practice. In 2012, the United Nations General Assembly called on countries to establish a moratorium on the use of the death penalty, progressively restrict the practice, and reduce the offenses for which it might be imposed, all with the view toward its eventual abolition.
“Delivering justice requires adhering to the highest standards, particularly when a life is at stake, and there can be no room for doubts or mistakes,” Adams said. “Human Rights Watch has long supported justice and accountability for militant attacks, but we have also stated repeatedly that these trials have to meet international fair trial standards, and call upon Bangladesh to reject the death penalty.”