Report published on the occasion of the World day against the death penalty

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On the occasion of the World Day against the Death Penalty, on October 10, FIDH and Odhikar, its member organization in Bangladesh, jointly issue a report on the administration of criminal justice in Bangladesh. This report, entitled “Criminal justice through the prism of capital punishment and the fight against terrorism”, is being presented in Dhaka, Bangladesh, to the Bangladeshi authorities, civil society and the media during an FIDH visit from 8 to 12 October.

An extremely broad range of crimes currently attracts the death penalty in Bangladesh. These include non-lethal crimes such as counterfeiting and smuggling. The imposition of mandatory death sentences for certain crimes deprives the judiciary of discretion to take into account possible extenuating circumstances. Executions are carried out in jail by hanging. Other prisoners are forced into carrying out the executions of their peers without any legal basis in domestic legislation. This practice clearly amounts to an inhuman and degrading treatment, if not to torture.

The Bangladeshi trial system appears to be imbued with violations of due process and presumption of innocence principles, at various stages, notably arrest, remand and custody. Severe delay and backlog in the court system reportedly drags cases on for years, which is especially pernicious for those held for non-bailable offences or for those who cannot afford bail. Speedy-trial courts have been established to try certain cases, although their use appears to be politically-motivated more than to hasten the process of justice. These delays often result in corruption amongst police, court clerks and government lawyers who extort bribes to expedite the release or trial of suspects. Repressive and often inhumane prison conditions perpetuate the use of bribery and extortion, further violating international standards in administration of justice and the proper treatment of prisoners.

Both the Special Powers Act of 1974 and the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) of 2009 govern the prosecution of terrorist activities. In light of the 2005 bombing campaign carried out by Jamaat-ul Mujahideen, a radical pan-Islamist organisation, against judges across Bangladesh, the need and obligation for the authorities to prosecute the authors of such outrageous attacks became clear. However, the ATA, like so many anti-terror laws passed around the world in the aftermath of 9/11, grants extraordinarily broad powers to the government, often violating the fundamental rights of its citizens. In addition, the ATA provides an extremely vague definition of terrorism, which violates the principle of legality and allows for abuse of police power, which is not consistent with definitions proposed at the international level, notably by the UN Special Rapporteur on the respect of human rights while countering terrorism.

FIDH and Odhikar suggest a number of concrete recommendations to the authorities of Bangladesh in order to address the concerns raised in their report.

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