Prisoners’ Rights and the Reality in Bangladesh
Rajib Hossain: If you are a human kept in a cage like an animal without giving basic essential rights and necessities, what will be your approach to that situation? Prisoners are in general treated like this. There is no society,country,or an era that is free from crimes. People have been committing crimes since the creation of the Earth. We will be digitalized, but the question arises– is it possible for a country to be digitalized or upgrading without considering the prisoner society?
According to Section 3(1) of the Prisoners Act 1984, ‘Prison’ means any jail or place used permanently or temporarily under the general or special orders of the government for the detention of prisoners and includes all lands and buildings appurtenant thereto. Section 1 of the Prison Security Act 1992 states that ‘prisoner’ means any person for the time being in prison as a result of any requirement imposed by a court or otherwise that he be detained in legal custody. So, a prisoner is a person generally confined in jail or prison under a lawful order of a competent court or tribunal for the violation of any existing law of the territory.
According to the report of the Ministry of Home Affairs on the current prison rate of Bangladesh published in February 2020, the total prison population including pre-trial detainees /remand prisoners is almost 88084, and the prison population rate per 100,000 of the national population is almost 52 based on an estimated national population of 169.76 million at February 2020 ( from United Nations figures).
Laws relating to the prisoners in Bangladesh:
There are basically three Acts which states the rights, obligations of the prisoners, and authorities of the prison-
- The Bengal Jail Code, 1864(now amended as The Prisons Act, 1894)
- The Prisoners Act, 1900
- The Constitution of Bangladesh
The Bengal Jail Code 1864 clearly states that the provisions of the Civil Procedure Code (Act V of 1908), The Code of Criminal Procedure (Act V of 1898 as amended),and the Penal Code (Act XIV of 1860 as amended)which relate to the confinement of prisoners, execution of sentence, prisoners appeal, lunatics and the like must also be complied with.
- Rights under Prison Act 1894:
It is to be noted that prisons still follow the outdated statute books of the British colonial rulers which were framed in the 19th century. The main purpose of the prison system was the confinement and safe custody of prisoners through suppressive and punitive measures. Sections 4, 7, 13, 27 to 39 of this Act especially focus the sufficient facilities for prisoners. This Act contains the basic necessities of prisoners, separate rooms for various kinds of prisoners, employment for prisoners and medical facilities,etc.
Section 4 states that,
The government shall provide sufficient accommodations in prisons according to the laws especially as per the requisition of the Act considering the separation of the prisoners.
Section 27(1) states that-
The female prisoners shall be imprisoned in separate buildings or separate part of the same buildings in such a manner as to prevent their seeing or conversing or holding any intercourse with the male prisoners.
Section 27(2) states that the male prisoners who have not attained the age of 21 or under the age of 21 shall be separated from other prisoners. Prisoners who have not attained the age of puberty shall be separated from the others, who have attained the age of puberty.It is the duty of the jail authority to separate the civil prisoners from the criminal prisoners.
Section 29 enumerates that a cell shall only be used for solitary confinement if it is furnished with the means of enabling the prisoners to communicate at any time with an officer of the prison or any authority and if prisoners so confined in a cell for more than 24 hours, shall be visited at least once a day by the medical officer or medical subordinates, whether as a punishment or otherwise.
Section 33(1)that every civil prisoners and criminal prisoners who are not convicted shall be provided by the Superintendent with such clothing and bedding as may be necessary. But this right is only being given to those who are unable to provide him with sufficient clothing and bedding. Whereas Section 33(2) says for the above provision, such a person or his representative shall pay the cost of those cloths provided to the prisoners.
Section 37 states that,if any prisoner seeks medical attention or anybody appears before the authority for him, the name of such prisoner shall be reported by the officer in immediate charge of such prisoners to the jailer.
- Rights under the Prison Act 1900:
This Act mainly focuses on the right of lunatic prisoners. If the government has reasonable ground to believe that any person detained or imprisoned under any order or sentence of any court is of unsound mind or lunatic, then the government shall order his removal to a lunatic asylum or other place of safe custody within Bangladesh, to be kept according to the government direction.
- Rights under the Constitution of Bangladesh:
The enumerated Articles in Part III of the Constitution are the fundamental rights for a human being. Article 35(2)states,
No person shall be punished twice for any offence for which he has already convicted and be punished.
The accused also not to be subjected to a penalty greater than or different from,except mentioned in the law in force at the time of the Commission of the offence. Article 35(3) states that,persons accused of any criminal offence shall have the right to get a speedy and fair trial by a legally authorized body, a court. The court must be independent and will act impartially as well as without any interference from any sources. The court must also be established by the statute or by any law. The court will be open for all subject to the jurisdiction of a court.Article 35(5) states, “No person shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment or treatment.
The reality of the prisoners’ condition in prison cells:
The present scenario of our prison system does not comply with the laws, rules, and provisions of our country.Among the plenty of problems existing- food supply, accommodation, communication system, health service, cloths supply, harsh mental and physical torture, punishment carried out by jail authority not coherent with the sentence given by the court, corruption and other malpractices by jail authority, criminally-minded prisoners in prison, death sin jail custody, children staying with their detained mothers in jail, detention of the prisoners without making trial, lack of proper implementation of the budget for the prisoners, lack of proper arrangement of recreation, inadequate vocational training programs-are the major violation of rights of the prisoners in a prison cell at present.
There are 68 prisons in Bangladesh, whereas 13 are central prisons and 55 are district prisons. The official capacity of prison system is 40944 in February 2020 (report published by the ministry of home affairs). According to the statistics given by the Bangladesh Society for the enforcement of human rights between 1,150 and 1,200 prisoners enter and leave the system everyday.
But the statistics are not the utmost truth. According to the former Inspector General of prison Md. Zakir Hasan, the total prison population in Bangladesh, including those in jail waiting for trial but not those detained in the police station,is approximately 86,100, which are 3.5 times greater than the Countries maximum prison capacity.
Deputy Inspector General(DIG) of prisons Bazlur Rahman told the Independent News, they have sent to the proposal to the Home ministry for increasing the allocation of special day meal after evaluating the regular market price. At the time of breakfast,the prisoners are provided 14-gram jaggery and 87 gram of bread,which is a hardship for a human being.The lunch menu is rice, one piece of fish 29 gram or meat 36 gram, vegetables 247 gram while dinner comprises rice, vegetables, and lentil.These items of food are not well-cooked, well-served and sufficient for a person to live properly, especially for a pregnant woman.
Besides, in every prison,there exists mental harassment for money to the prisoners. New prisoners get a minimum opportunity if they do not contact the jail security through an agreement that is based on money. Money is a real factor in jail. With no money, they are treated inhuman, mentally harassed, physically tortured by prison security or by authority, and even threatened to be accused in a terrorist case.
Daily goods are being sold more than the market price. If anyone tries to protest, his or her life becomes a living hell. Moreover, the dominating prisoners’group exercises unlawful power to humiliate and torture the new prisoners. Females are being assaulted regularly by the male authorities. Women have to bear inhuman torture and sexual assault more often.
What should be the mandate for the protection of prisoner’s rights in Bangladesh?
- Rights of prisoners must be implemented according to law.
- 68 teams by Human Rights Commission should be constructed(as there are 68 jails), each consisting of 5 members and one team for one prison. Their primary function should be to visit each prison by the respective team to focus and evaluate how much rights given by law are being properly implemented by the jail authority. They must have the freedom to perform their function.
- To eradicate corruption from prisons, the Human Rights Commission, the Anti Corruption Commission, and the non-government organizations should play a vital role.
- Our media must have given the full liberty to access the prison, to oversee how much rights are being implemented by the authority.
- The communication system should be flexible and comfortable so that the prisoners can communicate with their respective lawyers and family members.
- The prison separation system must be dealt with great consideration. Under-trial prisoners must be separated from convicted prisoners. Women’s prisons must be separated from male prisons.All accommodations and daily used things of man must also be separated from female prisoners.
- Recreational activities should be arranged for certain times for the prisoners’ mental health, and the recreational items should be updated.
- Prisoners should be engaged in labor in considering their physical condition. No harsh labor should be imposed on the prisoner.
- Sufficient medical facilities should be provided according to the physical condition of the prisoners
Human dealings, good behavior, mutual respect, and a decent environment are essential for an ideal prison system. We should not make a prison a punishment center; rather,it should be treated as a rehabilitation center. Afterwards, the prison slogan “Prisoners will be kept in safe and showed the way of light”will come true.
Rajib Hossain: Student, Department of Law, Jagannath University.