How to read Sinha’s murder verdict
For the government, the timing of Sinha’s murder verdict on January 31 could not have been worse, with growing global scrutiny following a US sanction against the RAB for alleged human rights abuses. , including extrajudicial executions. Yet shortly after the verdict, which sentenced two policemen to death, a senior leader of the ruling Awami League said, “This proves that the Sheikh Hasina government believes in the rule of law. He said so despite the fact that the verdict blew the entire arc of history built by state officials around examples of extrajudicial executions, or any mislabeling of them. (shootout, crossfire, gunfire).
It’s policy 101 – you control the narrative regardless of what happens. You stick with it until it becomes the “truth”, and you use that “truth” as a crutch against any future allegations. So, before Sinha’s verdict too is sucked into this political vortex, it’s important that we take control of the narrative and critically examine why this verdict matters, but also why its place in history doesn’t matter. may not be as secure as many think.
What’s in the verdict? Besides sentencing OC Pradeep Kumar Das and Inspector Liaqat Ali of Teknaf to death for the ‘outright murder’ of Sinha Rashed Khan, the court also sentenced six other people to life including three cops, all by acquitting seven other police officers. To be honest, capital punishment is not something we can ethically defend. But at least now we have the comfort of knowing that these people are held responsible for a planned, cold-blooded murder.
The verdict also marks a few firsts: It’s the first time law enforcement officers in the country have been prosecuted for staging a shooting. It’s also the first court acknowledgment of how a shootout/crossfire story is concocted. Through its minute-by-minute description of the July 31, 2020 event, the court has essentially lifted the lid on all the variations of this story produced over the years. In short, what they all have in common is how law enforcement encounters a “threat” from a “criminal” or his associates, and how they are “forced” to respond (read: shoot mortally) in self-defense. By exposing this prank, the verdict showed that all shooting/crossfire incidents are fundamentally premeditated.
However, being a first can be a source of comfort, but not necessarily a badge of honor. Pradeep and Co. has done something horrible that we hope they will pay for soon enough. But Pradeep’s record shows that he had done this to many other people as well. During his two-year tenure as commander of Teknaf Police Station, more than 80 people were killed in “shootouts” involving Teknaf police alone. In a music video, Pradeep was seen boastfully advocating the killing of suspected drug dealers at a public meeting. Could Sinha’s murder, or that of all the other victims, have been prevented if he had been caught sooner? Should we be happy that Sinha got justice, or sad that others before him didn’t?
It’s not just a rhetorical question. Sinha’s murder may have been ‘pure and simple’, but for the larger context we need to simplify the circumstances in which the case progressed, gaining unprecedented momentum as it was transferred to court in Cox’s Bazar. We remember the deaf impasse between the police and the military establishments about the murder of the retired major. What chance does a victim without such powerful support have of obtaining justice so quickly?
Unfortunately, the family of a crossfire victim can rarely press charges, according to Nur Khan Liton, general secretary of Ain o Salish Kendra. The police do not want to record such cases. Even when they do, it gets tossed in a hurry or somehow falls halfway, which is why there’s been no conviction rate so far. For example, Sinha may have been the first case to earn a guilty verdict, but it was not the first to go to trial. In that first trial in 2010, the Kushtia Magistrate’s Court ruled in favor of the cops, even though the victim’s family insisted the former arrested him before “arranging” the shooting.
So while we are glad that a guilty verdict has finally been reached, and so quickly, we doubt that will be the norm in the future. So far, no official apology has been issued by the Home Office. We have not heard of any internal investigation or judicial inquiry into the other shooting cases of which Pradeep and Co. were a part. No political demand to eliminate the culture of extrajudicial executions. No official censorship of lawmakers who previously supported this culture, even in parliament. No reassessment of the strategy of violence as a first resort of our security forces. And certainly no explanation as to why this is the first verdict, and not the 100th or 500th, hypothetically speaking.
It’s like the Sinha case is an embarrassment, and the sooner it goes away, the better.
For the government, however, this particular embarrassment could last longer than expected. Although there has been a drop in the number of extrajudicial executions in recent times, he is unlikely to restore his image after US sanctions against the RAB. The verdict, far from being an affirmation of the rule of law, will instead be used as a benchmark to further validate allegations of state violence and torture. As image-conscious as this government is, it does not seem to understand that the solution really is not to ignore or cover up crimes and failures – because nothing stays hidden for long in our time – but to acknowledge them and to show sincere action to ensure they never happen again.
After Sinha’s verdict, we are told to have hope, to look ahead. But we cannot do this without also looking back. The verdict is a painful reminder that countless other victims – victims without powerful support or those whose moment of tragedy was not immortalized in a photo or viral video clip – did not get justice. Torture or executions staged by agents of the state have reached such a point that the identity of the victims no longer matters. Can we move forward without critically questioning this failure of the “rule of law” and doing something about it?
Badiuzzaman Bay is deputy editor of the Daily Star.