A Dhaka court’s comment suggesting that police should not accept cases 72 hours after a rape has sparked condemnations and protests.
Hours after the verdict by a Dhaka tribunal acquitting five persons of rape charges, rights activists and people from different occupations took to the streets at midnight on Thursday and held a torch procession from Shahbagh to the Jatiya Sangsad.
The protesters included university teachers, students and artists. They demanded justice for all sorts of violence against women and chanted slogans like “Is rape legal after 72 hours?” and “We want safety day and night”.
Speaking at the event, Jahangirnagar University’s Professor Rehnuma A1hmed said that the court was responsible for ensuring justice, and it cannot give a character certificate.
“It cannot say that the police will not take cases after 72 hours. What will the police do if someone is raped and confined for 72 hours?” she asked.
The speakers also demanded scrapping Section 155 (4) from the Testimony Act, 1872 as the law allows character assassination of rape victims in court, and introducing suitable methods instead of the two-finger test for rape survivors.
Among others, photojournalist Shahidul Islam and founder of Gonoshasthaya Kendra Zafrullah Chowdhury took part in the program.
On Thursday, the judge asked the police to refrain from receiving a case if a rape victim came to the police station 72 hours after the incident. “Semen” cannot be traced after 72 hours,” the judge said.
The tribunal acquitted the five accused including Apan Jewellers owner’s son of raping two university students in the city’s Raintree Hotel four years ago.
The court said that the prosecution had failed to prove the charges and wasted the court’s time. The two students had sex with the accused willingly. The medical report also failed to prove rape.
The judge also made some observations regarding the two women’s lifestyle and physique, which enraged the rights activists.
Bangladesh Mahila Parishad in a statement said that restrictions on filing lawsuits would reduce access to justice, which is contrary to basic human rights.
Moreover, medical reports are not the only evidence in rape cases. There is much more evidence that is circumstantial, in the light of which the trial in the case proceeds.
“If the court comments on the creation of such restrictions, it will create various obstacles in the way of getting justice in future rape cases,” the statement read.
The rights organization Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK) also expressed concerns over the issue.
According to the Code of Criminal Procedure, the existing legal system does not have a time limit for prosecuting a crime. There are instances of cases and trials being conducted even after many years of a crime being committed.
“While there has been repeated emphasis on ensuring speedy justice in the prevention of rape of women and children and the High Court has issued several landmark directives in this regard, the court’s observation and guidance in this case has disappointed us,” ASK said.
“We firmly believe that such observations and directives of the court are in fact in deep conflict with the existing law and justice system.”
Meanwhile, human rights activist Sultana Kamal has said that the court’s observation is an obstacle to ensuring justice.
She advised women to lodge cases even if the time exceeded 72 hours.
“We want people who were tortured in any way to get justice. When the justice system goes against the victims, it becomes frustrating,” she told Bangla Tribune.
The former caretaker government adviser also said that modern technology was advanced and hence it was not necessary to go for medical examinations within 72 hours of a rape incident.
“There are DNA testing methods available too which can help the police or court find evidence of rape.
“So, asking the police to not take a case after 72 hours is a questionable directive,” she added.
BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir has said that the Banani rape case verdict was an insult to the women of this country.
“The brutal incident took place, and we have proof of it in the case files and in the newspapers. So why have all the accused been acquitted by the court?” he demanded to know at a meeting in the capital on Friday.
“Is this because the accused are influential people having lots of money? Is this why they have been acquitted?”
The BNP leader also expressed his disappointment saying that this sort of verdict in such sensitive cases could not be acceptable. “It is an insult to the women of this nation,” he added.