Political Prisoners in the Brute Death Cell

আপডেট: মে ১, ২০২৩

Shamsur Rahman Shimul Biswas:

At the time of establishing the prison, one of the aims was to render it a correctional center. The code of conduct was also formulated with the said goal in mind. Provision for some punitive measures including imprisonment of different terms, considering the level of crimes, was also put in place to correct the inmates,and to that end, facilities for accommodation, feeding, sleeping, and movement in the prison were kept limited. A definite set of written rules called the ‘Jail Code’ was drawn up tuning with the types of crimes. Succinct rooms of 6 to 8 feet used for housing the death row convicts are called ‘Condemned’ cells in the jail code. Walk-in-gallows-convicts are kept in these solitary confines having neither any door nor any window. The only means of light and air is a nest-like ventilator of iron fixed at the ceiling of these closed confines. The light and air that pass through it are barely adequate for one to breathe and visualize anything distinctly. Electric light has to be kept switched on day in and day out. Damp walls with no regular cleansing spread suffocating stink throughout the cell. Infested with mosquitoes, flies, and cockroaches, one’s misery knows no bounds. This is, as it were, another prison within a prison reminiscent of Hitler’s Concentration Camp, Guantanamo Bay, or another branch of Abu Gharib. To me it seemed so all the time as I was dumped in one such solitary cell; every minute, hour, day, and night spent there hardly matched the outside world. Words can neither make one understand, nor express it in writing the pitiful distress of the tormented inmates. Time hangs so heavy as it looks like the gloom of night round the clock. There is no way one can literally differentiate between sunrise and sunset.

One who commits an unpardonable crime might accept such a situation out of severe compunction; but how about one who was not wrong, instead through protesting against injustice, the thought of the country above personal interests, and devoting oneself to the ongoing movement for the restoration of democratic rights? How would he correct himself in this pointless so-called correctional centre? Could he at all get corrected? Events that were made to happen that day are not covered under the code of conduct. The people picked up from the Nayapaltan central office on the 7th to defeat the party’s rally on the 10th of January were BNP’s top and mid-level leaders, grassroots workers and even there were ordinary passers-by. Everyone, especially the leaders was accommodated in the death chamber, the condemned cell for the death row convicts. Let alone myself, who spent long a period of his youth in odd places like jungles in the name of social revolution; how about MirzaFakhrul Islam Alamgir, the Secretary General of BNP and former Minister, a peace-loving politician with a proud and clean image passing the night on the floor of death cell! This inhuman sight caught me by utter surprise. Dumped in the said dampened death cell was former Mayor of undivided Dhaka Mirza Abbas, also one of BNP Standing Committee members, Rizvi Ahmed, a people’s leader shot during the anti-autocracy movement in the 90s, Abdus Salam, a brave freedom fighter and ex-Deputy Mayor of Dhaka, KhairulKabirKhokon, former GS of DUCSU, former MPs like FazlulHaqMilon, ShaheedUddinChowdhury Anny, Selim Reza Habib, a valiant freedom fighter AbulHossain Khan, Ex-president of Student Union MostafizurRahman Babul, DUCSU’s senate member ABM MosarrafHossain, MunirHossain, SelimuzzamanSelim, Dhaka District BNP President Khandaker Abu Ashfaq, Youth Dal President Sultan SalauddinTuku, Nurul Islam Nayan, old-Dhaka Commissioner MosharrafHossainKhokon, many innocent celebrated scholars, college and university teachers, brave freedom fighters, professionals, public representatives, and numerous other political prisoners.

Such a horrible sight of the senior leaders who dedicated themselves to the cause of the democratic movement reminded me of the war days. Did they go to war risking their lives to see such a country at this age of their lives? In the jail code, there is a term called ‘Division’. People of social and political status enjoy the privilege of division in prison. The purpose of the provision of division is to provide someone to some extent the opportunity to live the life he is used to. For example, the life of a sneak thief and that of a college teacher is not the same. Putting the college or university teacher in the same room as the paltry thieves is in no way appropriate. That is why people with distinguished backgrounds performing duties of the state are entitled to division in the prison with facilities of a separate room, a bed, a table chair, a TV, some magazines to read, and better food. Here too, I am nowhere visa-vis the top leaders. Where BNP Secretary General and former Minister MirzaFakhrul Islam Alamgir are denied division, and former Mayor of Undivided Dhaka Mirza Abbas has to stay in a solitary cell, I am but a small fry!

Just as a fever is only a symptom of some disease in the body, not itself a disease, flouting the written prison rules giving pain to the political prisoners by keeping them in condemned cells, and negating civil rights to the division are all symptoms of a bigger disease ‘Fascism’, which settled in the heart of this country after One- Eleven. Fascism has one after another gulped the people who are the owners of the state, human rights, civil rights, the right to vote, and even the right to speak. There is a legislature that regularly sits; a law is passed, but none of the members is the people’s representative. Laws are passed to exploit and rule the people of the country. The right of the judiciary to conduct an impartial trial is questionable. The same is the case with Public Administration where, if police are stripped of their uniform the real face of a group of Awami goons will be exposed. From secretaries down to peons, public employees have today turned into owners of the country. On the other hand, the people, the real owners of the state have become their subjects. This is how they have eventually destroyed each and every institution of the country. Today, fascism is dancing naked on top of the said rubble.

In a recent speech after being freed from prison, the BNP Secretary General said regretfully, “I myself saw in the prison how our leaders and workers are in dire straits in jail, living an inhumane life.” The Secretary-General raised strong demands for freeing us from jail by naming us one by one. You know, one cannot talk from such a position of high responsibility about one’s own suffering in jail. The following day I read the newspaper and understood he himself had suffered a lot in jail. That’s why the Secretary-General could fathom our sufferings from his heart.
Every event has a positive aspect; this is how revolutionaries, political leaders, and activists come closer to one another. In fact, the target of the fascists this time was to scare the anti-fascist political leaders and activists, to create among them a jail phobia so that once they think of jail, they get frightened and their hearts tremble. But does it really happen? Instead, the seeds of rebellion and the urge for freedom get germinated at the fag-end of persecution. History teaches us the same. The fascists through the ages tried to hold onto power through intimidation but failed. The present regime can’t either. Examples are aplenty, however, I would not go for that. Look at the speeches of the Secretary-General after his release from jail and his actions. Talking to the journalists he complained, “In jail we


were subjected to unimaginable treatment.” He mentioned how he and his other colleagues were kept waiting in the jail office for two hours for no reason; it was to buy time to locate them, in the name of quarantine, in the death cells, and put the leaders under intense mental agony. Though each of the senior leaders was given a separate cell, the activists of 7 to 8 in number were kept in a tiny single cell in an extremely inhumane condition. Earlier, I had been in jail many times; every time I was given division. But this time they forcibly took me and my colleagues to the condemned cell and illegally kept us there for 4 to 12 days, despite a written court order to treat us maintaining prison rules. Under the jail code, we deserved ‘division’ from day one. Former MPs, ministers, and those who had been in charge of various high public positions get division as per the Jail Code. But it surprisingly and mysteriously was not followed in our cases. The other 500 people who were also imprisoned with us were huddled in smaller rooms in a group of 7 to 8 for 10-12 days. For 10 days they were not allowed to go out of the ‘Shapla’ building; for three days they were not allowed out of the cells. The jailer had reportedly been ordered from a higher echelon to teach BNP how bad a jail could be. Jail authorities did everything possible to teach us so in utter violation of the law.

Nowadays CC cameras are installed everywhere in the jail. There is no such thing as privacy. Extreme torture and oppression in the prisons surpassed even medieval barbarism. Those who are granted bail, immediately thereafter police file a new case against them and then unjustly keep them in jail without even showing them arrested. And this has a commercial link too. BNP leaderKamruzzamanRatanwas thus kept in jail for three months. Mir Sarafat Ali Sapu freed on bail, was re-arrested from the Jail gate. Juba Dal secretary Munna and former president Nirav have been detained in the same manner. It is an old game, an old tradition of the Sheikh Hasin era. On the other hand, there are also instances of sparing someone in exchange for money. It’s a repressive system they introduced. Bangladesh has turned into a police state now. Rizvi Ahmed is daily taken to court only to be harassed. Cases filed against Rizvi Ahmed can be heard by the court at a time. But this is not done in a move only to pain him. Every day hundreds of innocent people are thus being subjected to inhumane torture in ‘ghost cases’ in the lower court.
Mirza Abbas once said in a press conference, “They should also make to lie on the ground, not for revenge, so that they may realize what it feels like to lie on the ground.” There is anger in his words, there is a strong desire for victory, no iota of fear. The downfall of fascism is inevitable and imminent. I believe this torture inside the prison hammered the last nail in the soul of fascism. Such political bitterness and the mindset of teaching political opposition ‘a lesson’ have distorted the country’s constitution, the laws and the courts, and even the jail code. It is doubtful whether minimum good sense prevails in the Awami rulers to ponder where this collapse would lead us to.

The author is a BNP leader.
Special Assistant of BNP Chairperson Begum Khaleda Zia