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Bangladesh waits for verdict on 15 policemen over retired major Sinha murder

Cox’s Bazar District and Sessions Judge Mohammad Ismail will deliver his verdict in the high-profile case on Monday.

Fifteen policemen, including the then chief of Teknaf police Pradip Kumar Das, stand accused of murdering Sinha at a checkpoint in the resort town’s Marine Drive.

After the incident, the lid was blown on Pradip’s chequered past, which involved framing gunfights in the name of drug busts near the Myanmar border in Teknaf.

He had similarly tried to cover up the killing of Sinha as a ‘gunfight’.

In the wake of the incident, former officers of the armed forces demanded the arrest of all policemen involved. It prompted a visit to Cox’s Bazar by Bangladesh Army chief General Aziz Ahmed and Inspector General of Police Benazir Ahmed. They also appeared at a rare joint press conference as the incident raised eyebrows.

Within a month of the incident, the police force in Cox’s Bazar also underwent a radical overhaul, with almost all personnel, including top officers and constables, being transferred out of the district.

A dramatic decline in so-called shootouts involving law enforcement followed. As many as 183 suspects died in so-called gunfights with the law enforcement in Bangladesh from January until the end of July 2020, according to legal rights group Ain O Salish Kendra or ASK.

Sinha became the 184th victim but after his death, only one suspect was killed in ‘crossfire’ during an anti-drug drive by the police.

The proceedings in the case filed by Sinha’s sister Sharmin Shahriar Ferdous over his murder also progressed at a rapid pace.

Following the intervention of the home ministry, Judge Ismail wrapped up the trial within 29 working days and set January 29 for the verdict.

Sinha, 36, was a member of the Special Security Force tasked with guarding the prime minister. Sinha had gone into early retirement to pursue his interests. His father late Ershad Khan was a deputy secretary at the finance ministry.

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But his life was cut short within two years of leaving the army.

Since childhood, Sinha harboured a keen interest in travelling. In July 2020, he went to Cox’s Bazar to make a travel documentary called ‘Just Go’.

He was accompanied by Shahedul Islam Sefat and Shipra Debnath, students of the Film and Media Department at Stamford University. Both Sefat and Shipra would also face harassment from the police in the aftermath of Sinha’s death.

After Sinha’s murder on July 31, 2020, his sister started a murder case against nine policemen, including Pradip and Inspector Liakat Ali, on Aug 5.

The other suspects were former police sub-inspector Nanda Dulal Raxit, former constables Shafanur Karim, Kamal Hossain, Abdullah Al Mamun, Rubel Sharma and Mohammad Mostafa, former ASI Sagar Deb, Armed Police Battalion’s SI Mohammad Shahjahan and constables Mohammad Rajib and Mohammad Abdullah.

Four and a half months later, on Dec 13, the case’s investigation officer Md Khairul Islam pressed formal charges against the 15 suspects.

The trial opened after they were indicted by Judge Ismail on Jun 27, 2021. In the course of the trial, the court heard 65 testimonies, including nine eyewitness accounts.

PROSECUTION HOPEFUL, DEFENCE POINTS TO ‘INCONSISTENCIES’

Asserting that Sinha’s shooting death was ‘planned’, state prosecutors are hoping that the death penalty will be handed down to the accused.

However, the legal team for the defendants say that the state and the plaintiff had failed to prove the allegations. As a result, the defendants will be acquitted.

Public Prosector Faridul Alam, who is handling the case on behalf of the state, said, “We are waiting for the verdict. We want an exemplary punishment in the case of Major Sinha’s murder. “

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“We have been able to prove clearly and unequivocally that the accused had brutally killed Major Sinah in a premeditated manner. We have appealed to the court for an exemplary punishment so that no one in uniform commits murder in future.”

Emphasising the importance of the verdict, the lawyer said, “I want exemplary punishment so that people have respect for and trust in the law.”

On the other hand, defence counsel Mohiuddin Khan claimed that there was ‘discrepancies’ in the testimonies of the witnesses. “Sixty-five witnesses have been presented in the court. Their testimony is inconsistent with the statement of the plaintiff and the findings in the investigating officer’s report.”

“We hope to get justice from the court. If the expected result does not come to fruition, then legally we have a chance to appeal. In that case, we will appeal the verdict.”

Rana Dasgupta, a senior lawyer for the defendants, said: “We believe that the investigation was not conducted by the book. It seems that some invisible force has tried to move the case forward in a certain way.”

Based on the evidence, he believes Pradip deserves to be acquitted.

WHY WAS SINHA MURDERED?

Following the incident, questions were raised on the motive behind shooting a nature-loving, amiable man who loved to drive and dreamed of going on a world tour someday.

In the case dossier submitted, Senior Assistant Police Superintendent Khairul Islam gave a vivid description of what had happened on Jul 31, 2020, at the APBn checkpoint on the Cox’s Bazar-Teknaf Marine Drive.

According to the case documents, Sinha and his companions learned that Pradip Kumar Das, chief of Teknaf Police Station, used to ‘torture innocent people in the name of the war on drugs’. They even interviewed some people tortured by Pradip.

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Sinha and his team members Shipra Debnath and Shahadul Islam Sefat spoke to Pradip about the issue. Anticipating further trouble, Pradip started looking for a chance to ‘take out’ Sinha and his team. It was his plan that led to Sinha’s death at the check post.

After Sinha was killed, Cox’s Bazar Police claimed he had ‘prevented them from searching him and his car’ and ‘drew his pistol’, forcing the officer at the checkpoint to shoot him.

ATTEMPTS TO FRAME CO-WORKERS

After his death, police said they fired in self-defence when Sinha brandished a pistol at law enforcers while obstructing a search of his vehicle at the checkpoint at Shamlapur along the Cox’s Bazar-Teknaf Marine Drive.

Sefat was with him at the time and afterwards, both he and Shipra were arrested on drug-related charges.

Soon after the incident, Army Sergeant Ayub Ali of Ramu Cantonment went to the spot but he later testified in court that police had sent him away from the scene.

Later, police officers accompanying Pradip claimed they found drugs in Sinha’s car.

Police later filed three cases against Sinha and his associates. These were later found to be fabricated.

Police also confiscated their mobile phones, cameras and laptops. These were later seized by the Rapid Action Batallion but the elite police unit did not find anything incriminating in any of the devices.

According to Ashique Billah, the then spokesman for the RAB, the digital content within the devices were ‘already destroyed’.

When questions were raised about the police’s account of the incident, the home ministry formed a high-level investigation committee to look into the matter.

Sefat and Shipra were later cleared of the charges after the RAB said it did not find any substance in the allegations against them.

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