As the Police Bureau of Investigation missed today’s deadline (Oct 6) to submit its investigation report on the Munia Rape & Murder Case to the special tribunal for women and children, the much-vaunted specialised unit would seem to have done little to distinguish itself from its less heralded colleagues – at least in the public eye.
Almost six months on from Munia’s death, model Faria Mahabub Piyasha earlier this week became the first person to be remanded in a case related to Munia’s death.
Dhaka Metropolitan Magistrate Nivana Khayer Jessy granted remand for two days after the investigation officer sought seven days to interrogate the former model.
It’s possible even that would have been avoided, were it not for Piyasha being in police custody already in an unrelated case. Prior to the remand prayer, Piyasha was shown-arrested in the Munia murder case as well, where she is accused no.7.
While welcoming the move as one that should unlock the entire conspiracy that was hatched to kill Munia and pass it off as suicide, the lawyer representing her sister Nusrat Jahan Tania, the plaintiff in the case, expressed some of their apprehensions too.
These mostly spring from their experience with Gulshan thana police in its handling of the first case filed over Munia’s death, to which they stubbornly pursued a suicide angle, despite the preponderance of circumstantial evidence suggesting homicide.
Once that was disposed of, Nusrat Jahan moved the Women and Children Repression Prevention Tribunal with a complaint that the police had refused to take a rape and murder case under the Tribunal's act.
Nusrat's complaint, which contains even graver allegations against Gulshan police tantamount to obstruction of justice, was not only taken into cognisance by the Tribunal - it was also asked to be treated as the FIR. At the same time PBI was appointed to investigate, and asked to submit its report within 4 weeks, which was today (Oct 6).
But there was no sign of the investigation officer around the court premises. PBI have remained tight-lipped on its own investigation so far. But the fact that escapes no-one is that all the accused in the case, except Piyasha, remain free to this day.
Accused No.1 Sayem Sobhan Anvir, with whom Muniya was in a relationship at the time of her death, even had his application for anticipatory bail rejected by the High Court last week. The court, citing the autopsy report, observed that the body bore three injury marks. As such it wouldn't grant bail to the accused no.1
His wife Sabrina Sobhan was granted anticipatory bail for six weeks.
Since the arrest of accused or suspected persons in a case is universally accepted as one of the most visible signs of progress in a case, it would be understandable if Nusrat is having difficulty reposing her faith in the investigation.
Instead they are looking to the Tribunal, and the extraordinary powers it enjoys to go over and above any investigation agency it deems to be compromised.
“Let me be very clear - we would of course appreciate it if PBI investigated the case thoroughly,” Advocate Masud Salahuddin told DC. “But even if it doesn’t - suppose PBI submits a blank piece of paper – it doesn’t matter. As long as the Tribunal sees through the conspiracy, or whatever might be unsatisfactory, it will simply reject the report, and ultimately under Section 27 of the Tribunal’s Act, it can act to take everything into its own hands if the investigating agencies are found wanting.”
He praised the Women and Children Repression Prevention Act of Bangladesh as one of the strongest in the world for its specific purpose, explaining how it is written into the text that in countries such as Bangladesh, it is indeed all too common for institutions such as police to not stand beside women, even when they are the victims - it's one of the fundamental factors that make it necessary to have a special law to provide such protections as are in the Tribunal's act.
Similarly the powers granted to it are such that a repressed woman seeking justice should have no need for anyone else on her side, as long as the Tribunal stands beside her. If the PBI’s investigation report is deemed unsatisfactory by the Tribunal, it may start the process of taking over the case.
“It would issue the arrest warrants for the accused, order police to complete the arrests and to present them before the tribunal. It will call on witnesses, assess the evidence already in hand, and based on my understanding of the case, it can deliver the final verdict within 1-2 months of taking the case,” Adv. Salahuddin said.
We sought an independent legal opinion on the claims made by the plaintiff’s lawyer by sharing his comments on the Tribunal’s jurisdiction and powers with Aneek R. Haque, Advocate at the Supreme Court of Bangladesh and Head of Chambers at Justiciars.
Expressing no disagreement with any part of the statement, Haque wrote in a Whatsapp message: “His interpretation is correct. Section 27 does give the Tribunal such powers.”
The new date set for PBI to submit an investigation report is November 2. Munia lost her life in the face of enormous odds, orphaned at a young age and forced to fight every step of the way to establish herself in a dangerously patriarchal society. In death, she has faced character assassination and ridicule, all aimed at diminishing her life’s worth. Will the Tribunal stand beside her, even if it must stand alone? And can it bring her justice? This may be its biggest test yet.