Prisons Likely to Face Humanitarian Disaster: Capacity of 29,000 Yet Holding Over 80,000

images_2

Prisons of Bangladesh are overloaded with prisoners. Hundreds of new prisoners are coming to the jails daily due to political mass arrests. 68 jails of the country are now heavily overcrowded. Despite the fact that the jails can hold only 29,000 prisoners, more than 80,000 prisoners are currently being held. The jail authority is now struggling to tackle the overwhelming numbers. Along with countless problems to deal with, almost all the prisoners are now finding it really difficult to endure the cold weather.

The jails of Rangpur and Rajshahi division are at the most miserable condition. The prisoners are being affected by various cold related illnesses but they are not having proper medical treatment. As a result, there is a fear of humanitarian disasters inside the jails. Many sufferers informed that they were not provided with any opportunity to sleep for the first two or three days. They have been facing problems with inadequate supplies of food. Interestingly, a minimum amount of facilities can be enjoyed only when they can manage from their families to pay the demanded bribes to the Miyasabs (relatively old prisoners who hold power inside the prisons to bully around). In any event of failure to pay the Miyasabs they have to endure torture from the prison guards. If anyone protests against that, severity of torture increases. A deputy inspector of Department of Prisons denied the claim of current excessive number of prisoners in the jails. He claimed that rather the number of prisoners is less than usual.

At present there are around 66,000 of prisoners in 68 jails of the country. A close source informed that, there is no suitable cell for VIP prisoners because of the infrastructural weakness of the prison buildings. Due to continual shifting of political prisoners from one jail to another for safety reasons, they are suffering from physical and mental torment. For reasons of space, the female prisoners are experiencing problems as well. As a matter of fact, the conditions of all jails in Bangladesh have become unfathomably miserable and unhygienic. Particularly, the VIPs and people who obtained special division from court are not having their rightful facilities as prescribed by jail codes. It is reported by a source from the Department of Prisons that the capacity of Dhaka Central Jail is only 2,682, but now 5,392 prisoners are there suggesting that the prisoners are now at double capacity. The senior jail superintendent of Dhaka Central Jail, Farman Ali, told Daily Manabzamin, “undoubtedly we are facing some problems due to excessive number of prisoners, but those are being managed.”

A relevant source said that, the number of prisoners are increasing continuously due to the mass arrests happening all over the country for more than a month. Most of them are leaders and members of the opposition party. The result is that the prisoners are not having enough accommodation in the authorised cells of the jails. So the jail authority has no other way but to keep them in store-rooms, corridors and balconies of big cells, and even inside larger toilets. Prisoners are also compelled to pile up and huddle together. At times prisoners are being shifted from one jail to another. There is a fear of internal fluctuations in every prison because of this overcrowding.

There are 68 jails including 13 central jails and two high security cells in Bangladesh. There are also small jails in 55 district headquarters. Most of the prisoners in these jails are opposition party members. Although these jails are permitted to hold 83 prisoners with capital punishment, 989 prisoners are there now. 200 to 300 prisoners or more on average are entering into the jails daily but they are not getting bail at the same rate. In fact no bail was granted until the election took place. Around 1,200 political workers have been punished via mobile courts in the last few days. 2,000 offenders have also been sent to jail. Dhaka Central Jail has stated that now the number of bailed prisoners is relatively few.

Moreover, the number of prisoners arrested from the jail gate just after their being granted bail is increasing. A BNP-related source stated that, more than 20,000 of their members have been arrested in the last four years. There are hundreds of cases against them. A large number of members of other political parties have also been arrested.

According to Jamaat-e-Islami, More than 21,000 of them have been arrested in the last four years. More than 200,000 members and leaders of the aforementioned party have been charged with 1,500 cases.

On the other hand, taking advantage of the unstable situation, some police and jail officials have become enmeshed in infinite corruption. Even after getting bail, the prisoners are not spared. As a result bailed prisoners are living in terror for their pending cases. A complaint has arisen that corrupt members of the police civil team are recapturing bailed prisoners and accusing them of false cases like vandalism, arson, explosives etc with the assistance of jail employees. Syndicate claims, those who are paying money, are free from such problems.

According to statistic, thousands of BNP-Jamaat members and leaders have been arrested and hundreds of them have gone missing. During the current regime, before 5 January 2014 and after 5 January 2015, a total of 30,000 activists of BNP-Jamaat have been arrested. As a result, the prisons are facing serious problems in managing the ongoing overcrowding crisis and if this massive arrest continues the crisis will go beyond control.

Source: Investigative report by Amar Desh