Zahir Uddin is the deputy director of a madrassa without a criminal record. He was shocked when one fine day the police raided his home and harassed him. He was informed that an arrest warrant had been issued in his name for breach of bail conditions and flight. Upon investigation, he learned that a man named Moddasher posed as Zahir Uddin when he was arrested by police following a complaint. After being released on bail, “Zahir Uddin” (Moddasher) fled and fled abroad.
Zahir Uddin’s vigilant and courageous move to verify the identity of the person impersonating him by approaching the competent authority to conduct an investigation may have saved him from languishing in prison for years. . However, this is not the case for many other unfortunate ones. In the socio-economic reality of Bangladesh, the poor are arguably the worst victims of this type of wrongful imprisonment. Bablu Sheikh, a day laborer, had to spend 17 years behind bars instead of Sri Babu because of a mistaken identity. Jahalam was a worker in a jute mill, who spent three years in prison because officials of the Anti-Corruption Commission mistakenly identified him as Abu Salek. These are not isolated incidents and it is very common to mistakenly arrest innocent people by law enforcement.
In recent years, at least 26 incidents have been reported in national dailies, which highlight incidents of wrongful imprisonment of innocent people where the accused pose as someone else, or the accused and arrested. share a similar or identical name. This issue has been raised several times before the Supreme Court of Bangladesh. In Rezaul Karim v The State & Others (2007), the Court issued a suo moto rule against the investigator who submitted an indictment against Shah Alam Babu instead of Babul on mistaken identity. In Md. Matin Mia v. Government of Bangladesh, the court ordered the immediate release of Matin Mia, who was wrongly imprisoned instead of convicted Abdul Majid.
In Bangladesh Jatiyo Mahila Anijibi Somity v. Government of Bangladesh, the Apex Court observed that remedy for wrongful detainees is only available to the Division of the High Court under Article 491 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which is not readily available for poor victims. The Court called on the government to take the appropriate legal steps to ensure that a quick and less expensive remedy is available to victims.
Unjustified imprisonment for mistaken identity is at the root of serious human rights violations. It violates article 32 of the Constitution of Bangladesh, which reads: “[n]o the person must be deprived of his life or his personal liberty except in accordance with the law ”. Unjustified imprisonment without legal sanction restricts the “freedom of movement” guaranteed by article 36. It also violates article 31 which states: “[..] in particular, no action affecting the life, liberty, body, reputation or property of any person shall be taken, except in accordance with the law.
The law of 1920 on the identification of prisoners and the penitentiary code are not sufficient to reveal the prison population. The law of 1920 is a summary law with some details. It requires the registration of fingerprints and footprints as a mechanism for identifying prisoners. The penitentiary code prescribes the registration of body shape, color, particular marks, marks of injuries, for the purpose of identifying prisoners.
The methods prescribed for the identification of an accused in these laws are a century old. These outdated identification methods rely on human sense to identify an accused by physical appearance and lineage, resulting in misidentification.
With the scientific and technological revolution, crime data management systems have evolved with great precision. Most countries use digital biometric identification to identify the criminal. The United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has been using an integrated automated fingerprint identification system since 1999. Since then, biometric systems have fundamentally changed the way authorities around the world approach successful identification of fingerprints. suspects and the investigation of crimes and criminal activity.
Biometrics is the most suitable tool for identifying and authenticating individuals. The term “biometrics” includes fingerprints, palm prints, irises, and facial recognition. A biometric system compares the physical appearance of a person presented for authentication with data that had already been stored. For example, the finger is placed on a fingerprint reader for comparison with stored samples. If the fingerprint matches the stored samples, authentication is successful. The successful identification of criminals means the protection of the innocent.
The digitized biometric identification process is not new to Bangladesh. It is widely used by different government and non-government organizations. The Bangladesh Election Commission stores fingerprint, iris and facial recognition data when it issues national identity cards to citizens. The Commission uses fingerprints to identify genuine voters in the electoral process. The Home Office also requires the same type of data when issuing passports. Even telecommunications companies use digital biometric identification for their services.
Our police services have not kept pace with technological advances. Yet the police must bear the weight of the paperwork and rely primarily on the human senses. The introduction of digital biometric identification in police stations will significantly change the process of identifying accused persons.
The police must take the necessary fingerprints, facial recognition data on the first arrest of an accused and store it centrally. When a suspected accused is apprehended by the police, they can easily cross-check the data to ensure authenticity with a single click. The Department of Prisons should follow the same procedure to authenticate detainees. Law enforcement agencies should collaborate with the existing national citizen registration database which provides identity verification services to qualified public and private organizations.
There are 651 police stations and 68 prisons in Bangladesh. The implementation of a digital biometric identification system in these places will not be an economic burden. The price of the equipment for the collection of biometric data is inexpensive and readily available. The Supreme Court recently ordered the introduction of digital biometric identification in police stations and prisons with an integrated data management system, which can eradicate the wrongful imprisonment of innocent people. With swift administrative support, it’s time to say goodbye to these kinds of miscarriages of justice.
THE WRITER IS A LAWYER, SUPREME COURT OF BANGLADESH AND CHIEF OF CHAMBERS, LAW LAB.