Rejecting the verdict of acquittal, parents of Bangladeshi teenager Felani Khatun, who was killed by the Indian Border Security Force four years back, have demanded trial of self-confessed BSF Constable Amiya Ghosh in an international court.
The verdict was given early yesterday amid secrecy by the BSF General Security Forces Court in Cooch Behar acquitting Amiya of the charge after a retrial in the case.
Like the first verdict in Felani murder case, the five-member court led by its Assam-Meghalaya frontier DIG (Communication) SP Trivedi acquitted Amiya for “inconclusive and insufficient” evidence against him.
It was the first instance of the BSF trying any of its personnel despite frequent border killings. Earlier, they had sentenced eight jawans to 89-day jail term while demoted another for torturing a cattle trader at a BSF camp in February 2012.
The retrial began on September 22 last year after massive criticisms and outrage at home and abroad against the first verdict.
Decrying the verdict, Felani’s father M Nurul Islam and mother Jahanara Begum demanded fresh trial at the international court and sought assistance of the human rights groups for the sake of justice.
Nurul said: “This is injustice. A killer of such an inhuman act can in no way be acquitted. He killed my daughter like shooting a bird. We were waiting for justice for the last four years. But the BSF court has betrayed us.
“I reject this verdict and request the governments of Bangladesh and India to hold a trial of Amiya in an international court.”
Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) 45 Battalion Director Lt Col Zakir Hossain said he had heard about the verdict but did not want to make any remark before getting the copy of the judgement.
Felani, a 15-year-old girl, was shot dead while she was returning home in Bangladesh along with her father and maternal uncle on January 7, 2011. She used to work as a housemaid in New Delhi. They had no valid travel documents.
Though Felani’s father and uncle had crossed the barbed-wire fence using a ladder, the teenager was shot when her clothes got entangled in the wire. Her body was left dangling on the barbed wire fence for nearly five hours. It is alleged that she had been alive for at least four hours after being shot.
The photograph of Felani’s bullet-ridden body hanging from the barbed wire was published in the local and international media, following which there was an outpouring of demand for justice.
The BSF probed the incident and found 181 Battalion Constable Amiya responsible for the murder with his 5.56mm Insas rifle. Amiya also confessed to the crime. He was charged under Section 304 (unintentional killing) of the Indian Penal Code and Section 146 of the BSF Act.
After the trial began on August 13, 2013 amid secrecy, Felani’s father and maternal uncle M Abdul Hanif testified at the BSF court. In its verdict given on September 6 that year, the court found Amiya not guilty because of “inconclusive and insufficient” evidence against him.
Rejecting the verdict, Felani’s parents wrote to the Indian High Commission in Bangladesh, West Bengal human rights organisation Manobadhikar Surokkha Moncho (MASUM) and Dhaka’s Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK) seeking justice and compensation for her daughter’s killing.
In the face of protests by several ministers, the Human Rights Commission chairman, and demonstrations by rights activists, the Indian BSF authorities in a statement on September 13 said they would review the case proceedings.
After the retrial began on September 22 last year, Felani’s father gave his deposition at the court on November 17.
But since November 22, the trial proceedings were adjourned twice – on November 22 for four months and on March 26 for three months. The trial resumed on June 30 with the deposition of the self-confessed killer.
Public prosecutor of Kurigram District Judge’s Court Abraham Lincoln, who was assisting Felani’s family since the beginning, told our Kurigram correspondent that through the verdict, the BSF had been given legitimacy to kill innocent people.
“This is not justice. The people of Bangladesh thought that the accused will be given the highest punishment through the retrial process,” he said yesterday.
ASK Executive Director Sultana Kamal said Felani was denied justice through this verdict.
“It is disappointing. Every citizen expected that a fair trial will be held. The accused confessed to the crime while all the evidence were against him.
“But as the BSF authorities held the revision trial at the same court that acquitted the accused earlier, we did not expect that the verdict will be overturned. Hence, such a verdict is not surprising.”
She said by holding a fair trial, the Indian government could improve its image since India-Bangladesh relation is a sensitive issue to the people.
After the first verdict, MASUM’s Kirity Ray lashed out at the BSF for unleashing a reign of terror on the border and said Felani was a victim of it. “The BSF trial was a shame,” he said.
Talking to BBC Bangla, Kirity yesterday said they would challenge the verdict in Indian court. “We have found a number of legal points that go against the Indian constitution and justice.
“Who decided that only Amiya is accused of killing Felani? Around 40 people crossed the border point where Felani was shot dead. They paid the BSF-BGB personnel. It is well recorded. Why will not Amiya’s colleagues and senior officials be brought to the book?” he questioned.
The Indian BSF has been killing Bangladesh nationals every now and then along the border – be it a farmer working at his field or traders bringing cattle from India. They are also accused of kidnapping, torturing and attacking bordering villages in the name of chasing criminals.
However, reports say many wanted Bangladeshi criminals, militants, gold and drug smugglers have crossed the border without any hindrance.
Since 2010, the Indian authorities have been saying that they would use non-lethal weapons but it has never been materialised. Despite making such pledges, the BSF highups defend shooting at Bangladeshi people by saying that they open fire for self-defence only.
At least 20 people were killed while 42 abducted and 29 injured in BSF attacks between January and May this year, according to ASK prepared based on reported news reports.