Bangladesh: Court finds death row convict innocent the day he dies

KHULNA, Bangladesh (The Daily Star/ANN) - Ali passed away that very same morning after a long battle against colon cancer.

On Sunday afternoon, Khulna jail received the copy of a High Court order that one Obaid Ali be released from death row because the court had found him innocent.

There was one problem though: Ali had passed away that very same morning after a long battle against colon cancer.

Ali's story, however, is not one about tragic timing; rather it is about bureaucratic red-tape.

A resident of Satkhira's Kukhrali village, he had been a death row convict for 13 years and had been locked up in the prison cell of Khulna Medical College Hospital (KMCH), unable to spend his last moments with his family.

The HC had declared Ali not guilty six months ago, but it took half a year for the order to get typed up and make the journey from Dhaka to Khulna.

“Obaid's condition had been critical for the last few months,” said Dr Subrata Kumar Mondal, registrar of KMCH, who had treated Ali in the final four years of his life. “All he wanted was to get some time with his family before he died,” he added.

Ali was charged with the murder of two police constables in 2003.

On February 3 of that year, constables Fazlul Haque, Abdul Motaleb and Abdul Ahad were cycling back home when they were attacked by people with knives. Fazlul and Abdul were killed in the incident, while Ahad escaped with injuries.

The next day, habildar Ruhul Amin filed a case with Satkhira Sadar Police Station.

Three years later, a Khulna speedy tribunal sentenced Ali to death. Within seven days of this sentencing, Ali filed an appeal with the HC -- but that took six years to resolve.

The result in the end was positive: Ali was pronounced innocent. However, the Supreme Court upheld the HC's decision six years later. 

Ali's son Sheikh Ashiqur Rahman Shaon had been running around trying to obtain the papers from the court. “I met with the Chief Justice last September 5 hoping to get a copy of the order. Before that, I had met with the chairman of the National Human Rights Commission,” he said.

“Because the order copy did not reach the prison authorities in time, my father had to spend six extra months in jail. Unfortunately, those were his last days.”

Ali's wife Ambia Khatun claimed that her husband's health could have improved if he had been given better medical care outside of prison.

“I want justice for my husband's death. I want compensation. My two daughters, son and I have spent the last 13 years without him as a guardian. When we finally had a chance to be together, that too was snatched away,” she said.

Jakir Hossain, one of the other accused in the case was released yesterday, informed Osman Gani, the public prosecutor of Satkhira Judge Court.

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