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Bangladesh to release selective prisoners in late April

  • Published at 04:15 pm April 19th, 2020
File photo of Dhaka Central Jail in Keraniganj Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

The prisoners will be released under two categories

The government has been considering releasing selected prisoners, who had been jailed for minor offences or have completed most of their terms in different cases, from different jails as part of its efforts to contain the spread of coronavirus in Bangladesh.

The prisoners will be released under two categories.

In the first category, around 800 prisoners will be considered for release as they had already served around 20 years of their prison terms, jail authorities told the Dhaka Tribune on Sunday.

Department of Prisons, Home Ministry and Law Ministry has been working to finalise the number of prisoners for release and their release is likely to be made in late April.

The jail authorities are also preparing a separate list of prisoners jailed for minor offences or facing trials in different cases.

The government came up with the move considering the overcrowded situation in most jails in Bangladesh, as cramped conditions are a veritable wonderland for disease and viral infections.

As of March, there were about 90,000 prisoners at 68 prisons across Bangladesh, against a capacity of only 41,000 inmates.

“We have collected data of around 1,400 prisoners, who are serving lifetime and already spent 20 years in prison. Now, we are scrutinising the list to identify inmates for selected over 15 types of crimes that do not have the scope for release as per law,” Department of Prisons Additional Inspector General Colonel Md Abrar Hossain told the Dhaka Tribune.

However, inmates convicted for over 15 types of crimes, including rape, murder after rape, murder after hijack, abduction, arms cases, acid violence, etc, will not be released.

“After scrutiny, the number will be something between 700 to 800 of those who will get the scope of being released,” he said.

When asked about when can they be released, he said once the list is ready, the Home Ministry will do the rest along with Law Ministry. 

“We expect they will be released by end of April,” said the additional IG of prison.

Under the other category, the jail authorities are preparing a list of prisoners who got one year of imprisonment for committing minor offences.

“The number of such prisoners can be around 3,000. They will also be released in the similar timeframe after the list is finalised and scrutinized. You can say they will be released in the next phase,” said Abrar.

“The ground work has just finished and we can come up with a final number once the scrutinising is done,” Md Shahiduzzaman, secretary (security services division) at Ministry of Home Affairs, told Dhaka Tribune.

HRW: 80% of prisoners in Bangladesh are pre-trial detainees

Many prisons and jails in Asia are overcrowded, according to the Institute for Crime and Justice Policy Research, with Indonesia, Cambodia, and Bangladesh prisons at over 200 percent capacity, said Human Rights Watch in a statement on April 6.

“The large percentage of pre-trial detainees in many Asian countries is a major factor in the overcrowding...In Bangladesh, pre-trial detainees make up approximately 80% of all detainees,” it said, demanding immediate release prisoners detained for exercising their basic rights, without charge, and for low-level and non-violent offenses.

The authorities should also consider releasing older prisoners and those with underlying medical conditions who would be at greater risk if they became infected, it demanded.

What are other nations doing?

Marking the Myanmar New Year, the president of Myanmar pardoned 24,896 prisoners from various prisons on humanitarian grounds and peace in mind of the people, a statement from president's office said on Friday.

Turkey's parliament on April 14 passed a law allowing release of tens of thousands of prisoners to ease overcrowding in jails and protect detainees from the coronavirus.

In early April, Indonesian Minister for Law and Human Rights Yasonna Hamonangan Laoly signed a decree to release more than 30,000 inmates to reduce overcrowding and Covid-19 infection rates.