The High Court on Sunday ordered prison authorities to release the man
Jute factory worker Jahalam, who spent the last three years behind bars after being wrongfully accused in 33 corruption cases, has been released from jail following a High Court order.
He came out of Dhaka Central Jail 2 in Kashimpur, Gazipur around 12:50am on Monday.
His family members—including his brother Shahanur—received him outside the jail, where he has been held since May 2016.
The prison’s Senior Superintendent Subrata Kumar Bala told reporters that they received Jahalam’s release papers around 12:45am and he was freed after the documents were verified.
A High Court bench of Justice FRM Nazmul Ahasan and Justice Kamrul Kader gave the orders, to release Jahalam, on Sunday.
Alam, alongside his brother Shahanur, immediately headed to their village in Nagarpur of Tangail after Jahalam came out of the prison.
Talking to journalists outside the prison gate, Jahalam expressed his gratitude to the media for bringing his situation to the court’s attention.
Responding to questions, he demanded compensation from the authorities concerned for his three-year-long ordeal, and wished to get his job back at Bangladesh Jute Mills in Ghorashal, Narsingdi.
He demanded punishment of those who were responsible for his wrongful incarceration despite his repeated claims of innocence.
Jahalam also blasted the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) for confusing him with the real accused and wrongfully accusing him in the graft cases.
“ACC is the No 1 fraud,” he said.
How did Jahalam land in jail?
Jahalam was arrested on February 6, 2016 after he was mistaken for Abu Salek; who is the original accused in 33 cases that ACC had filed in 2914, over loan fraud and embezzlement of Tk18.5 crore from Sonali Bank Limited.
When the ACC sent for Salek, the summons, however, went to Jahalam; who in turn met with officials of the corruption watchdog and insisted that he was not Salek.
He also told the ACC that the photo used to open the Sonali Bank account was not his either.
However, the bank’s officials still identified him as Salek, and the jute mill worker was eventually arrested in Ghorashal following ACC’s green light.
On May 27 of the same year, he was transferred to Dhaka Central Jail 2.
Despite appearing in front of the court many times since, Jahalam did not receive bail. Identifying Jahalam as Salek in 26 of the 33 cases, ACC submitted charge-sheets, and the cases started being processed in court.
HC steps in
Last year, several media reports brought the matter of Jahalam's innocence to the ACC's attention, after which ACC investigated the matter further.
Upon further investigation, the ACC found Jahalam's claims of innocence to be true.
On January 28, in a suo moto rule, the High Court summoned a representative of the ACC chairman; the cases’ plaintiff and ACC investigation officer; and two other representatives from the home and law ministries, to explain why Jahalam—instead of the real accused—had been in jail for the past three years.
Supreme Court lawyer Amit Das Gupta presented Jahalam's case to the High Court bench of Justice FRM Nazmul Ahasan and Justice Kamrul Kader on January 30.
On Sunday, ACC Director General and plaintiff Abdullah Al Zahid (investigation) and two other government officials appeared before the court and provided explanations.
During the hearing, Advocate Khurshid Alam Khan, who represented ACC, explained that they made an FIR based upon Sonali Bank’s and Bangladesh Bank's information.
Jahalam was indicted in 26 cases after the Union Parishad Chairman of his upazila identified Jahalam as Salek.
The commission admitted they had made a mistake accusing Jahalam in the cases.
The commission has already submitted an application to the lower court concerned to exonerate Jahalam from the cases, he said.
The High Court observed during the case: "An independent organization like the ACC is very important for a country like Bangladesh. If they cannot work properly, our development will not remain steady...we have to remember this is a sovereign country."
The bench also said that either ACC or the bank must compensate Jahalam for his wrongful incarceration.
"We do not support keeping an innocent person behind bars even for a minute," it said. "You [the ACC] or the bank has to compensate Jahalam. If he has to languish for one more day in jail, then you will have to compensate for that too."
After the hearing on the summons, the court passed a ruling over the legality of his imprisonment and directed the jail authorities to immediately release Jahalam.
ACC apologizes, but...
Meanwhile, ACC Chairman Iqbal Mahmood last Tuesday apologized over Jahalam's incarceration and stressed that the people responsible for such a mistake would face action.
He said the ACC as an organization was embarrassed for making such a "grave mistake." "However, we took measures for Jahalam's release right after we found out about this mistake."
He also said that they would start another investigation into the matter after Jahalam was released. "We will find out how and why this happened, and who is responsible."
Iqbal, however, added that ACC alone could not be held responsible for Jahalam's wrongful imprisonment. "I think the bank, police, and the rest who were working in these cases altogether made this mistake."
He claimed that Sonali Bank had first identified Jahalam as Salek and later notified the ACC, and then the police and those who were responsible for making the National Identity Card also reached the same conclusion.
"However, we will follow whatever the court's order is," he said.
After the hearing, Jahalam's lawyer Amit Das Gupta told reporters that court had exempted Jahalam in 26 cases.
“However, the court has not given any order regarding the seven other cases as their charge sheets are yet to be filed," he added.