“Police made me a witness in one of the cases. But I am not interested in giving testimony to court. Who will give me and my family protection if I give deposition to court,” said Kamal Barua from Srikul in Ramu upazila of Cox’s Bazar.
Nineteen cases were filed and three probe reports were submitted to the High Court over the mindless communal attacks on the Buddhist community in Ramu in 2012.
But even four years after the vandalism, trial proceedings in 17 of the cases are yet to start because of the absence of witnesses in Cox’s Bazar courts.
Only one case has seen some progress as the court started recording testimonies of witnesses.
And one case was withdrawn by the plaintiff last year; no reasons were cited.
Asked, Sudhangshu Barua, the plaintiff and also a victim in Rajarkul union of Ramu, declined to comment on the matter.
Tarun Barua, general secretary of Ramu Bouddha Oikya O Kalyan Parishad, said, “The witnesses are not showing interest in giving testimony because of concern over their safety. Besides, a number of witnesses are unhappy about the trial as some of the culprits were not made accused in the cases.
“Police filed the cases and prepared the lists of accused and witnesses all by themselves… We have all along been kept in the dark.”
His view was echoed by Neetish Barua, president of Ramu Bouddha Juba Kalyan Samity.
Both said the Buddhist community in Ramu would fully cooperate with the authorities only if a fresh case is filed based on the report of the judicial enquiry carried out after the incident.
Momtaz Ahmed, chief public prosecutor in Cox’s Bazar, said he contacted the witnesses several times and tried to convince them to give deposition, but they were reluctant to appear before court.
The witnesses are not even responding to court notices, he mentioned.
Expressing disappointment, he said the cases may be dismissed if the witnesses are not produced before court.
Contacted, Shyamal Kumar Nath, superintendent of police in the district, said there was no reason for the witnesses to feel insecure as they would be provided with adequate security.
According to police sources, during primary investigation, police recorded statements of 502 witnesses under Section 161 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. Twenty three accused gave statements under Section 164 in the court, confessing their involvement in the incidents.
A group of zealots unleashed violence on the Buddhist community in Ramu on September 29, 2012 by spreading a rumour that a Facebook post derogatory to the Holy Quran was made on the Facebook page of a Buddhist youth, Uttam Barua.
The bigots set fire to Buddhist temples and houses, and vandalised and looted more than 50 houses in Ramu.
They also attacked Mushurikhola crematorium at Khurushkul village in Cox’s Bazar Sadar upazila and tried to attack the houses of the Hindus in Kharulia village.
The following day, the zealots attacked and ransacked five Buddhist temples in the bordering Ukhia upazila and damaged two Hindu temples in Palongkhali union of the upazila. They also set alight and ransacked Buddhist houses in Hoaikong union of Teknaf upazila.
Law enforcers later arrested 483 people in connection with the incidents, but almost all of them got released from prison on bail.
Between September 1, 2013 and January 25, 2014, police submitted charge sheets in 18 cases to lower courts. A total of 783 people were made accused in the charge sheets.
The accused include Naikkhangchhari upazila chairman and Jamaat-e-Islami leader Tofael Ahmed, nayeb-e-ameer of Cox’s Bazar district Jamaat and the then Ukhia upazila chairman Shahjalal Chowdhury, and Ukhia upazila BNP general secretary and sacked Ukhia upazila chairman Sarwar Jahan Chowdhury.
Ukhia upazila BNP organising secretary and sacked upazila vice chairman Sultan Mahmud Chowdhury, district Jamaat organising secretary and Hoaikong union parishad chairman Nur Hossain Anwari are also on the list.
WRIT PETITIONS PENDING WITH HC
Two writ petitions on the Ramu incidents are now pending with the High Court.
Though three probe reports were submitted to the HC by a judicial body, police and the home ministry, there has not been any progress in the proceedings apparently for lack of interest of the lawyers concerned in moving the writ petitions.
The probes were carried out upon HC orders after Supreme Court lawyers Jyotirmoy Barua and Eunus Ali Akond filed the writ petitions in October 2012, seeking action against the perpetrators of the attacks and the officials who were negligent in preventing the attacks.
In 2013, the reports were submitted to the HC bench led by Justice Mirza Hussain Haider. The bench was reconstituted the same year and Justice Haider was elevated as a judge of the Appellate Division of the SC in February this year.
Talking to the newspaper, Jyotirmoy Barua said, “I am not making any move to get a date from the court for hearing as the relevant High Court benches are burdened with other cases.
“If I pray to a bench once the High Court reopens after the annual vacation, it will take at least two years for the bench to start hearing my petition. It is because all the benches having the jurisdiction over such writ petitions are burdened with other cases,” said the lawyer.
The court went on annual vacation on September 9 and will reopen on October 30.
The other writ petitioner, Eunus, said the HC bench headed by Justice Haider didn’t hold hearing on his petition, as it could not make it to cause list for hearing.
Without elaborating, he said he wouldn’t pray to any bench for hearing the petition.
One of the probe reports submitted to the HC on May 16, 2013 blamed the local administration and intelligence and law enforcement agencies for failing to prevent the attacks.
The enquiry, conducted by a judicial body, identified 298 people responsible for the attacks. It made 20 recommendations that include enhancing competence and standards of the administration and containing posts on social media, said HC sources.
The probe conducted by police blamed the then Cox’s Bazar superintendent of police and the officer-in-charge of Ramu Police Station for the failure. The committee recommended action against the then OC AK Nazibul Islam, but didn’t suggest any action against the then SP Selim Md Jahangir.
The enquiry report of the home ministry mentioned that 205 people were involved in the attacks, planned at least 10 days before.