A Dhaka court on Thursday again denied bail to a British man jailed for two years in the Holey Artisan café attack although police had cleared him of suspicion this week, while legal experts warned that securing his freedom could be a lengthy process.
The Chief Metropolitan Magistrate (CMM) court received a charge-sheet submitted Monday against eight men suspected of having roles in the July 2016 terrorist attack that killed 29 people, including 20 hostages and five militants. After the chief of the CMM scrutinizes it, the charge-sheet will be sent to the Anti-Terrorism Tribunal, a court tasked with trying the case, for further action, officials said.
British citizen Hasnat Karim, who was dining in the café with his family and celebrating a daughter’s birthday when the attack occurred, was cleared in the charge sheet, according to a CMM officer.
“We are confused and frustrated that his release is being delayed for lengthy procedures. We have to wait,” Karim’s wife, Sharmina Parveen, told BenarNews on Thursday.
She said she hoped that he would be released following the day’s courtroom proceedings. At least 10 previous attempts to have her husband freed on bail had failed, she said earlier.
Parveen said lawyers who understood the court procedures had been assigned to seek Karim’s release.
Hasib-ur-Rashid, a lawyer representing Karim, filed a bail petition at the court on Thursday.
“But the magistrate turned down his petition on the ground that the Anti-Terrorism Tribunal would order his acquittal,” an official of the CMM court told BenarNews.
BenarNews asked an official with the British High Commission whether it would intervene to expedite Karim’s release since police had cleared his name, but the official indicated that the embassy would let the case go through the Bangladeshi courts.
“The investigation is over ... we are happy that he has been found innocent,” the official said, adding, “Now we have no role in his release. The law will take its own course.”
The official said representatives from the high commission used to visit Karim in jail and inquire about his health and the status of his case, and that Bangladeshi officials had granted them access once every two months.
Karim, a former professor at North South University in Dhaka, has been jailed since Aug. 2, 2016. The charge-sheet recommended discharging him from terrorism charges, Sheikh Rakibur Rahman, the general recording officer for the prosecution at the CMM court, told BenarNews.
Meanwhile, a lawyer familiar with the system told BenarNews that Karim’s release could be weeks away.
“This is very hard to predict when the Anti-Terrorism Tribunal will hear the charge-sheet and release Hasnat Karim. This is the decision of the court, it may happen in a couple of days or a couple of weeks,” lawyer Prokash Biswas told BenarNews.
The tribunal has not set a date to receive the charge-sheet, court officials said.
“The court enjoys absolute authority in deciding the bail or discharge matters. They can sit even on public holiday, if necessary. So let us wait for the court,” he said, adding it could take a week or two for Karim to leave prison after the court rules.
‘A gross violation’
Along with Karim, the charge-sheet cleared two café employees who died as a result of the attack.
In a statement read in a Dhaka court at the time of Karim’s arrest nearly two years ago, police alleged that a mobile phone app was downloaded on his phone 10 minutes after the attack began and was used to send pictures of people who had been hacked to death by the terrorists. Those pictures were disseminated by the extremist group Islamic State, which claimed responsibility for the attack.
The charge-sheet named eight men who have been identified as members of Neo-Jamaat-ul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), a militant organization aligned with Islamic State. The men, six who are in jail and two who have absconded, were not inside the café during the attack but have been identified as having roles in it, according to officials.
The five Holey Artisan militants killed 20 hostages including nine from Italy, seven from Japan and an American citizen, in the deadliest terrorist attack on Bangladesh soil.
Professor Mizanur Rahman, a former chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, said Bangladesh’s judicial system was developed during the colonial rule and had become cumbersome.
“As Hasnat Karim is not charged in the charge-sheet, the court should have taken a pro-active role for his release. A man languishing in jail without committing any crimes, just to exhaust the procedure, is totally unacceptable and a gross violation of human rights,” he told BenarNews.