Fugitive on paper, jailed in reality

He is in jail and he is a fugitive -- all at the same time.

Strange, right?

But the man we are talking about is no illusionist. He is Kamol Khan, a prisoner as per the Dhaka Central Jail records and a fugitive in case documents.

In a report that the jail authorities submitted to the Supreme Court Legal Aid Office (SCLAO) in December last year, Kamol's name came up among 71 under-trial prisoners languishing in jails for 10 years and beyond.

And in response to a query made by this newspaper, the jail authorities confirmed that Kamol, arrested in 2004 in a double-murder case in Dhaka, is still in jail.

But the prosecution dealing with the case said he has been absconding for the last six years.

Case documents show Kamol got bail in 2011 but he did not appear before the court on two consecutive dates prompting it to cancel his bail and show him as a fugitive.

The Fourth Additional Metropolitan Sessions Judge's Court in Dhaka has appointed a state defence counsel for Kamol and he has been facing trial in absentia. Its latest order on February 15 mentions him as a fugitive.

On Monday, Jailor of Dhaka Central Jail Mahbubul Islam told The Daily Star that Kamol was accused in five cases.

He got bail in three cases, including two for murder and another related to arms, but he is in jail in connection with the other two cases, including the one for a 2002 double murder.

Asked why he has been facing trial in absentia if he is in jail, Mahbubul Islam said, "From you, I came to know that he has been facing trial in absentia. But we have nothing to do here. The court and police can tell you about it.

WHO IS KAMOL?

Son of Ataur Rahman of Uttar Matbar Bari in Demra of Dhaka, Kamol, 31, is one of the 10 accused in a case filed over the killing of a lawyer and a filling station owner in Dhaka, according to case and jail documents.

Advocate Anwarul Islam and Sheikh Shahed Newaz Babla, owner of Karim and Sons Petrol Pump at Motijheel, were shot dead and two others suffered bullet injuries inside a private car in the capital's Narinda on May 10, 2002.

Babla's mother filed a case the same day with Sutrapur Police Station.

Police arrested Kamol two years later and through the court he was sent to jail on August 7, 2004. He along with another accused, Manik, gave confessional statements on August 23, 2004.

The case was transferred to Dhaka Sessions Judge's Court on July 25, 2006 from Dhaka Chief Metropolitan Magistrate's Court.

The Sessions Judge's Court framed charges against 10 accused, including Kamol, on August 2, 2007.

But the trial could not begin until September 2013 mainly "due to the prosecution's failure in producing witness". The court recorded testimony of the first prosecution witness on September 29, 2013.

Following media reports that many have long been in jails without being convicted, SCLAO on November 16 last year sent letters to the authorities of all 68 jails across the country, seeking names and particulars of such prisoners.

According to the report submitted by the office of the inspector general of prisons on December 1 last year, there are 462 persons who have spent more than five years in jail with their cases still pending with different courts, Ripon Paul Sku, an official of SCLAO, told The Daily Star recently.

Of the 462 prisoners, 71 have spent more than 10 years in jail with their cases still awaiting disposal and Kamol is one of them, he said.

According to the report, Kamol is behind bars for the last 12 years and his prisoner number is 22,477/04. He was produced before court 92 times till the report submission.

Yet, case documents show that he has been absconding since 2011.

BUT WHY HE IS CALLED 'FUGITIVE'?

Before the trial began, Kamol obtained bail on July 25, 2011. The court in its 64th order in the case granted him ad-interim bail observing that he has been in jail for around seven years and there was no possibility of completion of the case proceedings anytime soon.

On the next two dates for the proceeding -- November 13, 2011 and May 23, 2012 -- Kamol did not appear before the court, which led it to cancel his bail on May 23, 2012 saying "no step has been taken to uphold his bail". The court later described him as a fugitive.

The court documents do not mention the reason behind his absence, but the jailer said, "We have produced him before the court whenever we were ordered."

On April 6, 2016, lawyer Afjal Hossain Sardar of District Legal Aid Office in Dhaka sought bail for Kamol after he was asked by his office to provide the accused with legal assistance knowing his situation from jail authorities.

Afjal's petition said his client has long been in jail and no specific charges were brought against his client.

The court that day did not allow his petition and ordered keeping it in record. Citing case documents, the court said Kamol was on the run and the defence counsel, Afjal, in the prayer even did not mention the date of arrest of the accused.

"As per the directives of the office, I had filed a bail petition for Kamol and as the court passed the order upon my petition, I came to know that Kamol is on the run," the lawyer told these correspondents on February 13.

"After that, I did not appear before the court for Kamol as he was absconding."

ABM Bashiruddin Miah, assistant public prosecutor (APP) dealing with the case, told this newspaper on February 15 that Kamol is a fugitive as per the case documents.

Advocate Mahfuzur Rahman Chowdhury has been appointed state defence counsel for Kamol and three other fugitives of the case and he cross-examined the prosecution witnesses on behalf of the four fugitives, said the APP.

February 15 was fixed for recording the testimony of the eighth prosecution witness, but the court had to adjourn the case proceedings until May 29 as the prosecution failed to produce the witness.

About the delay in the trial, the APP said the court on several occasions issued non-bailable warrant against the witnesses but they did not appear before it.