The Department of Law, University of Dhaka (DU), in collaboration with the Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST) and the Death Penalty Project (DPP) UK, conducted the study titled 'Living Under Sentence of Death: A study on the profiles, experiences and perspectives of death row prisoners in Bangladesh' in 2019–20. Dr. Muhammad Mahbubur Rahman, Professor of Law, DU, was the author and lead researcher of this study. The study aimed to map the socio-economic profiles of death row prisoners in Bangladesh and shed light upon their experiences and perspectives on the Bangladeshi criminal justice system.
Following the study, a virtual launching event of its report was organised on 17 June 2021 on Zoom. Distinguished members of the legal fraternity of Bangladesh, including legal practitioners, academicians, human rights activists and representatives of the partners in this study attended the event.
At the onset, Professor Dr. Md. Nazrul Islam, Chairman, Department of Law, DU, summarily discussed the problems with the current death penalty regime of Bangladesh and how it affected the death row prisoners and their families. Dr. Islam further stated that the instances of death row prisoners languishing in jail for a prolonged period in apprehension of their execution violated their fundamental rights. He termed this as 'second punishment' besides the death sentence and called for reform. The chief guest of the event, Professor Dr. A. S. M. Maksud Kamal, Pro-Vice Chancellor (Academic), DU, then officially launched the study report. He appreciated the efforts of everyone involved for conducting such empirical research on death row convicts for the first time in the history of Bangladesh.
Afterward, Dr. Muhammad Mahbubur Rahman presented the summary of the findings from the study. He emphasised that while the study sample was small (only 39 death row convicts from 2013), it reflected our general prison population, which enabled the researchers to draw conclusions on possible trends. He said that based on the data sample, the key finding of the study is that death penalty is being used disproportionately against the economically backward section of our society – a trend similar across the globe.
After the presentation, Professor Dr. Md. Rahmat Ullah, Dean, Faculty of Law, DU, shared his comments on the report. Stating that such a study was long overdue in Bangladesh, he hoped that the study's findings would encourage researchers to conduct further investigations and policymakers to make necessary reforms to our criminal justice system.
A panel of experts consisting of Dr. Naima Huq and Dr. Borhan Uddin Khan, Professors of Law, DU; Mr. Thomas Baumgartner, Counsellor, Head of Political, Economic & Cultural Affairs, Embassy of Switzerland in Bangladesh; Mr. Saul Lehrfreund, MBE, Co-founder and Co-Executive Director, DPP; Barrister Sara Hossain, Honorary Executive Director, BLAST; and Professor Carolyn Hoyle, Director, Death Penalty Research Unit, University of Oxford then discussed on the study's findings and the way forward. They remarked that while the findings are compelling and thought-provoking, more studies need to be conducted to further validate these findings. This was followed by an open discussion where Dr. Rahman responded to queries from the attendees.
The special guest of the event, Justice Md. Nizamul Huq, former Judge, Appellate Division, Supreme Court of Bangladesh, then shared his concluding remarks. He said that such a study is crucial to make Bangladeshi citizens aware of the problems with our death penalty regime. Lastly, he reiterated the comments of the experts to build on the study's findings and provide informed recommendations to the policymakers for reforming the criminal justice system of Bangladesh.
Event report by Ali Mashraf, student researcher of the study and LLM candidate, University of Dhaka.