‘Prisoners packed like sardines in Bangladesh jails’

July 26th, 2008 - 2:18 pm ICT by IANS  


Dhaka, July 26 (IANS) Being a jailbird is never pleasant in Bangladesh - more so when high-profile VVIPs come crowding in and leave the others no place to even sit down. The regular convicts are having to vacate their already choked space for former ministers and lawmakers who are being prosecuted for graft by the caretaker government that has nabbed over 200,000 people as part of its drive against crime and corruption since February last year.

As a result, the other prisoners sleep in three shifts and wait in long queues to use toilets or have a bath, The Daily Star newspaper said Saturday.

Conditions in Bangladesh’s 67 jails have been frequently criticised in the Bangladesh media. The last was when two of the only four doctors in Dhaka’s Central Jail, the country’s biggest, were taken off to examine the two jailed former prime ministers, Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia.

The two women leaders were among “a few dozen” high profile inmates, and lodged separately in Sangsad Bhaban, the country’s parliament Complex.

Of the two, Hasina has gone abroad for treatment. Zia has stayed on to make a point vis-a-vis her political rival but has fought incessantly to get her two ailing sons out of the jail.

Younger Arafat Rahman Koko flew to Bangkok last week. But the elder Tarique, said to be seriously sick, remains behind bars, when not taken to a government hospital.

The spate of bails granted to some VIPs has made little difference inside the jails that house inmates three times their capacity.

The prisoners are “caged”, and are packed “like sardines”, the newspaper said.

It is a recurring situation.

“With the country undergoing frequent political turmoil over the last decade, clampdowns on political leaders and activists and anti-crime drives also became frequent, netting thousands of people,” the newspaper noted.

As per the latest count, over 87,000 prisoners “are passing hellish days as the country’s jails are equipped to accommodate only 27,451″, said the newspaper.

The capacity was increased by 4,000 since 2001, but 27,000 new prisoners came in the last seven years.

Successive regimes have ignored the jails’ capacity and living conditions. Building of new jails is moving “at snail’s pace” and could take eight to 10 years.

“We are now in a situation where there is no space left even to sit, let alone lie down,” a prisoner of the jam-packed Dhaka Central Jail told the newspaper last week.

“You will not understand the misery if you don’t see it for yourself,” said an official of the jail, who did not wish to be identified as he was not authorised to talk to the media.

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