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Bangladesh Table of Contents


Criminal Justice


Dhaka Central Jail
Courtesy Siria Lopez

In general, the criminal codes and procedures in effect in Bangladesh derive from the period of British rule, as amended by Pakistan and Bangladesh. These basic documents include the Penal Code, first promulgated in 1860 as the Indian Penal Code; the Police Act of 1861; the Evidence Act of 1872; the Code of Criminal Procedure of 1898; the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1908; and the Official Secrets Act of 1911.

The major classes of crimes are listed in the Penal Code, the country's most important and comprehensive penal statute. Among the listed categories of more serious crimes are activities called "offenses against the state." The Penal Code authorizes the government to prosecute any person or group of persons conspiring or abetting in a conspiracy to overthrow the government by force. An offense of this nature is also defined as "war against the state." Whether or not an offense constitutes a conspiracy is determined by the "intent" of the participant, rather than by the number of the participants involved, so as to distinguish it from a riot or any other form of disturbance not regarded as antinational. Section 121 of the Penal Code makes antinational offenses punishable by death or imprisonment for twenty years. The incitement of hatred, contempt, or disaffection toward a lawfully constituted authority is also a criminal offense punishable by a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. Among other categories of felonies are offenses against the public tranquillity (meaning unlawful assembly), rioting, and public disturbances; offenses relating to religion; and offenses against property, such as theft, robbery, and dacoity (robbery by a group of five or more persons).

Punishment is divided into five categories: death; banishment, ranging from seven years to life; imprisonment; forfeiture of property; and fines. The imprisonment may be "simple" or "rigorous" (hard labor), ranging from the minimum of twenty-four hours for drunken or disorderly conduct to a maximum of fourteen years at hard labor for more serious offenses. Juvenile offenders may be sentenced to detention in reform schools for a period of three to seven years. For minor infractions whipping, not exceeding fifteen lashes, may be prescribed as an alternative to detention.

Preventive detention may be ordered under the amended Security of Pakistan Act of 1952 and under Section 107 of the Code of Criminal Procedure when, in the opinion of the authorities, there is a strong likelihood of public disorder. Bangladeshi regimes have made extensive use of this provision. Similarly, Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, frequently invoked by magistrates for periods up to two months, prohibits assembly of five or more persons, holding of public meetings, and carrying of firearms. In addition, the Disturbed Areas (Special Powers) Ordinance of 1962 empowers a magistrate or an officer in charge of a police contingent to open fire or use force against any persons breaching the peace in the disturbed areas and to arrest and search without a warrant. The assembly of five or more persons and the carrying of firearms may also be prohibited under this ordinance.

Persons charged with espionage are punishable under the Official Secrets Act of 1911, as amended in 1923 and 1968. As revised in May 1968, this statute prescribes death as the maximum penalty for a person convicted of espionage. In 1966, in an effort to prevent information leaks, the central government passed a regulation prohibiting former government officials from working for foreign diplomatic missions. In general, all persons seeking employment with foreign embassies or any foreign government agencies were also required to obtain prior permission from Bangladeshi authorities.

The custody and correction of persons sentenced to imprisonment is regulated under the Penal Code of 1860, the Prisons Act of 1894, and the Prisoners Act of 1900, as amended. The prison system has expanded but in 1988 was basically little changed from the later days of the British Raj (see Glossary). The highest jail administration official is the inspector general of prisons or, if this office is not separately assigned, the inspector general of police. At the division level or the police range level, the senior official is called director of prisons; at the district level, he is the jail superintendent. Below the district jail level are the subdistrict and village police lockups. Dhaka Central Jail is the largest and most secure prison and has more extensive facilities than those at the successive lower echelons. All installations are staffed by prison police usually permanently assigned to this duty. In general, prisons and jails have low standards of hygiene and sanitation and are seriously overcrowded. Rehabilitation programs with trained social workers were rudimentary or nonexistent through the late 1980s. Overcrowding--the most serious basic problem--was likely to worsen as the 1990s approached because of the mounting number of arrests connected with opposition campaigns to oust Ershad from office.

Data as of September 1988

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Bangladesh Table of Contents