Prosecutor rues absence of key witnesses as Raintree hotel ‘rape’ verdict set for Wednesday

A tribunal will deliver the verdict in a case against Shafat Ahmed, the son of an Apan Jewellers co-owner, and four others on Wednesday over the alleged rape of two university students at the Raintree hotel in Dhaka.

The prosecutor of the case has expressed frustration over the absence of two key witnesses in the trial, which the defence claims proves that the charges are false. 

Judge Mosammat Kamrunnahar of the No. 2 Women and Children Repression Prevention Tribunal was set to give the verdict on Oct 12 but the date was deferred as the judge went on holiday.

Besides Shafat, the defendants in the case are Shafat’s friend Shadman Sakif, a director of Regnum Group, Nayem Ashraf, an employee of E-Makers Event Management, Shafat's driver Billal Hossain and bodyguard Rahmat Ali. All five had been out on bail, but were sent to jail on Oct 3 ahead of the verdict.

Two university students accused the men of involvement in the rape in a case filed with the Banani police in May 2017, a month after the alleged incident.

Shafat had invited the two to his birthday party at the hotel in Banani on Mar 28 that year. The young women said he and his friend Ashraf forced them into a room and raped them at gunpoint.

They accused the three others of aiding the rapists and filming the sexual assault.

Shafat and Shadman were arrested in Sylhet days after the case was started. Billal and Rahmat were arrested in Dhaka. Nayem Ashraf, known as Hasan Mohammad Halim in his native district of Sirajganj, was arrested in Munshiganj.

Amid an uproar, customs officials raided Apan Jewellers outlets and initiated a case against Dildar Ahmed, Shafat’s father, after finding illegal caches of gold.

The defence alleged Shafat’s former wife Faria Mahbub Piasha instigated the filing of the case. Piasha, a model, has been arrested in a recent drugs case.

Besides Piasha, who was with the plaintiff during the lodging of the case, key witness Ahmed Shahriar did not testify in court. Shahriar, a friend of the alleged victims, were beaten and driven out of the hotel during the incident, according to the case dossier.  

Public Prosecutor Afroza Farhana Ahmed Orange said, “Two of my key witnesses did not testify in court. And the CCTV camera footage could not be submitted as evidence. Moreover, the medical report did not find evidence of rape.” 

“But the High Court has decided that a court can punish the accused considering the circumstances.”

Khairul Islam Liton, lawyer for Nayem Ashraf, said in court that the witnesses would have appeared had the charges been true.

He alleged Piasha had orchestrated the case or Shafat was a victim of unhealthy business competition.