Thursday, March 22, 2007

Arrange apparent grounds rather than arbitrary arrests


After a recent meeting with Election Commission of Bangladesh on March 5, 2007, Jatiya Party chief General H.M Ershad told the press that he is not corrupted and everybody knows it very well.

Speaking about corruption of Ershad’s dynasty is a non-ending tale. General Ershad corrupted the social and political institutions and establishment of militarism by progressively undermining the civil leadership and civic society in Bangladesh. In this regard he was true successors of the Pakistani military dictator, General Ayub Khan.

Soon after the consolidation of his power, Ershad concentrated on the militarization of the civil administration. To stay in power and to secure absolute power, he manipulated the elections and then literally destroyed it. In the upazilla election of 1985, Ershad's party won in 200 centers by means of armed violence carried out by Ershad' musclemen and 8 people (government report, hundreds in reality) were killed. Only 25-30% voters attended that election. The election scored the highest record for terrorism.

He made a big hole in the financial sector of Bangladesh. According to a statistics report of 1989, 22 persons or groups associated with Ershad appropriated 50% of the total loans for industrialization. Members of Ershad’s political party appropriated one third of the total wheat (10,000,000 tonnes) received under the ‘food for work’ in 1985. But it was turned out as ‘food for Ershad’s politics.’ Toadies of Ershad grabbed TK. 80,000,000 in the name of importing cotton in 1987-88.

His well known corruption was TK. 30,000,000 from the Japanese donations to purchase rescue vessels for rescue and protection against flood and natural disasters in 1988. Ershad either himself committed corruption or patronized corruption.

General Ershad rehabilitated the war criminals and the anti liberation political elements in Bangladesh and allowed them to establish political hegemony. He declared Islam as the state religion and made Bangladesh an Islamic republic and to secure political power he used the networks of Islamic spiritual peers (religious leaders). Ershad rejuvenated the Madrassah to promote destructive fundamentalism.

This former general tried his label best to hold the power forever in Bangladesh. But people discredited the result that gave the Jatiya party a two-thirds majority in 1988 election and fuelled the fires of discontent that led to Ershad’s resignation on December 4, 1900. He was arrested on corruption charges eight days later by the interim government, convicted, and imprisoned on corruption charges. Everybody thought his imprisoned ended the movie, but nothing happened according to the expectation of the general people of Bangladesh.

After nearly six years behind bars on firearms and corruption charges, former Bangladesh president Husain Muhammad Ershad tasted freedom for the first time on June 23, 1996 on parole for four hours to take his oath as an MP at Dhaka's Sangsad Bhaban (parliament building), following his re-election in national polls June 12, 1996.

Three weeks later to the day, he was out again and was granted parole to attend the first session of Parliament. Seated on the front bench, he was visibly enjoying the political cross-fire in opening debates.

Although charges against Ershad are stronger enough and lawfully strict, he finally managed his freedom with the help of corrupted politicians and bureaucrat of Bangladesh. And in the last political combat, he played as a striker which finally brought emergency in Bangladesh. If he can find the lack of law and orders of Bangladesh, then what about the present detainees as the charges against them are not even so strong to keep them in jail?

On March 12, 2007, the High Court (HC) of Bangladesh declared illegal the detention of six Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and Awami League (AL) leaders under the Special Powers Act. The high profiled politicians are former state minister for civil aviation and tourism Mir Mohammad Nasiruddin, former BNP lawmaker Mosaddak Ali Falu, Chittagong BNP leader Dastagir Chowdhury, former AL minister Engr. Mosharraf Hossain, AL president's APS Dr Awlad Hossain, and Chittagong Port CBA leader Nurullah Bahar.

The High Court division bench comprised by Justice Md. Abdul Wahhab Mian and Justice Md. Emdadul Haque passed orders declaring that the detention of them and ordered the government to release them immediately if they are not wanted in any other case.

In addition, the detention of former lawmaker Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury under the Special Powers Act, 1974 was declared illegal by the High Court on March 11, 2007.

The Supreme Court (SC) of Bangladesh stayed for 17 more days the operation of a High Court (HC) verdict that declared illegal the detention of former Awami League lawmaker Kamal Ahmed Majumder on February 26, 2007.

The Bangladesh authorities failed to respond to the court order except merely submitting the papers issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs and the HC declared illegal the detention of Majumder on February 26, 2007.

Soon after President Iajuddin Ahmed proclaimed the state of emergency in the evening of 11 January 2007, Majumder along with other politicians, NGO leaders and some other bureaucrats were arrested by the army-led joint forces.

But will it bring any good result to hold them behind bars without any apparent grounds whether frequently their detention are being declared illegal?

Tareq Rahman, son of former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia and Senior Joint Secretary General of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) was arrested on March 7, 2007. Vowing to clean up corruption, the present interim government arrested him with the charge of extortion of TK. 1 crore from a construction firm, Al-Amin Construction, a concern of Amin Mohammad Foundation.

Owner of the construction firm, Amin Ahmed, who got ticket as a BNP candidate from a Noakhali constituency for the cancelled January 22 election, filed the case against him. Analyst said that this charge even mightn’t enough to keep him away from bail.

Furthermore, government shouldn’t forget the bad impact of arbitrary arrests and mass killing which affect human rights. Odhikar, a human rights group in Bangladesh, said in a recent report that at least 50 people were killed by law enforcement agencies and 95,825 people arrested during the first 60 days of emergency from January 12-March 12, 2007.

In addition, US Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 2006, released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour in Washington Tuesday, March 6, 2007 alleged that Bangladesh government’s human rights record remained poor for what it said numerous serious abuses like extra-judicial killing, arbitrary arrest and detention and politically-motivated violence.

It alleged security forces acted with impunity, and committed acts of physical and psychological torture. “In addition, violence against journalists continued, as did infringement on religious freedoms.”

‘It is praiseworthy that the government of Bangladesh has arrested a number of influential political leaders and bureaucrat, who are allegedly involved in huge corruption and abuse of the power using their governmental positions. Although general people heatedly welcomed these arrests, government should aware of any unlawful detention and human rights for the big interest of the country,’ said the famous filmmaker and journalist Shahriar Kabir in a dinner speech held at a restaurant in Queens, New York on March 10, 2007.

President of the Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist & Christian Unity Council, USA, INC. (BHBCUC) Rup Kumar Bhowmick briefly spoke in his welcome speech at the seminar ‘Politics, Arrests and Human Rights under the Present Interim Government.’

The Bangladeshi government should take necessary steps to keep real corrupted people behind bars rather than arbitrary arrests. Arrests must be carried out in accordance with the law and due process, not by rounding up huge numbers of people who may or may not have broken the law because people of Bangladesh don’t want to see the result again like Ershad. #

Ripan Kumar Biswas is a freelance writer based in New York