Monday, February 04, 2008

Case Against Former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina

Dr. ABDUL MOMEN

THERE ARE at present two cases against Sheikh Hasina, the former Prime Minister and leader of the largest and oldest political party of Bangladesh and both are concocted. None of these cases will stand in the normal court of law in Bangladesh or in any international court of justice and fairness as per most jurists, both national and international. Being aware of this fact, therefore, the military-backed government of Fakhruddin Ahmed is trying her under Emergency Laws in his Kangaroo Court. They are determined to convict her and keep her away from politics as did the military junta headed by General Yahya Khan of Pakistan in 1971. The Pakistani military junta convicted her father Bangobandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founder of independent Bangladesh to death. But he got out triumptly.

The current government made a secret proposal to Sheikh Hasina as per local pundits. The proposal demands Sheikh Hasina and also all members of her family to abandon Bangladesh politics forever, and it also demands her to stop talking about Bangladesh especially about the rights of its people. If she agrees, cases against her would be dropped and she may be set free.

Bangladesh Parliament buildings have been chosen by the current military leaders as the seat of its Kangaroo Court to try Sheikh Hasina and along with it, it plans to destroy and weaken all political parties, their aspirations and leadership so that no 'free, fair, credible and multi-party democracy' can ever flourish in Bangladesh. It hopes to start a new era of ‘guided democracy’ where civil-military-technocratic elite would have a permanent and superior role over all others for years to come. However, young military officers that wish the country to prosper do not share such policy. There is growing uneasiness among them and they would like their top braces to get out of dirty politics as they fear that such may turn the nation against them leading to wiping out Bangladesh military. Therefore, they want their generals to concentrate on military professionalism.

However, one serious problem that military leadership cannot accept of Sheikh Hasina is that she proved that even a ‘partly free, highly polarized, resource-starved, densely populated new multi-party democracy’ in Bangladesh can achieve significant growth rates in spite of natural or man-made odds. It is a fact that during her tenure in spite of floods, droughts, strikes and hartals, Bangladesh achieved its highest GDP as well as per capita income growth rates and it also maintained the lowest inflation rate in its 36 years history--- all of which are in bad shape now. While Hasina could achieve near self sufficiency in food supply through commendable agricultural growth rate, the current military-backed government of experts turned it into a food deficient country and it engaged its military to distribute and import food from abroad and more importantly, without tender or check and balances. The young officers believe this as a ploy of the foreign-trained experts to corrupt the nation’s military as they believe that by engaging military into RAB, a Rapid Action Battalion authorized to kill without due process, military discipline is being compromised. They are afraid that their over exposures and hasty decisions to take civilians jobs could create more fear and uncertainty leading the nation into bankruptcy. No wonder the economy is stagnating, its investment plummeted and its inflation rate reached double digits causing enormous suffering to its nationals. The troops are still happy as they get free meals but their relatives, sons and daughters of the land are increasingly finding difficulties. The unemployment rate is also sharply increasing as local factories are being closed down and it is reaching to that of Afghanistan, Iraq and occupied Gaza and Palestine. No wonder, the World Economic Forum put four heads of governments together in one group and they are none but that of Afghanistan's Karzai, Bangladesh's Ahmed, Pakistan's Musharraf and Iraq's Al-Zubaie, the Deputy.

Let us examine the current cases against Sheikh Hasina, the only leader whom the current government is afraid of and they believe that jailed or not jailed Sheikh Hasina can save the nation by agreeing to their proposal.

Ist Case Against Sheikh Hasina
This first trial initiated was a charge of extorting money from a businessman, Mr. Azam Chowdhury. This trial started early December 2007 and under the Emergency Powers Rule 2007 (EPR) has to be concluded by the end of February. The developments in this case are as follows:

1. Last week Azam Chowdhury called a press conference and publicly announced that he did not file charges against Sheikh Hasina and she had nothing at all to do with this case. He further said that he filed a case only against Sheikh Selim, former Minister and Sheikh Hasina’s cousin.
2. The only evidence military regime has provided is the confession of Sheikh Selim, former Minister. On the very first day of hearings Sheikh Selim submitted to the court in writing that he was physically tortured repeatedly and threatened with death to make a false confession against Sheikh Hasina. He retracted his confession that was made under duress.
3. In fact, there is also evidence exonerating Sheikh Hasina. The money was paid by checks and the checks were endorsed and cashed by a third person. This person has not been investigated by the military regime at all. He has not been allowed to testify.
4. This week Azam Chowdhury testified in court. His testimony was that he did not file charges against Sheikh Hasina, that she had nothing to do with the case against Hasina and that he had never ever met her.
5. It is reported that checks were written as a 'gift' for a non-profit foundation. He stated that he wrote similar checks even for the 'Chief Advisor’s Relief Fund'.
6. The nation’s High Court repeatedly rejected the case against Sheikh Hasina and termed them as baseless and ordered the government to release Sheikh Hasina. However, the nation’s Appellate Court stayed the High Court’s verdicts again and again.
7. Recently High Court (appeals court) had appointed seven highly reputed attorneys as Amicus Curae, or “friends of the court” to file briefs on her motion that trying her under the EPR was illegal. One attorney withdrew himself on personal ground but the remaining six including a former judge submitted briefs stating that 'trying Sheikh Hasina under the EPR for allegations that occurred seven years prior to the enactment of the EPR was indeed illegal and unconstitutional'.

The 2nd Case Against Sheikh Hasina
The second trial is a charge of receiving a bribe from Summit Industries. Summit Industries won a contract to build a power plant in Khulna. Shortly after, they purchased the house next to the Bangabandhu Museum and later donated it to the Museum. The Museum is owned and operated by the Bangabandhu Trust, which also provides scholarships to 1,200 needy students. Sheikh Hasina is the Chairperson of the Board of the Trust, but a curator and staff run the day to day operations and manage all financial transactions. The regime claims that another bidder, New England Power, was the lowest in this project and that this donation was a bribe to Sheikh Hasina to give Summit the contract. This trial has to conclude in March under the EPR. The facts in this case so far are:

1. Donation was made in kind to the Bangabandu Trust. The regime has never claimed that Sheikh Hasina received any money from Summit Industries or any other individuals involved in this project.
2. An independent accounting firm, who are the local partners of the Ernest and Young, has evaluated the project and concluded that Summit was in fact the lowest bidder. New England Power's bid did not use the specified tariff rates but instead attempted to cheat and used a lower “estimated” rate with a clause that allowed them to subsequently raise their price if the actual tariff rate was higher. Because of this their bid was considered “unresponsive” and disqualified.
3. At about the same time Summit Industries also made a cash donation to the Dhaka Cantonment Board. The Cantonment Board is owned by the Army and this donation was for building a hospital. This donation was in the amount of $2 million and is six times the monetary value of the donation to the Bangabandhu Trust.
4. Making donation to public or private trust or funds or NGOs or institutions is not yet declared illegal in Bangladesh.

Both these trials are being conducted in special courts set up under the EPR. The regime is lying in claiming that she is being tried under the “law of the land' and is allowed to defend herself. #

Dr. Abdul Momen, a professor of economics and business management, Boston, USA Sylhet@Verizon.net