Friday, April 25, 2008

Will there be any legacy of this government left to be emulated?

MOZAMMEL H. KHAN

SINCE HER arrest on July 16, 2007 Sheikh Hasina was constantly apprehensive about getting fair trials for all the legal suits that have been brought against her for all the wrong-doings she allegedly have committed a decade or so earlier. In front of the trial judges in the make-shift court houses she repeatedly declared her apprehensions that the verdicts have already been decided and the trail judges, in her words, have no other option but to hand down them regardless of the merits of the incriminations which are expected to be unfolded during the trial proceedings. The justifications of her assertions have been reinforced with the accusations of her counsels that a certain 'agency' has been intimidating them for working as counsels for the former PM. The public disclosure of intimidation was made by no other than Barrister Shafique Ahmed, a respected legal expert, a former President of the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) and once again a contender for the Presidency. Barrister Shafique went as far as narrating his conversations with the one from the same agency who questioned him why he is running for the SCBA presidency while working as a counsel for Sheikh Hasina, as if it involves conflict of interest and the particular agency is a watch-dog body to oversee it. The reason for the absence of number reputed legal experts of the country in the counsel-list of Sheikh Hasina is now glaringly clear. If a lawyer of Barrister Shafique's stature could be intimidated by an 'agency', it would not be difficult to extrapolate the pressure that a lower court judge would be undergoing making the premonition of Sheikh Hasina a reality.

Since the installation of second CTG on January 11, 2007 under the leadership of Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed, I wrote a number of pieces in DS singling out Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed as the chief asset to the government. In fact, in my judgment, I could not find any one better than Dr. Fakhruddin to lead the CTG, both in quality and objectivity. I was interviewed number of times by local TVs where I reassured the audience that there was no reason to cast aspersion on the integrity of the Fakhruddin Administration to hold a free, fair and credible election. My assertion was intensified by a number of speeches he delivered to his fellow citizens over the months, which are remarkable both in contents and style of delivery. In all of his speeches, the CA emphasized over and over again about establishing rule of law, human rights, good governance, transparency and accountability. He never forgot to reassert his hold on to the government, that he is in charge and the armed forces are only 'assisting' his government, albeit a redundant stipulation, since as an organ of the state, it is bound to 'assist' any constitutional government when ordered to do so. The only exception to his otherwise flawless speeches which he made in Manikganj, the day his government asked for the 'assistance' of around thousand members of the law enforcing agencies, some of them wearing bullet proof vest, who reportedly brought dog squad with them to arrest an unarmed near-60-year-old woman, a former PM, isolated in her home. Boasting at her arrest, the CA declared 'no one is above the law'. The DS editor Mahfuz Anam in his excellent commentary instantly retorted by asserting, "to say that nobody is above the law must also mean that law is not the handmaiden of anybody either."

Contrary to his words and the citizens' expectation, how much did he accomplish in terms of establishing rule of law and transparency and accountability of his government? As the chief executive of the government, he is evidently accountable for the deeds of any one 'assisting' his government to establish good governance, which certainly he as well all his fellow citizens expects any future government to emulate. On October 29, 2007 it was reported in a number of media that an invisible force assembled a number of BNP standing committee members in a house and forced them to form a committee which since then known as 'reformist' group of the party. A few of those members in a sworn affidavit submitted to the high court that they were, in fact, forced by an invisible force to sign on the papers agreeing to the formation of the committee. It has been reported in the media as well as alleged by leaders of pro-Khaleda BNP in the last few days that a few of their standing committee members have been detained (later released) and threatened to withdraw their support from the pro-Khaleda faction of the party. Does any citizen of the Republic want these activities to be emulated by the 'assistants' of any future government?

The way the election of the SCBA and the DUTA have been forced to postpone has no precedence during the tenure of any of our elected, military or quasi-military government. As if that was not enough, a few members of the so-called 'assisting' organ of the state went to the house of the election officer, a Professor of the University, at wee hours of night and threatened him to resign or postpone the election. Even the notorious thugs of any political government, indiscriminate bashing of its rule is a pastime for a few sycophants of the current government, had never dared to tread in that arena.

Only on the other day, an illustrious bureaucrat, one of a few civilian decorated hero of our great war of liberation, who became a house hold name in 1971, was rearrested after he was granted bail by the supreme court and released, on charges of making inflammatory speech at 'Panthapath' after his release. The fact of the matter, as disclosed by his lawyer, that he never went to Panthapath, let alone making a speech, which he was never accustomed to making, since he was a bureaucrat, not a politician. How the IG of police will explain the act of his officer when we hear him making repeated utterances that his forces are now working without any pressure from any quarter? Most of all, how a Princeton educated chief executive will account for this brazen lie when he is tirelessly preaching his determination to establish rule of law and good governance?

The objective behind the arrest of Sheikh Hasina and putting her hurriedly on trial, notwithstanding her multiple illnesses, is now very obvious at both home and abroad. The world renowned Weekly, 'The Economist', in its current issue (April 17, 2008) has rightfully echoed the reality when it said, "The army's main headache is Sheikh Hasina, whose party is widely expected to win the election. Her detention on corruption charges has made her more popular than ever."

I personally felt myself out of touch when I heard many of our compatriots clamouring the separation of judiciary from the executive branch. I only found my views resonating in the words of the octogenarian lawyer Barrister Rafiqul Huq. Before the separation of judiciary at least the high court division of the Supreme Court had the independence if the honourable judges had the desire to avail it. But after the separation of judiciary, as it appears, the independence of the high court division, let alone the lower judiciary, apparently has been striped off by the Appellate division. And today after the verdict by the Appellate division that the court (that includes High Court) cannot grant bail to any one arrested under EPR, in the words of Barrister Rafiqul Huq, "it is the last nail on the coffin of human rights." As President, Justice Shahbuddin Ahmed refused to sign a bill that forbade bail for the accused, passed by the parliament during the tenure of the last AL government.

In a seminar on August 12, 2007 the honourable Chief Justice while lecturing the judges declared, "judges couldn't be compelled to work independently by enacting laws. It has to be in their culture. If a judge is not committed to work freely, law cannot make him/her independent." Quite to the contrary, the nation has witnessed the curtailing of their freedom by staying or overturning most of the verdicts handed down by judges of the high court division by the Appellate division thereby concentrating the whole authority/independence of the judiciary into the apex body. #

Dr. Mozammel H. Khan is the Convenor of the Canadian Committee for Human Rights and Democracy in Bangladesh