Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Time to open the jail gates


BY THE time this piece appears in print, Begum Khaleda Zia, the mandala of misrule and his son Tarique Rahman, the avowed guru of corruption (his critics called him the king of corruption), could be out of jail through, of course, “due process of law” as repeatedly asserted by their followers. Begum Zia presided over the most despicable administration this country has ever endured. Her family members, especially her two brothers and two sons, became the symbol of corruption and abuse of the state authority bestowed on their sister and mother, respectively. When she had all set to steal the scheduled January 22 general election and she was only eleven days away from becoming the fourth time PM of the country, the so-called one- eleven came on her way. Her opponents, who she asked her supporters to crush once and for all, along with the general people, except for the die-hard supporters of the alliance government and their beneficiaries, heaved a natural sigh of relief.

Although the main function of a this ‘unusual’ administration was to assist the reconstituted EC to hold the general election with a genuine voter list, the government embarked on a self-destined agenda under a reconstituted ACC to punish the corrupts and promulgated ordinance under emergency rule to meet that end. However, from the beginning, the actions of the ACC and the government in dealing with the politicians of the two major political parties gave rise to various hypotheses as regard to the inner intent of the government. One of the most common one that had the most supportive evidences was that the current government was trying to white-wash the sins of the BNP-Jamaat alliance government to ‘create a level playing field’ which was too steep for them to climb in a free and fair election. The hypothesis gained credence by the fact that the biggest wrath of this government fell on Sheikh Hasina who and her only surviving sister even have no dwellings of their own to reside in the city, while Zia family enjoys the ownership, through the benevolence of the state, of two palatial houses in the posh area of the city including one inside the cantonment.

After her arrest she was sued one after another on charges of extortion and corruption, dragged to the court house even when she was seriously ill, while the immediate past PM whose regime has been marked by the biggest plundering of the national wealth and abuse of authority remain virtually unscathed. Begum Zia and her adherents constantly accused the government that it was trying to destroy the Zia family. However, a simple analysis would add more merits to the hypothesis that, in fact, all of its actions exactly are geared towards doing just the opposite.

Her brother who was allegedly only second to his own nephew in the corruption scale was even not in the big list of suspected corrupts. Her second brother was arrested a few weeks ago and was released on bail in no time. However, the stories of his wanton corruption appeared in a number of highly credible print media right after his arrest with vivid descriptions of what and how he did towards making our national carrier a financial failure. One of these media is so credible and its journalism is so objective and investigative that one of its recent stories led to the cancellation of a land lease involving the President and his wife by the government. However, charge against him is as vague as many who have already been convicted on the basis of accumulating wealth disproportionate to his income.

Naturally, the highest number of cases was filed against Tarique Rahman, but so far he is facing no trial. Five cases of extortion against him have been stayed by the HC and there was no news of appeal by the state against the stay order. Quite to the contrary, when the extortion case against Sheikh Hasina (I do not dare to compare Sheikh Hasina with ‘uncompromising’ Khaleda Zia!) was stayed by the HC, the then addition AG (current AG) appeared in front of the TV cameras in a melancholy mood as if it was a personal tragedy for him and appealed to the appellate division in no time resulting in its overturn.

Recently, he has made a record-setting history by securing bails, not in one or two, but in five cases in a single day, including Zia orphanage trust case in which his mother, the PM, has allegedly diverted money (2.1 crores) from PM’s relief fund to so-called Zia orphanage trust run by him and which he has allegedly misappropriated in its entirety. The principal counsel of the ACC could not attend the bail hearing as he was ill (I came to know through my personal source) and the HC did not have time to waste by adjourning the proceedings, since this was not the case of an ordinary (‘faltu’) person! That is not all. He has added one more laurel to his credit by securing bail directly from the appellate division in the bone-chilling case of sharing Taka 21-crore bribery booty with his erstwhile crony following the murder of Humayun Kabir Sabbir. In this case too, reportedly neither did the AG attend nor oppose the bail. This is what the authority claims to be the ‘due process of law’. A very similar ‘due process of law’ took place while H M Ershad was acquitted in corruption cases one after the other, after Tarique and Babar went to his house and made a deal of joining JP with the four-party alliance. To make the matter worse, this ‘due process of law’ was initiated in the aftermath of the vandalism and the killing of an innocent citizens by the BNP thugs on the streets. Since there was no arrest in these hooliganisms even when the emergency rule is in force, this is a clear precedence of the appeasement of violence and terrorism that carries not much reassuring message to the nation about the future course of politics, which the current administration pledged to fix. In a corollary of the ‘due process of law’, BNP secretary general’s son, a convicted thief and hijacker in his own right, has also been granted bail.

BNP has already attributed the bail as synonym to acquittal, white-washing all the sins, and has challenged the acting AL secretary to prove that Tarique Rahman is guilty of any misdeeds, albeit it is the responsibility of ACC and the government to prove the charges of a dozen or so cases pending against him. It boils down to that fact that all members of the Zia family would be out of jail, if not already, in no time through the ‘due process of law’. This only added a very compelling argument in favour of the hypothesis that the government and the ACC colluded to re-establish the Zia family in the political arena by washing all their dreadful sins through the ‘due process of law’.

If members of the Zia family, the perceived nucleus of corruption and the plunder of state wealth, could be out of jail, then no one could disagree with AL acting Secretary when he said, “if “champions of corruption” are released, the government has no moral or legal right to keep detained the leaders and workers of other parties arrested on “so-called” corruption charges.” Those who so far have been convicted were mostly on the vague charges of “accumulating wealth disproportionate to his income” or in some cases possessing a bottle of unlicensed liquor. At this stage, it would be impossible for the government to counter the arguments that all these arrest, convictions, and bails were guided by the government discriminatory policy of who they want to eliminate from the political scene. It is, therefore, the high time for the government to open the jail gates for all those who have been convicted or accused on the vague charges, in addition to any convicted thieves and hijackers. This, though, would acknowledge its failure but would surely add a few points to its badly plummeted credibility.

The ACC chief, who I still revere, owes a solemn apology to those who he lectured, travelling from city to city, to instil antipathy against corruption in the mindset of the young and adult alike. His bureau’s actions or inactions have put a burden on the conscience of many of his admirers, foremost among them is my friend and fellow DS contributor, Dr. Abdullah Dewan of Michigan. The battle is lost. Should he continue to head the ACC? It is a decision solely lies with himself. #

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