A travesty of justice

Editorial, NewAge, June 17 2008. Dhaka, Bangladesh

WE ARE not really surprised – though certain sections of society may be – that the military-controlled interim government is considering the release of many convicted prisoners who have served half or more of their jail terms, apparently to make jail space for over 31,000 people arrested in a recent mass-arrest campaign, as New Age reported on Monday. We are not surprised because we have observed from the very outset of the so-called ‘law and order’ crackdown initiated on May 28 that this campaign specifically seeks to subjugate political leaders and activists and that this agenda will likely be prioritised above and beyond all other rational or legal compulsions that this government has. The incumbents have, after all, displayed a lot of enthusiasm in rounding up hundreds of political activists over the past months.

While we are aware of the government’s legal power to release detainees on the basis of certain considerations and/or conditions, we have specific reasons to take serious note of the government plan in question, particularly given its proven distaste for the political class in general. The government’s publicly announced plan to release sentenced prisoners from the overcrowded jails in order to accommodate new detainees clearly represents an anti-political policy pursued by the government since its take over in January last year: maligning and repressing the political class in general. If the plan is implemented, what the government is actually going to do is to reward those whose crimes have already been proven in the courts of law. The objective of the plan is also clear: Punishing the crime suspects, most of whom are political leaders and activists, whose ‘crimes’ are yet to be proved beyond reasonable doubts. This is a travesty of justice.

In this regard, we again question the political motives of the government and the draconian nature of the emergency rules that bar the accused in a case to seek bail. Had the rules not blocked the courts’ right to grant bail to hundreds of arrestees under the law of the land, the jails would not have been over crowded in the first place. Instead of doing away with the unjust rules in question, the government has resorted to, and continuing with, its mass arrest campaign that once more denies bail further crowding the prisons. The incumbents have displayed such enthusiasm for charging thousands of people in a single case on more occasions than one in the past. Such anti-people activities need to be stopped.

A final answer to such an anti-political phenomenon is to return to a democratic process and strengthening the rule of law, obviously by way of getting rid of the undemocratic regime of the day. However, an immediate response of the democratically oriented sections of society to the government plan for perpetuating detentions of the political activists should be to put effective pressure on the regime to release the politicians on bail – not to mention lifting of the emergency to restore the fundamental rights of the citizens.


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