Archive for August, 2008

Govt forms body to check ‘negative’ price increase news

August 30, 2008

Asif Showkat, NewAge, August 30, 2008

The government has formed a media committee to see how ‘negative news’ on commodity prices can be thwarted as reports on price hike have been seen as factors that fuel market volatility.
   

Experts, however, see it as a tool for controlling the media and feel that there is no use of such a committee. ‘The print and electronic media are not giving the real reports on declines in prices of essential goods, so consumers are being deprived of positive outcome of price fall,’ said an information ministry official.
   

The ministry will take initiatives to ensure that the media play a ‘positive’ role in letting people know when prices fall as they do in case of soaring prices, said the official.
   

The eight-member media committee, headed by a joint secretary of the information ministry, had its first meeting on August 23 and analysed the media reports on the local commodity market.
 Most of the members agreed that the media, both print and electronic, reported elaborately when prices of some items had gone up, but they were often reluctant to even have a mention in their reports when prices declined, the information ministry official said.
   

The director general of Bangladesh Betar, the principal information officer and the chief editor of the state-run Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha are members of the media committee, which will hold its next meeting on Monday at the information ministry.
   

Regulatory Reforms Commission chairman Akbar Ali Khan has said there is no necessity to control the media reports on price hike of essentials. Rather, the government should allow the media to publish real news on price hike of essentials across the country so that necessary interventions can be planned and made on time.
   

‘The government has taken certain programmes in the budget to keep prices of essentials in check. If the programmes, like official import and procurement of food, are implemented properly, prices of essentials will be automatically stable in the market,’ Akbar, a former finance secretary, told New Age.
   

AAMS Arefin Siddiqui, professor of journalism at Dhaka University, rejected the contention that media reports on price hike have negative impact on the market.
   

‘Our media reflect the real picture of commodity price situations across the country,’ he said to New Age, adding that the interim government might want to control the media in the name of checking ‘negative report’ by forming a media committee.
   

In its first meeting, the committee found that the country’s major newspapers were downplaying or ignoring the news of significant reduction in prices of many items.
   

It suggested that the state-run Bangladesh Television could easily show sales of commodities at the BDR fair price shops and open market sale outlets of Trading Corporation of Bangladesh and the food ministry.
  

Newspapers should publish price chart of essentials so that the people can know the real prices of goods and bargain with the traders effectively. Private televisions and radio channels can air programmes like Bazarer Bag [shopping programme], a reality show run by BTV, to update the viewers on market prices, the committee said.
   

It entrusted the Press Information Department with making official price charts available to all newspapers routinely, sources close to the committee said.

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Truth and Accountability Commission (TAC) relevance in question

August 30, 2008

Staff Correspondent, NewAge, August 30, 2008

The Truth and Accountability Commission appears to have missed its prime mission to put the country’s economic and industrial development back on track as it has found only two businessmen appealing for mercy.
   

The commission started its operation early this month with high-sounding pledge to allow graft suspects to voluntarily admit their guilt, surrender ill-gotten wealth and get clemency.
   

Though swamped by mercy petitions from officials of utility agencies and other government departments, the commission only received two petitions from the business community, prompting it to extend the deadline for receiving applications by one month.
   

The TAC has so far received records of about 182 cases, filed against 184 people, its chairman Justice Habibur Rahman Khan said at a press briefing in his Hare Road office on August 27, four days before the first deadline expires.
   

Most of the case files involve graft charges against officials of the Rural Electrification Board, Bangladesh Telecommunications Company Ltd, Roads and Highways Department, Titas Gas Transmission and Distribution Company Ltd, Dhaka Electric Supply Authority, Department of Land Registration, Forest Department, Chittagong Port and Bangladesh Road Transport Authority.
   Considering the poor response from the graft suspects especially the businessmen, the commission has extended the deadline until September 30.
   

The TAC chairman on Friday told New Age that they were hopeful that businesspeople would avail of the extended deadline and come up with clemency appeals.
   Economists and business leaders, however, expressed their doubts about the response to the extended deadline as the High Court on August 28 questioned the legality of the Voluntary Disclosure Ordinance 2008, which gave the basis of the TAC.
   

They termed the TAC as a ‘futile exercise’ as they felt no sensible businessman would risk being stigmatised by voluntarily admitting financial crimes at a time when many high-profile politicians with graft charges are getting bail from the High Court and the country’s politics is heading for a different shape.
   

They said that the commission, formed on July 30 only for five months, could hardy bring any improvement in business and investment climate, which is reeling from erosion in business confidence due to crackdown against corruption and tax evasion.
   

Some of them, without being quoted, even said the commission was put in place to save newly corrupt people and those who amassed huge wealth through shady means but enjoyed blessing from the powerful people.
   

‘It [TAC] is no more necessary because concerned people are reaching compromise and getting remedy beyond the purview of the commission. It has only added another farcical chapter to the history of governance here,’ said Anu Muhammad, a professor of economics at Jahangirnagar University.
   

Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies research director Zaid Bakht pointed out that the commission was formed at a wrong time. ‘Businesspeople now prefer waiting to see what happens after the elections as the situation on the political front and judicial arena looks fluid,’ the economist said.
   

‘It lacks credibility in absence of a political consensus about its formation and functioning. Giving it only a five-month term raises questions in the minds of many,’ said economist Atiur Rahman, chairman of research organisation Shamunnoy.
   He explained that businessmen too did not find confidence in seeking mercy from the commission, despite repeated assurance from the TAC chief that names would never be made public.
   

The business community, which earlier preferred formation of such a commission to give amnesty to some of them and bring back business confidence, now believes that the commission is of no use for them as it does not guard them against future actions by the anti-corruption or revenue watchdogs.
   

‘Why will they [a section of businessmen] take the risk of being branded as corrupt for the remaining part of their life? Most people are finding the High Court as safer place and they are getting justice there,’ said Annisul Huq, president of the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry, analysing the reasons behind the businessmen’s reluctance to go to the TAC.
   

In view of poor response from the businesspeople to seek TAC mercy to avert harsh legal measures, it seems that the commission itself is losing its relevance and potentials, the top business leader pointed out.


‘I think that a kind of critical social behaviour has been reflected here. No one wants to be socially identified as guilty,’ said Anwar Ul Alam Chowdhury Parvez, president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association.
 He also observed that the commission had confused the people by coming into operation in a wrong context.
   

Aftab Ul Islam, former president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Bangladesh, said the poor response to the commission’s mercy offer indicated that the concept of the government had totally failed in this regard.
 ‘Obviously, no businessman will like to have a tag and risk his/her career,’ he said, describing the formation of the commission as one of the biggest mistakes of the present government.
   

One of the fundamental objectives of the commission was to bring back normalcy in business activities and instil confidence in investors.
   

‘Under the circumstances, existing businessmen and new investors will definitely hesitate, no matter he or she is corrupt or not,’ said Zaid Bakht.
   

Anu Mohammad said the truth commission was not an effective tool for channelling ill-gotten wealth into the mainstream economy and productive activities in absence of the proper institutional mechanism, and the commission was also not geared to that job.

High Court orders govt to explain truth commission legality

August 29, 2008

Staff Correspondent, NewAge, 29, 2008

The High Court on Thursday issued a rule on the government to explain in two weeks why the Voluntary Disclosure Ordinance 2008, under which the Truth and Accountability Commission was formed on July 30, would not be declared illegal and void.
   

The High Court bench of Justice Khademul Islam Chowdhury and Justice Mashuque Hosein Ahmed passed the order after hearing a public interest litigation writ petition filed on August 25 by Supreme Court lawyer Adilur Rahman Khan, women’s organisation Nari Grantha Probartana executive director Farida Akhter, physician-turned-politician Dipu Moni and rights organisation Odhikar’s acting director ASM Nasiruddin Elan.
   

The secretary to the president, cabinet secretary, law secretary, home secretary, truth commission chairman and the Anti-Corruption Commission chairman were asked to come up with the explanation.
   

The military-controlled interim government on July 30 formed the truth commission to let people voluntarily admit to their corruption, deposit ill-gotten wealth to the state exchequer and get mercy.
   

The commission was formed in accordance with the Voluntary Disclosure Ordinance 2008, promulgated on June 5.
   

The petitioners’ counsel Tawfique Nawaz argued the promulgation of the ordinance and the formation and functioning of the commission were unconstitutional as the commission was formed as an alternative to courts to try corruption suspects.
   

The preamble and some other clauses of the ordinance said the government had promulgated the ordinance (on June 5) to ‘remove corruption’ by means other than criminal trial and to reduce the burden of trials upon the state.
   

Referring to the ordinance, the counsel said that the objective of the ordinance was contrary to the constitutional provisions.
   

According to the constitution, an alleged offender can be punished after a fair trial by a competent court or tribunal and there can be no alternative to courts or tribunals for trial of a criminal offence, the petition said.
   

The commission set up under the ordinance is neither a court nor a tribunal established by any law, Tawfique argued, adding, ‘Even the Supreme Court has ceased to have its supervisory authority, granted by the constitution, over the decision of the commission.’
   

Opposing the petition, the attorney general, Salahuddin Ahmed, argued the commission was not an alternative to courts.
   

The ordinance was made and the commission was formed only to let corruption suspects voluntarily admit to their corruption, deposit ill-gotten wealth to the state exchequer and get mercy.
   

Neither the ordinance nor the commission has put any person on compulsion or under pressure of going to the commission, rather any person can admit to their corruption voluntarily to get mercy, the attorney general said.
   

Tawfique argued the ordinance was made in violation of the constitutional provision of ‘equality before law’ as the ordinance empowered the commission to pick and choose corruption suspects for mercy.
   

Discrimination against individuals is contrary to Article 27 of the constitution that guarantees equal rights before law, he pointed out.
   

The ordinance empowers the commission to order confiscation of money commensurate to the amount earned illegally and such confiscation results in barring the person concerned from contesting election to a public office or companies, Tawfique said. ‘This is, for all purposes, a conviction and sentence and such authority to punish a person by the commission is inconsistent with constitutional provisions for trying an offender by a court of law.’
   

Section 29 of the ordinance says the commission can seek assistance of the judiciary in consultation with the Supreme Court and the judiciary is under legal obligations to assist the commission.
   

Referring to the section, Tawfique argued it was against the basic structure of the constitution as an independent judiciary was to ensure a fair trial and not to follow the instruction of or to assist any statutory body.
   

According to the constitution, an ordinance requires to be placed in the immediate next session of the parliament while the Voluntary Disclosure Ordinance has been made and the commission launched for a five-month period and that will expire before the next general elections, he contended. The ordinance and the commission are ‘illegal’ as the ordinance cannot be placed in the parliament for ratification, Tawfique argued.
   

He also challenged the authority of the interim government to promulgate such an ordinance as it had provisions related to policy decisions of the government beyond the jurisdiction of a caretaker government and the ordinance was neither related to holding of elections nor to the regular functioning of the government.

Wire-tap plans violate constitution

August 29, 2008

Editorial, NewAge, August 28, 2008

The government is planning to monitor and coordinate the tapping of telephone calls through a national monitoring centre under the home ministry, according to report front-paged in New Age on Wednesday. The monitoring centre will reportedly be made up of representatives from the law enforcement and intelligence agencies and a brigadier general of the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence will head the centre. However, phone tapping by the state, that too at a time when a writ petition challenging the government’s authority to do phone tapping is pending with the High Court, is not only unacceptable but is a direct affront to the rule of law and the fundamental rights of the citizens of this country.
   

The Bangladesh Nationalist Party-led alliance government wanted to introduce phone tapping during its tenure, apparently for the sake of national security and to make it easier for the law enforcement agencies to identify and apprehend criminals. In order to allow the government to do this, parliament passed the Telecommunications (Amendment) Act 2006 in February 2006. In May of that same year, a write petition was filed challenging the law and on May 18, 2006, a High Court bench issued a rule on the government to explain why the amended Telecommunications Act should not be declared illegal. No further progress was made before the BNP-led alliance government left office at the end of its tenure. When emergency was declared in January, 2007, it automatically took away the court’s right to give judgement on a case brought against a political government. Hence, the case has been shelved since.
   

Now, the military-controlled interim government is trying to pick up where the BNP-led government left off, attempting once again to introduce phone tapping in the name of maintaining public safety and national security. However, we have witnessed time and time again the tendency of governments – particularly unelected, undemocratic governments – to confuse the safety and security of the people with the security of the government itself. As a result, governments introduce repressive measures, such as phone tapping, which directly infringe upon the rights of the citizens instead of making them any safer. Phone tapping by the state is a direct contravention of Article 43 (b) of our constitution that guarantees a person’s right to the privacy of his correspondence and other means of communications. It infringes also the constitutionally granted freedom of thought and conscience, and of speech. It is it intrusive, intimidating and unconstitutional; and is yet another significant step towards our nation becoming a police state.
   

Hence, we believe that it is our responsibility to continue to oppose any plans or efforts by this government, or any government for that matter, to engage in phone tapping. Constitutionality aside, we do not believe that public safety can be enhanced by taking hostage the civil liberties of the citizens. The potential for abuse of such measures far outweighs, in our view, any real benefit to society. Hence, we urge the military-controlled regime to abandon such plans and to return to the people their fundamental rights. Side by side, we feel that the High Court has a responsibility to step in now, on its own, to block the government’s infringement of the people’s fundamental rights, in the least, while the matter is still pending with the courts.

Govt’s provocation is unacceptable, so is political protest that kills

August 29, 2008

Editorial, NewAge, August 27, 2008

The deterioration of Tarique Rahman’s health in the prison cell of the BSMMU hospital and the subsequent mayhem caused by the student wing of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party call for a deeper look into the military-controlled government’s sense of justice and the culture of political protests that kills innocent people.
   

Students of Dhaka College rampage through a city road after hearing the news of injuries sustained by the detained BNP senior joint secretary general Tarique Rahman in a bathroom fall at BSMMU Hospital prison cell on Monday. — Photo: New Age 

That Tarique Rahman, son of former prime minister Khaleda Zia and senior joint secretary general of the BNP, fell in a bathroom of the hospital and sustained injuries to his head seems to substantiate repeated warnings by doctors that his legs are exposed to the threat of paralysis. It is true that Tarique is an accused in a number of corruption cases, that the corruption chargers should be thoroughly investigated and that he should be brought to justice through public trial. However, his indictment in the cases should not be used by a government as a justification for denying him proper medical treatment, at home or abroad, and that too by a government that talks about democracy and rule of law. The rule of law dictates that an accused can only be punished after he or she is convicted in a competent court of law. Again, if the detention of an accused before the trial process is completed poses a serious health risk, through the denial of appropriate treatment for instance, the magnitude of the crime committed by the government increases manifold. Since Tarique is in government custody, it is principally the government’s responsibility to ensure that he is provided with appropriate medical treatment for his ailments. To fail to do so is a grave crime and Monday’s protests may have been a public reaction to that failure.
   

However, the violence perpetrated by the Jatiyatabadi Chhatra Dal during Monday’s protests, which left one person dead, a handful of vehicles damaged, more than 50 people wounded and caused panic among people, is not acceptable. However genuine the grievance may be, it does not give any individual or group the right to the kind of agitation that results in the loss of people’s life and limb and destruction of public and private property.
   

Meanwhile, in response to Monday’s violence, the government has reportedly issued orders to the police top brass to bring the law and order situation under control. We believe this government order is incongruous with its own actions. On the one hand, it is this regime that is principally responsible for the protests in question, having denied Tarique appropriate medical treatment in an appropriate hospital. On the other hand, it is the regime which is pitting the police against the political activists for such protests. The government should abandon this double game before it takes a more serious turn.

Govt set to monitor phone calls despite writ pending with High Court

August 29, 2008

Taib Ahmed, NewAge, August 27, 2008. 

The government is going to monitor and coordinate tapping of telephone calls through a national monitoring centre, comprising officials of intelligence agencies, under the home ministry while a writ petition challenging telephone tapping has been pending with the High Court for 27 months.
   

According to sources in the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission, a national monitoring centre will be set up under the home ministry to coordinate the tapping of phone calls and monitor call activities.
   

The centre will be run by a committee with representatives of the commission, Rapid Action Battalion, the police and two intelligence agencies.
   

The commission chairman, Manzurul Alam, however, told New Age on Monday the committee would have no representation of the commission.
   

Asked about telephone tapping, Manzurul said, ‘The national monitoring centre, which will work under the home ministry, will monitor call activities, if felt required.
   

He also said a brigadier general of the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence will head the centre.
   

The national monitoring centre will record calls with the set-up provided by telephony companies, and interconnection exchange and international gateway operators, said sources in the commission and the operators.
   

Three private international gateways, six interconnection exchanges and one international internet gateway recently started operation under the commission’s international long distance telecommunications system policy.
   

According to the policy, interconnection exchanges and international gateways, access network service providers (mobile operators), and internet telephony and VSAT hub operators will provide the commission with necessary connections, equipment, instruments and software for online and off-line monitoring.
   

‘The operators will provide access for the law enforcement agency for “lawful interception” as per the Bangladesh Telecommunications Act 2001 including necessary equipment and software,’ the policy said.
   

Telephony operators will also provide call details record or any other monitoring facilities of voice and data calls, or both, for online and off-line monitoring by the commission, the policy said, adding the commission would set up a monitoring centre at the submarine cable landing stations, if required.
   

‘Monitoring facilities will be established by respective operators for voice and data communications using international private leased circuit. IPLC monitoring facilities should also be extended to the commission and the law enforcement agency for online and off-line monitoring including necessary equipment and software by respective operators,’ said the policy.
   

Sources in the commission and the international gateway and interconnection exchange operators said the process was on to set up teletapping equipment which might go into operation by December.
   

‘We have held a series of meetings with an intelligence agency, with representation in the national monitoring centre, at its headquarters regarding teletapping,’ a senior technology officer of interconnection exchange operator M&H Telecom, which recently started operation, told New Age.
   

He, however, said the national monitoring centre was yet to get into its full shape.
   

Asked exactly how and to what extent call activities would be recorded by the national monitoring centre, he said, ‘The equipment of the national monitoring centre, to be set up at the headquarters of an intelligence agency, will have connectivity with each of the telecom, mobile, interconnection exchange and international gateway operators.’
   

A senior technology officer of an international gateway operator said, ‘The process of procuring the tapping equipment is now in the final stages and they will be set up at the headquarters of an intelligence agency.’
  

It has now been easier to record voice calls with the commissioning of six private telephony operators which will handle especially overseas calls as the country did not have such technology earlier, he said.
   

‘Law enforcement agencies will tap voice calls only when the authorities concerned will allow them to,’ he said.
   

Although the government has finalised the teletapping process, it is yet to submit its reply to two rules issued by the High Court asking it to explain the legality of the provisions for telephone tapping.
   

‘No reply to the rules has yet been filed with the court,’ a law officer in the attorney general’s office told New Age on Tuesday.
   

‘If the case is enlisted for hearing, we will submit the reply to the rules to the court,’ said the state attorney.
   

A High Court bench of Justice M Awlad Ali and Justice Zinat Ara on May 18, 2006 issued the rule on the government to explain why the Telecommunications (Amendment) Act 2006, made on February 16, 2006 making provisions for telephone tapping, should not be declared unconstitutional.
   

The government and the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission were also asked to explain the legality of the action taken by the commission in issuing the guidelines on March 16, 2006 tagging new conditions to licence of telephone operators under the amended law.
   

The court passed the order after hearing a writ petition filed by the New Age editor, Nurul Kabir, and the treasurer of the human rights coalition Odhikar, Tasneem Siddiqui.

Legality of Truth Commission challenged in High Court

August 29, 2008

Staff Correspondent, NewAge, August 26, 2008. Dhaka, Bangladesh

The legality of the Truth and Accountability Commission, formed on July 30 to let people voluntarily admit to their corruption and get mercy depositing ill-gotten wealth to the state exchequer, was challenged in the High Court on Monday.
   

Supreme Court lawyer Adilur Rahman Khan, women’s organisation Nari Grantha Probartana executive director Farida Akhter, physician-turned-politician Dipu Moni and rights organisation Odhikar’s acting director ASM Nasiruddin Elan filed a writ petition challenging the constitutionality of the Voluntary Disclosure Ordinance 2008, under which the commission was set up.
 The petitioners sought a stay order on the functioning of the commission as an interim measure and finally cancellation of the ordinance and termination of the commission.
   

The High Court bench of Justice Khademul Islam Chowdhury and Justice Mashuque Hossain Ahmed posted the hearing of the petition, moved by the petitioners’ counsel Taufique Newaz and Asaduzzaman, for today.
   

The preamble and some other clauses of the ordinance said the government had promulgated the ordinance [on June 5] to ‘remove corruption’ by means other than criminal trial and to reduce the burden of trials upon the state.
   

The writ petition said that the objective of the ordinance was contrary to the constitutional provisions.
 According to the constitution, an alleged offender can be handed punishment after a fair trial by a competent court or tribunal and there can be no alternative to the courts or tribunals for holding trial of a criminal offence, the petition said.
   

The commission set up under the ordinance is neither a court nor a tribunal established by any law, the petition stated adding, ‘Even the Supreme Court has ceased to have its supervisory authority, granted by the constitution, over the decision of the commission.’
   

The petition said that the ordinance was made in violation of the constitutional provision of ‘equality before law’, as the ordinance empowered the commission to pick and choose the graft suspects for awarding its mercy.
   

Discrimination against individuals is contrary to the article 27 of the constitution that guarantees equal rights before law, the petition pointed out.
   

The ordinance empowers the commission to order confiscation of money commensurate to the amount earned illegally and such confiscation results in barring the person concerned from contesting election to a public office or companies, the petition said adding, ‘This is, for all purposes, a conviction and sentence and such authority to punish a person by the commission is inconsistent with constitutional provisions for trying an offender by a court of law.’
   

Section 29 of the ordinance says that the commission can seek assistance of the judiciary in consultation with the Supreme Court and the judiciary is under legal obligations to assist the commission.
   

Referring to the section, the petition said that it was against the basic structure of our constitution as an independent judiciary was to ensure a fair trial and not to follow the instruction of or to assist any statutory body.
   

According to the constitution, an ordinance requires to be placed in the immediate next session of parliament, while the Voluntary Disclosure Ordinance has been made and the commission launched for a five-month period and that will expire before the next general elections.
   

The ordinance and the commission are ‘illegal’, as the ordinance cannot be placed before parliament for ratification, the petition said.
   

The petition also challenged the authority of the interim government to promulgate such an ordinance, as it had provisions relating to policy decisions of the government beyond the jurisdiction of a caretaker government and the ordinance was neither related to holding of elections nor to the regular functioning of the government.

Amended RPO flouts constitution, spirit of democracy

August 24, 2008

Editorial, NewAge, August 24, 2008. Dhaka, Bangladesh

The newly-imposed eligibility criteria under the amended Representation of the People Order 1972, both for registration of political parties with the Election Commission and for candidates to be able to contest parliamentary elections, could not have been more inconsistent with our constitution or contradictory to democratic ideals and values. As such, instead of helping to create a level electoral playing field, the conditions, we believe, will further complicate the political and electoral processes and act as further obstacles to the peaceful holding of participatory and credible elections to the ninth parliament. 
   

First, some of the eligibility criteria for political parties being able to register with the commission – which includes being able to show a certain level of support in previous elections or having active units in a minimum number of districts – are not only absurd but are in contravention of Article 152 (1) of our country’s constitution which does not require a party to have any minimum level of popularity or infrastructure in order for the state to recognise its legitimacy. Also, it is incongruous that candidates can contest independently without having to show a certain amount of support in previous elections or any minimum infrastructure but cannot do so as part of a political party unless the party satisfies the criteria. 
   

Second, under the amended RPO, a person will have to be enlisted in the electoral roll to be able to contest elections even though the country’s constitution does not make a person’s right to contest a parliamentary seat conditional upon his or her being registered as a voter. The only eligibility requirements, according to Article 66 of the constitution, are that a person is a citizen of Bangladesh and has attained the age of 25. 
In addition, there are certain conditions under Article 66 which disqualify a person from being able to run, for instance, if the person is of unsound mind or is a citizen of a foreign state, but non-registration as a voter is not included in the list of disqualifying factors either. Hence, the Election Commission has acted in further contravention of the constitution in including this additional and arbitrary condition.
   

Third, as a result of the Election Commission’s delay in amending the RPO – this was supposed to have been done much earlier and the parties were supposed to have from April to June of this year to register according to the commission’s own roadmap – even the major political parties will have great difficulty in satisfying some of the eligibility conditions for registration in the short time that is now available before elections. These conditions will necessitate the amending of party constitutions as well as the formation of elected committees from the centre to the union council level. Moreover, forcing the political parties to rush through internal reforms and to hold national council meetings under the state of emergency is not only unreasonable but contradicts the very spirit of democracy. However, the commission must not even think about delaying elections in order to allow the parties to satisfy its conditions. The Election Commission has no right to punish the political parties or hold the entire political process hostage for its own failures. 
   

Hence, we hope that common sense will prevail at the Election Commission and that it will withdraw the unconstitutional, arbitrary and restrictive conditions which are contradictory to a participatory electoral process and a pluralistic democratic system. Instead of further complicating the political process, the commission should devote all its energy towards the holding of participatory and credible parliamentary elections at the earliest.

Commission needed to probe extrajudicial killings

August 15, 2008

Editorial, NewAge, August 15, 2008. Dhaka, Bangladesh

THE rally that academics, writers, artistes and human rights activists staged on the Dhaka University campus on Wednesday in protest against extrajudicial killings by the law-enforcement agencies could not have come at a more opportune time. As the number of deaths in ‘crossfire’ or ‘encounter’ – two terms that the law enforcers conveniently use apparently as pretexts for their extrajudicial actions – steadily surges, it appears that the state and its managers, the government in other words, have very little or no qualms about employing extrajudicial killings as a tool in their so-called anti-crime activism. Extrajudicial killings, as has been pointed out by the politically-conscious and democratically-oriented sections of society over and over, undermine the rule of law, which presupposes that even the vilest of criminals reserves the right to be defended in a competent and credible court of law and is entitled to be treated as innocent until proven guilty. Worryingly still, given the identity of some of the victims in recent years, there are reasons to fear that extrajudicial killings have of late been used as a tool to systematically silence the voices that do not conform to the mainstream political thinking.
   

It is in such a context that we commented in these columns recently that the thinking sections of society, whose political orientation is moulded by the concept of the rule of law and democratic justice, have to raise their voices against extrajudicial killings. Wednesday’s rally is, we believe, a significant first step in that direction. We support the call for an immediate stop to extrajudicial killings and institution of an independent commission to probe each alleged instance of extrajudicial killing. We also feel the political parties must demonstrate their commitment to the rule of law by taking a firm position against extrajudicial killings and by not using it as a law and order tool ever again.

Stop “crossfire” deaths: HR watch report reflects what local media has been saying all along

August 13, 2008

Editorial, The Daily Star, August 14, 2008

THE condemnation of Rab by the US-based Human Rights Watch comes as no surprise to us. We warned the government, time and again, that the crossfire deaths were undermining the edifice of the whole judicial process and whatever Rab had achieved in its anti- terrorism drive. The introduction of the crack force had a positive impact on the crime situation as proliferation of terrorist organisations was threatening law and order. The Rab’s efficiency in containing the threat was commendable, but nothing could justify the deaths in crossfire, the accounts of which invariably followed the same pattern. 

The anti-crime drive was expected to receive a fresh impetus when the present caretaker government took over and people also hoped that all excesses in the name of enforcing law would be eliminated. The crossfire deaths drew sharp criticism from human rights advocates both at home and abroad and the year 2007 saw a welcome decline in such deaths. But in recent months quite a few suspected criminals were reported to have been killed in crossfire, which has again raised serious concern regarding abuse of human rights by Rab. 

The government can ill afford to ignore the issue, which has already sullied our image abroad. And to tell the truth, taking human lives in an unlawful manner should be viewed from not only the legal point of view or the image crisis that it might create, but also the moral perspective. It could be interpreted as a sure sign of the nation being not sensitive enough to the most fundamental right of its citizensthe right to live. We have always opposed the scheme of liquidating suspected criminals unlawfully, while pointing out that such criminals, whatever be the charges against them, have the right to defend themselves in a court.

The Human Rights Watch Report has exposed the ruthlessness of Rab’s way of handling suspected criminals, which has been repeatedly exposed in the local media including The Star. The government’s response should be clear and loud. Such killing must be stopped at once.