Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

A travesty of justice

June 19, 2008

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.


The army chief’s comments

October 18, 2007

Editorial, NewAge, October 18, 2007. Dhaka, Bangladesh

The army chief, General Moeen U Ahmed, has made several important statements while talking to reporters at the Bangladesh High Commission in London on Tuesday. The army chief said that while he was aware of the widespread rumours that he wants to become the president of our republic, those rumours have no basis in reality as he does not have any such ambition whatsoever. Although the army chief may have attempted to sound selfless and magnanimous in declaring that he did not want to become the president, and while it may even be true that General Moeen does not have such a political ambition, the very fact that these rumours exist only shows the weaknesses that our two important institutions, the political parties and the national army, suffer from: the fragility of our political process and perceived political ambition of the army. Had there been a functioning democracy with a sound political culture, there would and could not have been any rumour to the effect that the chief of the army has ambitions to become the head of state in the first place.

However, the army chief also suggested on Tuesday that had outright martial law been declared on January 11, which was an option open to him, the people would have welcomed it. We cannot help but disagree with him. While it is true that the people were absolutely fed up with the crude power struggle of the political parties that have ruled our country in the last two decades, this does not mean that they were hoping for the armed forces to take their place. What the people have always wanted and have fought for is a real democracy that allows them greater rights and freedoms and that makes the government more transparent and accountable to the people. Had martial law ever been a welcome alternative, the people of this land would not have repeatedly fought, over the last fifty years, against every extra-constitutional form of government to have ruled this country – whether military or otherwise – resulting in their ultimate ouster. There may be some within our society who always advocate for and support extra-constitutional governments, but such individuals in no way represent the people at large.

The army chief also listed the successes of this government, speaking of the anti-corruption drive, the changed situation at the Chittagong Port, the steps to separate the judiciary from the executive etc. While this government has had some successes to boast about, it has even bigger failures that the army chief chose not to mention. The primary responsibility of a ‘caretaker government’ is to help the Election Commission to conduct parliamentary elections within three months of its formation. But the current regime has been in place for over nine months now and not only have parliamentary elections not been held, a correct voters’ roll is not even close to being prepared. Also, the tenure of the current government has seen a considerable slow-down for our economy, with investment levels – local and foreign – falling significantly. Inflation, on the other hand, has risen to record levels leading to justified fears of stagflation of the economy. Hence, the successes of this government in the different sectors are more than cancelled out by its fundamental political and economic failures.

While talking to the reporters, the army chief also said that some incidents of obstruction and harassment of journalists had taken place in Bangladesh since the proclamation of emergency on January 11, making them seem like minor isolated incidents. We, again, disagree with the claim made by General Moeen, as the experience of the media suggests a very different picture. There have been repeated advisory and at times intimidating phone calls and messages sent to the newspapers and television channels by this government in an effort to censor and control the media. The electronic media houses in particular have even received an ‘unofficial nine-point directive’ from the government telling them what they can and cannot broadcast. They have even received a list of people who the channels should invite as guests at their talk shows. This proves that the censoring of the media is a policy decision of this government, and the incidents of obstruction and harassment are part of that policy, not mere isolated incidents.

All said and done, we appreciate the army chief’s latest announcement that he has no political ambition and hope that he will not develop any in the days to come for the sake of both the credibility of the army and the future of our democracy.

Fakhruddin’s words ring hollow

September 16, 2007

Editorial: NewAge, September 16, 2007

The comments of the chief adviser to the military-driven interim government, Dr Fakhruddin Ahmed, made during an interview given to the British Broadcasting Corporation on Friday deserve greater scrutiny. But before moving on to the comments of the chief adviser, it is worth noting that while the interview to the BBC is just the latest in a series of interviews given to the foreign media, the chief adviser has not yet given a single interview to the local media despite the fact that several media outlets, including New Age, formally applied to his office months ago to seek interviews with him. While we are happy that the chief adviser is speaking to the foreign media because this provides us with some insight on his thoughts and plans, his selectiveness naturally raises certain questions: Is it that the chief adviser hesitates to face the local media for fear of being asked more difficult and searching questions, given that the local press is more aware of the ground realities in Bangladesh? Or does the chief adviser feel a greater accountability to our foreign partners than to the people of this country? We should also not forget that this chief adviser found it necessary, soon after his assumption of office, to send a special envoy to the United States of America to clarify his government’s position, and that members of his government like to quote positive comments of foreign governments and their envoys to prove how well this government is performing.

Coming back to the chief adviser’s comments, he said that the government has not played any part in the internal affairs of the political parties and is therefore not responsible for their apparent fracture. This clearly proves that the chief adviser is either hiding the truth or is not aware of certain facts. That there have been overt and covert attempts by a particular government agency to restructure the political order through the political neutralisation of former prime ministers Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina is known to all quarters concerned in our country. The agency has been active from the centre to the local levels in trying to implement the government’s minus-two formula, and even if the people at large are tempted to believe the chief adviser’s statement, the hundreds of politicians who have come in direct contact with this agency will know how hollow the words of the chief adviser are.

The chief adviser has also claimed that there have been no attempts to intimidate the media during this emergency period. Once again, the chief adviser has been less than candid. The people at large may be confused by these statements, but those in the media who have received phone calls from members from the same government agency, been visited by members of it, or have been summoned to its offices, know only too well the extent of intimidation that has taken place. This proves that the chief adviser has failed even to sympathise with the members of the news media, both electronic and print, who are being obstructed from carrying out their professional responsibilities.

Lastly, the chief adviser suggested in his interview that the emergency was not hurting the common people of this country. Nothing could be further from the truth. When a proclamation of emergency suspends the fundamental rights of the citizens, it is those who are most disenfranchised that are hurt the most as all avenues that exist for them to express both their aspirations and their grievances are closed. This government must understand that the people cannot be expected to be apolitical in a modern state, even if the government claims itself to be, and the suspension of their fundamental rights is a denial of their aspirations for a genuinely democratic republic.

Plea bargaining without rule of law may lead to abuse

September 13, 2007


Editorial, The Daily NewAge, Dhaka, Bangladesh, September 13, 2007

According to the law adviser to the interim government, Mainul Hosein, the government is considering the introduction of plea bargaining to speed up the trial process. We welcome this initiative of the government and agree with the law adviser that plea bargaining, which is in practice in many countries around the world, could have been introduced much earlier. The practice of plea bargaining allows an accused to bargain for a reduced sentence if he or she pleads guilty to an alleged crime than the sentence that he or she is likely to receive if the case goes to trial and the person is found guilty of the crime. Therefore, plea bargaining gives those accused of crimes an incentive to plead guilty because of the promise of a lesser punishment. However, plea bargaining works on the assumption that those who are actually innocent of the crime that they are accused of, and are therefore confident of winning in court, will never plead guilty to those allegations. Hence, what is absolutely essential for the practice of plea bargaining to be part of a system that ensures the delivery of justice is the existence of the rule of law, where the basic rights of all citizens, even those accused of crime, are upheld and an accused is considered innocent until proven guilty by a court of law or willingly confesses to his or her crime. If the rule of law exists in society, allowing the practice of plea bargaining can indeed bring positive results by speeding up the trial process and allowing for quicker disposal of the hundreds of backlogged cases, while at the same time ensuring that justice is not short-changed.

However, in the absence of the rule of law, the practice of plea bargaining can lead to great abuses of the power and authority of the state. In the present circumstances, where the country is governed by a military-driven interim government under a state of emergency that has suspended people’s fundamental rights, and at a time when there are widespread allegations of harassment, abuse and even torture of those in custody, there is reason to fear that the practice of plea bargaining may be misused by the government. For example, by using a carrot and stick approach, i.e. threatening the accused with abuse if he or she does not plead guilty and by promising leniency through the practice of plea bargaining if he or she does, the authorities can compel even those who are innocent to plead guilty of the crimes that they are charged with. By making the accused plead guilty, the prosecution would be able to avoid having to prove the person’s guilt in court. Yet, this would result in a most shameful miscarriage of justice.

Therefore, we sincerely hope that this government will not use the practice of plea bargaining to make people plead guilty so that it wouldn’t have to prove their guilt. Instead, we hope that the rule of law will be ensured so that those who are actually innocent of crime do not face any pressure to avail themselves of this facility.

Struggle for liberty in a season of fear

September 11, 2007


Struggle for liberty in a season of fear
By Nurul Kabir, NewAge

None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.
– Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

While political liberty remains the driving force for a people organized as a state, the government of the state in a democratic dispensation is expected to ensure ‘rule of law’ so that the citizens can exercise that liberty, without any fear, to achieve their economic and cultural emancipation.

However, Bangladesh, some 150 million Bangladeshis in other words, is in the grip of a pervasive fear these days, thanks to the Damocles’ sword called Emergency Powers Rule hovering over its heads — the powers that brutally deny the citizens their inalienable right to the freedom of speech, bans the right to dissent and takes away the right to assemble to register protests against injustice even when their livelihood is destroyed systematically, their houses demolished within no time, their jobs taken away without paying for the labour already used by the state while their fresh employment opportunities remaining absolutely uncertain. The Rule also stands in the way of the citizens when accused of a crime by the state and when trying to seek bail from the court — a proposition absolutely inconsistent with the concept of the ‘rule of law’ that presupposes an accused ‘innocent until proven guilty’.

There is, however, no ‘official ban’ on media freedom yet; but the culture of fear unleashed by the quasi-military government of Dr Fakhruddin Ahmed has generated a considerable amount of self-censorship among media practitioners. Moreover, the intimidating phone calls from, and forced-upon chilling meetings with, certain intelligence agencies make it quite difficult for the media, both the print and the electronic, to varying degrees though, to discharge their prime professional responsibility to provide readers/viewers with public information influencing the national life of the people. Even if not intimidated, the media cannot exercise all its freedom, say the freedom to disseminate the dissenting views of the citizens, when a citizen cannot express dissenting views or protest against the views of the establishment without risking punishment in a state of emergency that the nation is now suffering under. Thereby, media freedom cannot be seen or judged in isolation from the democratic freedom of expression of the people in general. It would, therefore, be an act of naivety on the part of members of the media to bask in the complacence that they are free when others are not.

However, we are told that all these legal and extra-legal restrictions have been put into force for the sake of enhancing the democratic rights of the citizens in a sound political order to be created on democratic principles! Enhancing citizens’ rights by keeping their basic democratic rights in abeyance, and that too for an uncertain period? We humbly differ with the proposition, and assert with conviction that no liberty — social, economic or cultural — can be achieved, let alone enhanced or expanded, without fully realising the political liberties of the people.

Political liberty of the citizens in a democratic republic includes the unrestrained freedom to choose, from among democratic political forces, their representatives to govern the affairs of the state on a regular interval; effective participation in the policy making process of the state through their elected representatives; adequate legal space for exercising their right to dissent in case the governors/representatives fail to live up to the democratic aspirations of the people, etc. As ‘rule of law’ promises ‘equality of citizens’ irrespective of their gender, faith or racial identity, a democratic state is expected to ensure genuinely equal opportunities for all its citizens, particularly in terms of their equal access to national resources, so that they can work with ease towards achieving economic freedom to keep away from hunger, malnutrition, illiteracy, underdevelopment etc on the one hand, and cultural emancipation on the other to realise the immense creative potential of human beings by way of liberally celebrating the diversity of human thoughts and ideas.

The citizens of Bangladesh have never been allowed unrestrained political liberty that would substantially enable the vast majority of the people to put in peaceful collective efforts to achieve the level of economic and cultural emancipation in question — thanks to an inherently undemocratic elite, organised as an oligarchy, that has been ruling the country for three decades now, either by elections plagued with the influence of money and muscle or by using the military/quasi-military might of the state. Between one military/quasi-military rule and the other, the democratically oriented sections of the people have resorted to demanding, sometimes politically, sometimes intellectually, democratisation of the political parties, organisational and financial accountability of the political leadership to the people in general and party workers in particular, freeing elections from the influence of money and muscle, devolution of power by introducing elected bodies at different tiers of the administration and ensuring people’s participation in the policy planning process of the local governments, democratic accountability of the bureaucracy to the elected representatives of the people, independence of judiciary, separation of religion from politics, an end to patriarchal repression of female citizens, etc, without materialisation of which the slogan for creating a democratic political order is bound to remain an empty rhetoric. But the oligarchic elite in question have always deliberately blocked, either for their partisan gains or crude vested interests of their own, the ways and means of democratisation of the social, political, electoral, judicial, financial and other institutions that make possible democratic governance with the citizens enjoying the unbridled political rights required to achieve economic and cultural liberty. The absence of democratic freedoms in the society, therefore, generates dissatisfactions, grievances and anger among the people at large that, in turn, make it difficult for the elite to govern peacefully, while in the absence of the generally accepted rules of the game the feuding sections of the oligarchic elite periodically fail to peacefully manage the affairs of the state.