(The Times, July 23, 2007)
Sir, Bangladesh, a strategic country of 150 million people, has a proud history of progress under secular democracy since its independence in 1971, punctuated by regrettable periods of regression under authoritarian military rule. We are therefore gravely concerned about the undignified arrest this week of the former Prime Minister and Awami League president Sheikh Hasina. She was seized in the early hours of July 16 and imprisoned under emergency powers that appear to deny her basic legal rights, including legal representation.
Sheikh Hasina returned voluntarily to her homeland in early May to answer accusations of extortion and murder laid against her, even though the Government sought actively to keep her in exile while transiting through London after a family visit to the US. There are widespread allegations that her arrest is politically motivated before the promised elections now unfortunately delayed to 2008 by the caretaker Government. It is also deeply insensitive that she has been summoned to appear before a criminal court on August 15, which is the 32nd anniversary of the assassination of her father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who founded the modern Bangladeshi state along with 15 other members of her family.
We call upon the authorities to release her on bail so that she can prepare her defence. She has already surrendered her passport and poses no conceivable security risk or risk of attempting to evade justice. Sheikh Hasina must also be afforded a fair and impartial trial in the event that this prosecution is pursued further.
When the caretaker Government was formed earlier this year we all had high expectations that it would follow through on its promises of rapid, free and fair elections, and enable a restoration of the rule of law with full respect for fundamental human rights.
We are friends of a free and democratic Bangladesh and now urge the caretaker Government to live up to its political and moral obligations.
ANNE MAIN MP
CHARLES TANNOCK MEP
SIMON HUGHES MP
BARONESS LUDFORD MEP
HARRY COHEN MP