Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Update from Daily Star

Hasina arrested, sent to sub-jail

Over a thousand law enforcers raid her residence at dawn; she is charged with extorting Tk 3 crore

The joint forces yesterday arrested Awami League (AL) President Sheikh Hasina at her residence in Dhanmondi at around daybreak and later a city court sent her to jail on charges of extortion.

Hasina, also a former prime minister, had been detained several times in her 26 years at the helm of AL, all for campaigning against the autocratic regime in the '90s. This is the first time she has been held in a case filed for criminal offence.

Like it was throughout the rule of former military strongman HM Ershad, she is not entitled to seek bail from any court under the Emergency Power Rules.

Sources close to her have told The Daily Star that she was bracing herself for what many consider was the inevitable.

Political observers see the arrest as a leap towards the "minus-two theory" that seeks to dethrone Hasina and BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia who have reigned over the country's politics for years. As of last night, there was however no indication of a move to haul in Khaleda.

Only a day before, the Election Commission (EC) announced a roadmap for the next general election amid bickering in AL and BNP over intra-party reforms.

Insiders say the pro-reform leaders in both the organisations have been working to arrange the councils in a way so their party chiefs cannot attend those. Some analysts believe the arrest might be somehow linked to those plans that reportedly enjoy tacit support from the military-backed interim administration.

In April, the government had tried to force Hasina stay abroad by imposing a ban on her coming home from the UK. But in the face of criticism both at home and abroad, it withdrew the restrictions, leading to a triumphant return for her.

From the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate's (CMM) Court, Dhaka, Hasina was taken to the Parliament Complex where a two-storey house built for the deputy speaker has been declared a sub-jail.

At the court, she protested her innocence. She said, "I have done nothing wrong. The charges against me have been brought only to hold me back from the next general election."

On June 13, Managing Director of East Coast Trading Ltd Azam J Chowdhury filed the case at Gulshan Police Station, accusing her of extorting, with others, Tk 2.96 crore from him for the installation work of a 210-megawatt power plant at Siddhirganj.

Some 1,000 members of the joint forces mostly from the Rapid Action Battalion (Rab) and the police sealed off the Dhanmondi Road No 5 area round about 4:40am in driving rain.

A 30-member dog squad along with at least 100 Rab and police members entered the Sudha Sadan premises at around 4:50am. Five minutes later, as they rapped on the door, Hasina asked her staff to let them in and tell them to wait on the ground floor.

She said she would see them but not before saying her morning prayers, a personal staffer of her told The Daily Star.

Immediately after gaining entrance, the forces snapped all land phone lines and seized all mobile phones in the house.

Minutes later, Sheikh Hasina came downstairs with her husband. "Why are you here? What wrong do you think I have done?" the staff quoted her as asking the waiting security personnel.

In reply, one of the joint forces men said, "We have specific charges against you and we are going to take you to court."

The last ones to talk to Hasina over phone were her son Sajeeb Wajed Joy and her daughter Saima Wajed Putul, both from the United States, and also her sister Sheikh Rehana. But the conversations ended abruptly as the phone lines were cut.

Earlier on Sunday night, she returned from the Bangabandhu Memorial Bhaban at around 10 and told all her relatives and staff that she was going to be picked up shortly. She asked them to be patient and not to panic.

At around 2:00am, her police protection was withdrawn. They were ordered to report back to the Rajarbagh Police Lines immediately.

During the two-and-a-half-hour raid, the law enforcers rummaged about all three floors of the building. They also sifted through her files and documents.

At that time, the former premier was accompanied by Wajed Miah and two of her relatives--Shamim and Tutul. Her personal staffers were asked to leave the house at around 5:00am.

The joint forces set up at least three barricades on the road leading to the Sudha Sadan. Hundreds of Rab and police men stood guard throughout a two-kilometre radius of the residence.

They began taking position at 4:40am. Soon around one hundred intelligence officials including those from the military were seen going inside the Sudha Sadan.

At 7:30 in the morning, the AL chief, a never-say-die spirit, was walked into a navy blue SUV with tinted glasses. A 20-vehicle convoy carried her straight to the CMM Court as the road was kept free of traffic.

A smiling and seemingly unwavering Hasina in a white sari and white scarf around her head was waving at the TV cameras when she was brought to the court at 7:50am. She was escorted to the courtroom of Magistrate Kamrunnahar through a huge crowd.

There presented, she gave a rousing statement defending herself against the charges when hundreds of AL activists and supporters were chanting slogans outside.

At one stage, some of the party faithful came to blows with the on-duty policemen.

Besides, the AL-backed lawyers clamouring for access to the courtroom had heated arguments with law enforcement officers.

The hearing continued for over two hours. Lawyers spoke alternately for Hasina, but to no avail. The court rejected their plea for bail and set August 15 as the date for the next hearing.

Among others, AL leaders Motia Chowdhury, former law minister Abdul Matin Khasru, Kamrul Islam, Sahara Khatun, Dr Dipu Moni stood for Hasina.

As the proceedings ended, she was whisked off the court premises. But meantime thousands gathered outside as the law enforcers struggled to free the road. The slogans calling for Hasina's release echoed through the area.

As things began to get worse with the AL supporters trying to stop the car carrying Hasina, the police charged baton and fired three rounds of rubber bullet to disperse the angry mob.

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