Two US Congressmen have contended that the recent high- profile arrests in Bangladesh, including that of former prime minister Sheikh Hasina, only give credence to speculations that the caretaker government's anti-corruption drive is 'politically motivated' and contrary to international human rights and due-process practices. Steve Chabot and Mark Kirk, members of the House of Representatives of US parliament, made this remark in a letter to Chief Adviser Dr Fakhruddin Ahmed, copy of which was made available yesterday.
In the letter dated July 24, the two Congressmen said, "We wholeheartedly agree that corruption has no place in politics, the electoral process, as in government. Building a corruption-free electoral process is critical to the future of Bangladesh. Yet, the success of a democracy also rests in the ability of its people to enjoy civil and political rights unhindered, including the freedom to associate with and participate in the political party of one's choosing without fear of repercussion."
The letter further said, "The success of a democracy rests in the ability of its people and the press to rely on the Constitution and laws which they support, and operate in an open and independent process, one in which views can be expressed without fear of intimidation."
The Congressmen urged the chief advisor to publish, as soon as possible, a timetable describing the process to be administered over the next several months that will result in elections before the end of 2008, including the compilation of a voter list.
"The continuing news reports describing the caretaker government's unwillingness to provide specific benchmarks that will lead to national elections and the continued accounts of human rights violations are alarming," they said.
They thought that the optimism felt for a country moving toward democracy "has been replaced with concern that military rule will govern". They said, "Indeed, the need to delay the January 22, 2007 elections was a necessary course of action to ensure that a fair and just election is administered."
The Congressmen said it has been more than seven months since the caretaker government was installed and the constraints placed to civil rights have not been eased. "The same citizens who supported your efforts in January deserve a clear roadmap that will provide them stability and certainty for the future."
In addition, they said, "We urge you to restore the fundamental rights of all Bangladeshi citizens, including the right to due process under the law."
The US lawmakers, while being critical of those things, made it clear that they "remained committed to supporting the caretaker government and its reform efforts". However, they said, "political and civil rights of the Bangladeshi citizens must not be compromised in the name of reform".
They expressed support for the ongoing efforts of the government to institute economic, political, and social reforms needed to assist Bangladesh in becoming a prosperous, democratic country in the 21st century. They, however, aired concern over recent reports including that the national elections, which were originally scheduled for January 22, 2007, have been postponed, yet again, until the end of 2008.
"Equally disconcerting are the same reports that describe efforts by the caretaker government to arrest and detain more than 250,000 Bangladeshi citizens without respect for due process or the civil rights of its citizens," the Congressmen went on
We welcome Honorable Congressmen’s attention to Bangladesh issue. We hope other members of Congress will follow Honorable Chabot and Kirk to extend their support for restoring democracy in Bangladesh. We urge Bangladeshi Expatriates along their counter parts in the USA to contact their Congressmen and Senators to extend their support to end military backed government and restore democracy in Bangladesh.