Bangladesh's double standard of justice
SYLHET, Bangladesh, Dec. 10
Source: UPI Asia Online
Column: Humanity or Humor?
The military-backed government of Bangladesh is sending mixed messages in its administration of justice. On one hand teachers have been convicted and imprisoned for influencing students to protest. On the other, businessmen charged with corruption have been released.
Four teachers from Rajshahi University were convicted on Dec. 4 for breaching the Emergency Powers Rules-2007 in August, following widespread protests by students and teachers over military brutality at Dhaka University.
Judge Ruhul Amin gave two-year prison sentences to Moloy Kumar Bhoumik, Dulal Chandra Biswas, Salim Reza Newton and Abdullah-Al-Mamun. However, the court acquitted two other teachers, former vice chancellor Professor Saidur Rahman Khan and Professor Abdus Sobhan, charged with the same offense.
The lawyers of the convicted teachers alleged that the court's verdict was based on "lame and contradictory evidence." They explained that none of the prosecution witnesses could prove beyond doubt that the teachers had influenced their students to join in the protests at alleged "secret meetings," or even that the teachers themselves had taken part in the silent procession on campus on Aug. 22.
Four other teachers from Dhaka University have been in detention for four months, and face similar charges of influencing students to violate the emergency powers rules. The government reportedly asked the detained teachers to sign prepared statements confessing their "crimes." According to the reports, they refused.
In a very different picture of justice in Bangladesh, a number of business leaders, who faced various charges of unlawful activities, were released from prison in recent weeks. Moreover, the government has decided to establish a "Truth Commission" to arrange amnesty for business leaders accused of market manipulation and other crimes in the corporate sector and in society. The commission will reportedly go into effect early next year.
On one hand, the government is putting university teachers -- who are victims of deliberate manipulation by the authorities, led by the armed forces -- behind bars under cover of the so-called emergency laws, even when the evidence against them that has been made public is not enough to convict them.
On the other hand, people whose criminal activities have been publicly exposed are being cleared of the charges against them for undisclosed reasons. They have reportedly gone through "legal proceedings" in the courts -- which reveals the inefficiency of prosecutors as well as the indifference of the country's legal institutions. It should be mentioned that there is no provision in the Constitution of Bangladesh to create any Truth Commission under any circumstances.
The different treatment afforded these two types of prisoners depicts the immoral and contradictory characteristics of the military-backed government. The authorities have a dual policy in handling citizens. They aim to destroy the image and reputation of institutions, such as universities, that do not conform to their rigid rules. On the other hand, they are willing to appease and compromise with those who can serve their benefit. There is a total lack of honesty, transparency, efficiency and accountability on the part of the government.
The state has used its power to investigate, prosecute, try and imprison university teachers for violating draconian emergency rules. At the same time it has freed businessmen accused of embezzling state assets and other corrupt behavior unacceptable under any legal system, with or without the emergency.
The people of Bangladesh cannot help but question the government's behavior. Who authorized the government to adopt such unlawful practices? Who will compensate the two detained senior professors of Rajshahi University who were acquitted of all charges by the court, for their social stigmatization as a result of their arbitrary arrest and detention? Why are the other teachers still in detention when no substantial evidence was produced before the courts? Why are business leaders being freed despite considerable evidence of criminal offences, and on what grounds is the government authorized to establish a Truth Commission to free them?
The military-backed government leaders should remember that their own day of judgment will surely come; the people will not delay to bring the present rulers to trial once the country is freed from the state of emergency.
(Rater Zonaki is the pseudonym of a human rights defender living in Sylhet in Bangladesh. He has been working on human rights issues in the country for more than a decade and was a journalist in Bangladesh in the 1990s.)