Monday, December 3, 2007

Sheikh Hasina’s Trial started

The army-backed Caretaker Government in Bangladesh has formally started the former Prime Minister and the Awami League Leader Sheikh Hasina’s trial in a special court in Dhaka. The recent trends of the court proceedings and outcomes led the public to believe that most of the court proceedings will end up in the Kangaroo courts lacking judicial integrity and transparency. Human Rights groups and activists have already expressed concern about the fairness of Hasina’s trial. The Caretaker Government is loosing its popular support as transparency and fairness are flickering due to the Army’s autocratic rein in all spheres of politico-administrative structures. The army’s hidden agenda was exposed as Bangladesh witnessed the evolving drama of barring Sheikh Hasina to return to Bangladesh, bringing allegedly fabricated charges, later on arresting her and adding her sister Sheikh Rehana to the same charge sheet. This historical trial will be followed very closely by the political observers as this country is at the crossroads to reshape its future for better or worse.

Bdnews24 reports today,
Sheikh Hasina has said she is innocent and all charges against her are aimed at preventing her from contesting polls, her lawyers said Monday. "I don't think of myself. I wish the people stay fine. I am innocent. The case against me is designed to prevent me from contesting the polls," Hasina was quoted as saying by acting party Chief Zillur Rahman. ..Earlier in the morning the judge began hearing the case amid tight security. Zillur attended the trial proceedings as a member of a defence panel.

Hasina was taken to court at 9:35am from the nearby special jail, where she has been detained since July 16, correspondents reported from the scene. As Hasina entered the courtroom she was "very normal and often smiling" in the courtroom, Correspondent Pradip Kumar Chowdhury said. Hundreds of AL supporters were gathered outside the court as Hasina arrived.

The court was transferred to the Sangsad Bhaban area for security reasons, an official notification had earlier said. The case involves charges of extorting Tk 2.99 crore from a businessman during Hasina's term in 1996-2001. Hasina's sister Sheikh Rehana and their cousin Sheikh Fazlul Karim Selim are also accused in the case filed by Azam J Chowdhury. Initially Rehana's name was not included in the case but police said they had later found that Rehana was also involved in the extortion.

Chowdhury has accused them of receiving the amount in return for allowing him to set up a power plant. He alleges that they threatened to cancel the project if he did not pay. Hasina and Awami League have denied the charges, saying they were fabricated and aimed at tarnishing the image of the former prime minister. Rehana, who lives in London, expressed her surprise over her implication in the case.

BBC reports,
...Before formal charges were read out, Sheikh Hasina's lawyers argued that the special courtroom, set up in a small room in the parliament grounds, had no jurisdiction over the case. They accused the government of interfering in the legal process by deciding to hold it there. The Supreme Court will now hear their petition.

"If the government interferes or decides which case will be tried where, then the trial will not be fair," her lawyer, Shaufiq Ahmed, said. The government said the special court was established for security reasons. Lawyers and journalists were able to attend the hearing, but armed riot police prevented members of the public from entering.

Lawyers of Sheikh Hasina's cousin, Sheikh Selim, also appealed to the court to withdraw a statement he made to police after his arrest in June, in which he allegedly confessed to the crime. "Sheikh Selim was tortured repeatedly when he was on remand. At one stage he could not bear the pressure and agreed to give the confessional statement," his lawyer, Syed Rezaur Rahman, told the court.

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