Ex-Bangladesh PM wins victory against corruption trial
February 6, 2008
DHAKA (AFP) — Detained former Bangladeshi premier Sheikh Hasina Wajed scored a victory against the army-backed government Wednesday with a court ruling that she could not be tried for corruption under emergency laws.
The former premier, who led the country from 1996 to 2001, is one of around 150 high-profile figures arrested as part of an anti-graft drive by the emergency government, which took office in January 2007.
She is being tried by a special fast-track court, but the High Court in Dhaka said this was illegal -- effectively throwing into doubt all other completed or pending corruption cases pushed by the authorities.
"The High Court has also quashed the case against Hasina. The judgement has established the rule of law, supremacy of the constitution and the supremacy of the human rights in the country," her chief lawyer Rafiq-ul-Haque said.
"It's a historic judgement. It will benefit hundreds of thousands of victims put to jail under the emergency laws," he said.
But Kamrul Islam, her other lawyer, said the victory would be short-lived, with the government set to take the matter to the Supreme Court -- a body that has in the past sided with the authorities.
"We will fight in the Supreme Court, although we have very dim hope for a positive verdict. In the past, the Supreme Court's appellate division has overturned all the High Court verdicts in favour of the government," he said.
Sheikh Hasina, the leader of the Awami League party, went on trial for corruption late last month, facing accusations that she extorted 435,000 dollars from a power company owner.
She has denied the charges, arguing that the military-backed emergency government was merely trying to destroy her political career.
Hasina faces a maximum 14 years in jail if convicted. The trial is expected to be concluded within the next two months, as stipulated by the country's emergency rules.
Khaleda Zia, the country's last elected premier, is also in detention on graft charges. She and Sheikh Hasina are bitter rivals, and have been blamed for 16 years of misrule and rampant corruption.
The country has been under emergency rule since January 11 last year, when polls were cancelled after months of violence over vote-rigging allegations made by the Awami League against Zia's Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).