Bangladesh rulers kind to prisoners?
By Rater Zonaki
Source: UPI Asia On-line
September 9, 2008
Hong Kong, China — Many critics blame the current military-controlled government of Bangladesh for excessively abusing human rights, especially gross human rights violations during the state of emergency. The more the authorities are disinterested in accepting this reality, the greater is the attempt by human rights defenders and the media to criticize the government.
Many people seem to be too critical of the government all the time, which is rather unfair. However, government authorities, in all fairness, have taken some noble decisions against people and parties involved in abusing human rights. Some stories of government "kindness" deserve attention.
Since the state of emergency began, the government has been "kind" to the people of Bangladesh. They detained around 200 top politicians and businessmen and managed to lodge complaints against targeted politicians filed by public institutions and private individuals. Some were even prosecuted by a special anti-corruption tribunal.
Related to this is the case of Bangladesh Awami League general secretary Abdul Jalil, who was arrested on May 28, 2007 by the armed forces and detained without any charge throughout the year until implicated in a graft case lodged by the Anti-Corruption Commission on Dec. 18 with the Ramna police station. On Jan. 1, 2008, he was shown as arrested. While in detention, Jalil feel ill, which prompted a group of medical doctors to suggest that he be released to seek treatment abroad.
Then, the government appeared to be "kind" to the veteran politician by considering his case on humanitarian grounds and, on March 2, 2008, released him on parole without any formal intervention from the court, which could grant bail considering his health condition and subsequent requirements. Although the initial release order was for one month, it was extended to six after several requests by Jalil’s relatives.
Former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was arrested on July 16, 2007 and detained in a "sub-jail" with a number of graft cases against her. She had injured her ear and eye in a grenade attack during a public meeting in Dhaka on Aug. 21, 2004. While she was in detention, a group of doctors and members of a medical board formed by the government suggested that she travel to the United States for certain treatment that was not available any other place in the world.
This "kindness" of the government was exposed when it decided to release Hasina by an "executive order" instead of a judicial order. The initial release order was only for eight weeks, but was extended by a month following a request on behalf of the former prime minister. On Sept. 4, the government set a new record for its "kindness" by spontaneously extending the release order of Hasina for an additional month in the absence of any application or official request from anyone.
Mohammad Nasim, a former minister, was convicted by a special corruption tribunal and sentenced to 13 years imprisonment on Oct. 8, 2007 in a graft case. Another tribunal convicted him for three years for concealing information related to his wealth in a report submitted to the Anti-Corruption Commission. Recently he suffered a brain stroke and was admitted to a private hospital in Dhaka. On Aug. 15, 2008, the government released him so that he could seek treatment abroad, making it the first ever instance of a convicted person released to seek medical treatment abroad.
The mere suggestion by medical doctors to take someone abroad for treatment raises question about the credibility, standard and impartiality of the country's health professionals.
In the prisons of Bangladesh, dozens of convicted or prisoners under trial are seriously sick and many die while still in prison. For example, in 2006, around 52 prisoners died due to various reasons including health-related issues, according to credible reports. However, these poor people always fail to attract the "kind" attention of the government before their death. In all cases, prison authorities issue a press release or comment when contacted, which states that the person fell sick while in prison and so the prison staff took the person to a hospital where doctors declared him dead. All stories of death in prison have similar ends.
The same authorities that release rich and influential persons from prison without any legal papers exercise double standards toward the poor. They never feel that poor prisoners who are sick need to receive medical treatment either in the prison itself or in a public hospital. Existing laws are either flawed or do not apply to poor prisoners.
Authorities should realize and ensure that laws are applied equally toward all citizens, regardless of their social status and financial condition. Releasing prisoners on humanitarian grounds without proper legal and medical documents raises serious questions about the abuse of governmental power.
Misusing power is a clear violation of Art. 27 of the country's constitution, which enshrines the right to equal treatment before the law.
(Rater Zonaki is the pseudonym of a human rights defender based in Hong Kong working at the Asian Human Rights Commission. He is a Bangladeshi national with a degree in literature from a university in Dhaka. He began his career as a journalist in 1990 and engaged in human rights activism at the grassroots level in his country for more than a decade. He also worked as an editor for publications on human rights and socio-cultural issues and contributed to other similar publications.)