Bangladesh's corruption probe sets back interim government
Former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed's victory signals continued tensions that could spill into the region.
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The Daily Star in Dhaka reports that around 150 corruption cases filed under emergency power rules (EPR) could be affected by the ruling. Of these, around 50 have already led to convictions and jail sentences. The remainder are either in court or awaiting indictments. The alleged offenses include tax evasion, extortion, asset concealment and profiting from illegal activities.Skip to next paragraph
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The High Court ruling is a major setback to the interim government's plan to prevent corrupt politicians from taking part in elections, says the Star.
According to a provision of EPR, any person, convicted of corruption by a trial court, will be disqualified from contesting in any election until adjudication of the person's appeal against the verdict.
But, if detained and fugitive political leaders are tried under general laws instead of EPR, then even convicted persons will be able to contest in polls until the Supreme Court upholds the convictions by the trial courts, which is usually a very lengthy process.
Another important distinction in the judicial process under emergency rules is that the accused aren't eligible for bail, says the Associated Press. If the government were forced to revert to regular laws, detained suspects would be allowed to seek bail.
In an editorial published Thursday, the Daily Star criticized the government for insisting on fast-track trials under emergency rules and for failing to anticipate the resulting legal challenge. It praised the High Court for upholding due process of law in its ruling, while arguing that corruption investigations of high-profile suspects are long overdue and necessary.
But the shoddy and poor handling of the legal process has created a situation where they might just begin to look like "victims" of legal harassment. These people are likely to get the benefit of the situation where the validity of the legal proceedings in the corruption cases might be questioned. We cannot but question the wisdom of the government's legal advisers who clearly failed to see in advance the weaknesses and limitations of applying the EPR, when the existing laws could have taken care of the corruption cases.
A senior politician warned Wednesday that holding elections while Hasina and Ms. Zia are both in jail would be unacceptable, the Bangladesh Independent reports. Khandaker Delwar Hossain is secretary-general leader of the BNP, Zia's political party; Hasina heads the rival Awami League, which won the last election in 2001.
"Both the leaders have been locked up to keep them away from elections. No polls will be accepted with them behind bars," Delwar said at a meeting with lawyers belonging to Dhaka District Lawyers Association.
The BNP leader demanded immediate release of the two former prime ministers and all political leaders if the polls were to be peaceful.
The Election Commission has begun talks with political parties to prepare for elections by the end of the year, Bloomberg reports. Chief Election Commissioner A.T.M. Shamsul Huda said photo identity cards had been issued to 26 million out of an estimated 85 million eligible voters, as part of an overhaul of electoral rolls that in past ballots were inflated by duplication and fake names to over 90 million voters.