Three terms former Prime Minister and chairperson of the main opposition political force- Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) – Begum Khaleda Zia has been awarded for five-year rigorous jail in a controversial graft case on February 8, 2018 by a special court of capital city Dhaka. She has been convicted of embezzling more than 21 million Bangladesi Taka (260,000 US Dollar).
The three-time prime minister is the second former head of government after ex-dictator HM Ershad to have been convicted on corruption charges dealing a severe blow to the party ahead of the upcoming national elections. The BNP chief’s conviction could have significant political implications as it makes uncertain her participation in the next national polls slated for later this year.
“As the prosecution has been able to prove the charges against Khaleda Zia, she has been awarded five years’ rigorous imprisonment, considering her social status and physical condition,” said Judge Md Akhtaruzzaman of the Special Court-5 in Dhaka, delivering the much-talked about verdict in a packed courtroom. The court cancelled Khaleda’s bail and sent her to prison. Law enforcers then took her to the old Central Jail on Nazimuddin Road in the capital amid tight security.
The special court also sentenced Khaleda’s eldest son and BNP Senior Vice Chairman Tarique Rahman, and four others to 10 years’ rigorous imprisonment and slapped a fine of Tk 21 million each. Tarique, who resides in the UK, was tried in absentia. Earlier in July 2016, he had been awarded seven years’ imprisonment in a money laundering case. As per the BNP charter, he will perform as chairman of the 40-year-old political party in Khaleda’s absence.
However, the government is trying to embellish the trial as fantastic and a great example of rule of law. Most of the top figures including the Prime Minister and some other influential ministers have termed it as a radiant example of rule of law. They are frequently reminding the people that none is out of law.
Irony of rule of law
Ironically, the real scenario is totally different as corruption, bribery and irregularities have already been wrapped up almost all sectors of the government. Especially the records of the law enforcing agencies are dangerous. But government has little care in curbing corruption from those sectors excepting the harassment of the members of rival political parties.
According to the outcome of a research conducted by the Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) published on 7 August 2016, the conviction rate in graft-related cases stood 37 percent in the previous three years (2013-2015). Even the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) of Bangladesh has the record of filing 9,810 cases just in a year based on complains the institute received within that particular year.
The real scenario is more dangerous as a great number of victims hardly dare to file complain against the corruptors due to the latter’s political position and strong affiliations with the government high-ups. So most of the people avoid the risk of facing rage of those powerful members of the society and thus no case is filed in most of the corruption or graft related incidents.
Even information minister Hasanul Haq Inu publicly said that 80 percent of the reliefs of Poverty Reduction Program (PRP) and Food for Work Program (FFWP) are grabbed or theft. For a sustainable development such grabbing should be stopped. Reliefs worth millions of Taka are being embezzled resulting poor and needy people empty-handed. Members of Parliament (MP), bureaucrats and leaders of local government including upazila chairmen mainly the master minds of this corrupt syndicate. It should be distorted for the greater interest of the country. Even the members of this syndicate should be imprisoned if needed.
Unfortunately, the scenario is same; rather in most cases it has been worsened. But the known criminals are hardly brought to justice. Who will nab those culprits while such high-ups of the government are in fact the main offenders? The situation is like kidnappers are in duty for protecting kids.
While protectors grab
Country’s law enforcing agencies especially a good number of the police personnel are involved in various criminal activities including bribery, corruption, mugging, human-trafficking, drug-peddling, extra-judicial killings, raping and the like. According to the statistics of the police headquarters about 15,000 policemen had been handed punishment in 2014. Meanwhile, 5,000 police personnel had been awarded punishment in 2015 for their involvement in different types of crimes. Besides, another 9,958 more were punished for negligence and indiscipline in 2015.
An especial report published in the BBC Bangla on 23 January 2017 quoted mass people as saying that seeking help from police means providing bribery. The report made on why the general people had lost faith to the police based on the interview of some general people.
Even a pro-government Bangla National Daily “The Janakantha” made an interesting report on April 24, 2016 with the headline “Police takes bribe from Police”. The report focused on the alleged bribery of DIG (Deputy Inspector General) of police in different excuses including transferring of Officer-in-Charge (OC) in different police stations and appointing SI (Sub-Inspector) and ASI (Assistant Sub-Inspector).
We also see a destructive scenario in the capital market. Some 3570 billion BDT (44.6 billion USD) – an amount bigger than country’s the then national budget – was swindled from Bangladesh riding mostly in misinvoicing over a period of 10 years till 2014. It means that on an average 357 billion BDT (Bangladeshi Currency -Taka) was swindled abroad each year. The US-based non-profitable research and advisory organization Global Financial Integrity (GFI) released the report on May 1, 2017.
While the overall scenario is like this, three times former Prime Minister have been awarded five-year rigorous jail in controversial case may push country’s political atmosphere more volatile. BNP secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir has already said that without Khaleda no election could be held. On the other hand, leaders of the ruling Bangladesh Awami League including Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina are repeatedly threatening that the upcoming national election will be held under the present government as per constitution and it’s no matter whether BNP takes part the election or not. Thus a gross conflicting environment has been created in Bangladesh centering the upcoming election.
There is also difference in treating the news of Khaleda’s imprisonment in different foreign newspapers. Headline of some newspapers were very attacking while some other international newspapers focuses different aspects of the verdict.
Khaleda’s case in foreign media
The Qatar-based international media “The Aljazeera” reports, “A court in the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, has sentenced former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia to five years in jail in a corruption case. …Zia, the chairperson of the country’s main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), along with five others, was accused of embezzlement of funds meant for the Zia Orphanage Trust.”
Look, the headline of Aljazeera news – Khaleda Zia jailed for five years in corruption case – is very simple without any exaggeration. The description of the event is also normal. But we can see the news in some other international newspapers with harder headlines. For example, the headline of Britain-based international media “BBC” treated the event with the headline “Bangladesh ex-PM Khaleda Zia guilty of corruption”. The very first line of the report was “Bangladeshi opposition leader Khaleda Zia has been sentenced to five years in jail for corruption”.
Thus, the mentalities of different countries in the upcoming general election of Bangladesh can be guessed through the treatment of the Khaleda’s news. The headlines and description of most of the Indian influential media were also a little bit attacking. For example, the headline of NDTV was “Former Bangladesh PM Khaleda Zia Gets 5 Years In Jail For Corruption”. The news started with the following sentence: “A court in Bangladesh sentenced opposition leader Khaleda Zia to five years in jail on Thursday after convicting the two-time former premier of embezzling money meant for an orphanage.”
On the other hand, the headline of the news by the Pakistan’s influential English newspaper “The Daily Pakistan” was “Bangladesh ex-PM Khaleda Zia gets 5 years jail in corruption case” while the Turkish-based TRT World also started the news with the headline “Bangladesh ex-Prime Minister Khaleda Zia jailed for five years amid clashes”. The starting of the report was like, “Thousands of protestors clashed with police over a ruling that found former the prime minister guilty of corruption. Her son Tarique Rahman, a co-defendant in the case, and four of her aides were sentenced to 10 years in jail.” The headline of the China-based news agency “The Xinhua” focused the news with the headline “Bangladesh ex-PM Khaleda Zia sentenced to 5 years in jail” while the news treatment was like “Former Bangladeshi Prime Minister Khaleda Zia has been found guilty of a graft charge and sentenced to five years in prison. Amid tight security, Judge Md Akhtaruzzaman of the Special Court-5 in Dhaka delivered the 632-page verdict on Thursday afternoon.”
So the harsh reality of both home and abroad about prevailing tension centering the upcoming general election keeping Khaleda Zia behind bars through rigorous imprisonment of 5 years is thoroughly political. How much rule of law this trial conveys will be judged by the future history.
However, there is little harmony in the current politics either nationally or internationally. All are moving their own way. Actually, in international arena none seems to have headache on how a three terms Prime Minister is treated. In reply to a quarry of journalist the United Nations (UN) also reacted as usual by uttering that they were closely monitoring everything.
But it is very clear that the greater part of the international forum is working in favor of the ruling party due to uninterrupted and one-sided support of neighboring India. In such critical situation the main opposition BNP has failed either to earn international support even from Indian arch-rival China or make its supporters holding influential movement. In such situation mass sympathy must go in favor of BNP though it would hardly carry any result.
It is thoroughly uncertain whether a fair, credible and participatory election will be held or not and whether the election result will be announced properly or the ruling force takes shelter of digital forgery. So it is clear that country fallen into a great political crisis. It is difficult to analyze on how get rid of this dirty ditch. May be the rising generation turns back against all prevailing anomalies and normalcy returns back. I think we need to keep patience for a little more to see the miracle.