Monday, March 5, 2012

What do Biplob, Ghulam Azam and Sagar-Runi have in common?

Lately, three cases are seriously affecting people’s already depleted confidence in the law and order situation. These cases are unrelated in content but significant in the essence of the maladies that they represent and as it affect us. The first one relates to the pardon of a convicted murderer Biplob (the son of an AL leader) by the president using his prerogative. The other one is the confusion and obfuscation of the circumstances surrounding the Rumi-Sagar murder and finally the anxiety most face about the prosecution’s ability to present a credible case at the war crimes tribunal against the alleged war criminals.
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A.H.M. Biplob was convicted in two murder cases and sentenced to death by hanging in one and life imprisonment in another. His death sentence has been pardoned and his life sentence reduced to ten years. The father of the boy also happens to be the son of the Laxmipur Pourashava mayor and an AL leader, Abu Taher.

Pardons are presidential prerogative which is why the case draws attention. One can see the connection that binds the president to his party and that’s why there are concerns about the ‘misuse’ of presidential privileges.

There is no question that the privilege exists but when it comes to unaccountable privileges which the president enjoys, the responsibility to enjoy the same is very serious. The president can legally pardon anyone but there is unease about it now. So when does it become less presidential?

He has selectively chosen to use his privileges and has provided no reasons about the extenuating circumstances that were behind the decision. The result has been an accumulation of accusations of partisanship even in this august office.

So the next time a person decides to kill, won’t he make sure that he has political connections and hope that once his party comes to power he can be pardoned no matter how grave the crime is?

The concept of crime and punishment even by its watered down Bangladeshi version has been weakened by exercising such privileges concerning law and order without accountability.
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Thanks to Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia, something as national as the trial of the war criminals has become a subject of partisan dispute. For most, it’s not about revenge but justice. The trial itself is a symbolic event that should help our closure but then the trial seems to have become a problem between both parties and not a national event.

Listening to the two leaders slugging it out in a most unseemly manner, one feels that the memory of the martyrs is somehow not given the dignified respect it deserves.
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The Awami League wants to try the prisoners for crimes against humanity and has erected a large legal apparatus around it. But some, maybe more than some are concerned that the prosecution hasn’t done everything to make everyone feel that they are well prepared to convince the judges. Everyone is keeping their fingers crossed that the evidence is strong enough to find all the accused guilty. There is no doubt that all those who supported the birth of Bangladesh in 1971 want the alleged war criminals tried and found guilty in a fair trial.
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It is a curious moral and ethical situation for many of us. We want the alleged criminals to be found guilty but we want a fair trial too.  Few things would be more painful than finding that the prosecution has failed to establish a case. With the integrity of the judges not in question, it is a possibility that they may go free if the prosecution fails to deliver. So we live in some anxiety and hope that it is a fair trial and the accused are found guilty but fair and square.

The government is more concerned it seems about protecting the trial and not its case for the prosecution. One hopes that the conduct of the prosecution of alleged war criminals doesn’t become an advertisement for the safety of war criminals even when tried by a competent court making law and order issues under greater threat due to the state’s lack of will not intent.
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Finally, the ongoing drama of Sagar-Runi murder is becoming a distinct possibility of becoming a carnival of misinformation and statements made without understanding their gravity. This farce began with our home minister and continues with our leader of the opposition as well as the prime minister herself. No one in the public domain is sure what really happened and sadly many suspects what will ultimately be known may not be the actual facts. This situation is fuelling the endless rounds of speculation.

It began with the very irresponsible ultimatum of the home minister that the murderers be caught within 48 hours but when no arrest was made the rumour mill went into full grind. Without realizing the gravity of the statement Shahara Khatun started a train which neither she nor anyone else seems to have the ability to control anymore.
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The public perception of the police is that they always know the facts of the crime fairly quick but doesn’t always make an arrest, either because there is pressure not to or they couldn’t be bothered. In Sagar-Runi case the situation was very sensitive because the murdered couple were journalists and also because of the very gruesome nature of the crime. The issue that journalists speculate is not the point which they do everywhere and mostly without an eye for the consequence but that the police has remained so evasive and confusing and are behaving very differently from the way they usually do in unearthing cases.

Media has got hold of cell phone records, SMS, talked to those close to the killed couple, listened to whatever people are saying and have access to information which in many cases are dribbling down from police sources. The result is a mosaic of facts and fiction that are creating more of the same confusion. The delay means most people have made up their mind about who did what and no matter what the police ultimately reveal , the confusion and suspicion may not disappear.
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Our politicians try to take advantage of murders too and Khaleda Zia’s comment that Sagar-Runi has been killed for government’s corruption information falls in that category. It is cynical of her and shows the kind of level our politicians are ready to stoop to, to gain mileage. The rap on her knuckles by the high court is welcomed. But it doesn’t make the situation better because the blog world is now full of speculations that the murder was a result of some secret information that one or both the deceased had come to know about a tycoon who is close to the powers that be.

And what does Sheikh Hasina mean that the police can’t protect the ‘bedroom”? Where are most people anyway at home? Does it mean that the home is no longer protectable? Or does it imply goings on in the bedroom is outside the normal purview of law and order?
Just about everyone has added to the fog and cloud though the usual blame has been heaped on media which is common and really cuts no ice with anyone nor distracts anyone from the main focus.
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The three cases that are symptomatic of our times and situation is up before everyone and none makes us feel better. That talking less is good and if that is not possible, one should talk sensibly is lost on our leaders.

Governance without accountability is always a great breeder of smoke and haze and as we rot in them, we can only hope that some happy wind will drive them away one day and make matters clearer.

BY :  Afsan Chowdhury