[Photo/Banglar Chokh: Sheikh Hasina, Sheikh Rehana, Sheikh Selim.]
[A quick review by E-Bangladesh.]
An attempt by the military-led interim government in Bangladesh to try former prime minister and president of Awami League, Sheikh Hasina, in an extortion case stumbled Monday as the trial commenced in a Dhaka court. In a clear setback for the prosecution side, Sheikh Selim, former minister and co-accused in the extortion case filed by businessman Azam J Chowdhury, retracted a confessional statement he issued earlier. Selim, through a written application filed and read out before the court by his lawyer, disowned the statement that implicated Hasina and himself in the case. On a graver note, Selim alleged “intolerable physical and mental torture” by members of the security forces in an “undisclosed location” and threat of extra-judicial execution that coerced him to issue the statement under section 164 of CrPc.
A report by The Daily Star detailed the allegation of torture and death threat:
Detained Awami League (AL) leader Sheikh Fazlul Karim Selim in a retraction petition told a Dhaka court yesterday that intolerable physical and mental torture, and threat to kill him in ‘crossfire’ forced him to give a judicial statement in connection with the Tk 2.99 crore extortion case. Selim submitted the petition to the Metropolitan Sessions Judge’s Court, set up under special arrangements at MP Hostel on the Jatiya Sangsad Bhaban premises, when he was taken there along with former prime minister Sheikh Hasina. In his petition, the former minister told Judge Mohammad Azizul Haque that the confessional statement was taken following his confinement to an unknown place for a long period, and physical and mental torture in phases. Defence lawyers said Selim’s repeated requests to jail authorities earlier to have the confessional statement withdrawn or to take him to court were ignored.
The AL leader in his petition said the joint forces arrested him on the night of May 21 without any warrant, and took him away after a four-hour search in his residence. Blindfolded, he was taken to an unknown place, instead of a police station. He was tortured there physically and mentally, and also threatened with death. The joint forces also questioned him over several issues. He was sent to a court on May 30 with a three-day remand prayer, the retraction petition said.
The court granted remand, and Selim was again blindfolded and taken to an unknown place. On June 2, the court ordered his detention for a month. And on June 17, two persons identifying themselves as men from the government met Selim and asked him to give confessional statement before a court. They also told him that he would be acquitted if he made deposition as approver in the case, the petition said.
The AL leader was produced before a court on June 18 with a two-day remand prayer, and he was remanded. Blindfolded, he was once again taken to an unknown place where some persons interrogated him on different issues, misbehaved with him and tortured him physically and mentally. During interrogation, he was again asked to make a confessional statement. As he refused, the interrogators threatened him saying that if he did not agree to their proposal, they would go for recovering firearms from his possession, Selim alleged in his petition. “We have received a list of three persons to get them caught in crossfire but I do not know as yet whether the list contains your name,” Selim said quoting one of the interrogators.
Anyone would be forced to give a confessional statement in the circumstances he had made the statement, the former minister said. The retraction petition mentioned that even the BNP-led four-party-alliance while in power could not bring any charges against Selim. Now, a baseless and cooked up charge was brought against him as part of a conspiracy, it said. “I am withdrawing the confessional statement I have given in the case,” Selim said in the petition. Advocate Syed Rezaur Rahman read out the petition on behalf of Selim as the court did not permit the accused to read it out.
Many in Bangladesh and abroad believe that Sheikh Hasina is being tried in a kangaroo court. According to a wire filed by an E-Bangladesh correspondent in Dhaka, Hasina herself is skeptical about the trial she is undergoing. “I am innocent. The case against me is designed to prevent me from contesting the polls,” she was quoted by acting AL chief Zillur Rahman, who is also in her defense counsel.
Her lawyers Monday raised questions about holding the trial under “a special arrangement as dictated by the government.” They argued that since the judiciary has been separated from the executive, the government can not instruct how the case will be tried. They also questioned the “real motive” behind trying Hasina is a special court, arguing that she has a right to “to a public trial in an independent and impartial tribunal.” Convinced by counter-arguments presented by the prosecution side, the court, set up near the sub-jail where Hasina is detained, overruled the defense challenge. Hasina’s party has repeatedly raised questions about due process in the case/trial.
Talking to newsmen, law adviser of the interim government, Mainul Hosein, brushed off Hasina’s apprehension of not getting justice, “She is being tried in an open court. She has got all her chosen counsel.” On Hasina’s claim of being innocent, he observed that every accused person claims of being innocent before the court.
E-Bangladesh correspondent described that Hasina