Zia Orphanage Trust Graft Case: ‘None above the Law’

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Bappy Rahman

Everyone is subject to the law; that no one, no matter how important or powerful, is above the law-not the government; not the prime minister, or any other minister; not the influential university professor; not the most powerful bureaucrat; not the armed forces; not Parliament itself.  None is above the law and everyone is equal in the eyes of law. This spirit of law ensures the rule of justice.

Justice is what we as a society regard as ‘right’ based on our moral concepts of ethics, rationality, law, religion, equity and fairness.

Justice is the first virtue of social institutions, as truth is of systems of thought. A society is well-ordered when it is not only designed to advance the good of its members but when it is also effectively regulated by a public conception of justice. That is, it is a society in which (a) everyone accepts and knows that the others accept the same principles of justice, and (b) the basic social institutions generally satisfy and are generally known to satisfy these principles.

Interestingly, justice needs to be in the light of the democratic principle of the ‘rule of law’. The rule of law is a concept that denotes that all decisions need to be made in accordance with the law. It was noted earlier that nobody can be exempted from the law. Respect for the rule of law is an important requirement to safeguard justice in a democracy. It ensures that all decisions and actions of individuals are in line with a country’s laws. It also ensures that people with power do not make decisions about our lives in an arbitrary and unpredictable manner, based on their personal hatred, prejudice or beliefs and not on what the law allows.

Recently Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) Chairperson Khaleda Zia landed in jail after a Dhaka court found her guilty in the Zia Orphanage Trust graft case. On July 3, 2008 The Anti-Corruption Commission lodged Zia Orphanage Trust graft case against Begum Khaleda Zia and five others with Ramna Police Station, for embezzling Taka 2.10 crore meant for orphans. This case relates to corruption over the misuse of funds in a charity named after former President Ziaur Rahman. The trial proceedings in the case were delayed as the defence lawyers moved the higher court to halt the proceedings. Even after charge sheets were submitted against the accused persons, trial proceedings stopped several times following the no-confidence petitions filed by the accused against the judges concerned. The BNP chief filed a no-confidence petition against this court, but the trial proceedings started on September 22, 2017 after the High Court as well as the Appellate Division rejected the petition. The BNP chairperson prayed for time 39 times during the last one year of the trial. The court heard the closing arguments for 16 working days. Overall, it heard the case for 236 working days and recorded statements of 32 witnesses.

After that special judge’s court sentenced BNP chairperson Khaleda Zia to five years’ imprisonment in the Zia Orphanage Trust corruption case. The verdict simultaneously sentenced Zia’s fugitive elder son and BNP’s senior vice president Tarique Rahman as he was tried in absentia in the Zia Orphanage Trust case. Tarique Rahman and four others have been sentenced to 10 years in prison.

It is very unfortunate that the Bangladesh High Commission offices in London had been attacked from a protest rally organized by the UK unit of the BNP ahead of the Khaleda Zia’s corruption trial verdict. BNP men carrying banners and placards gathered at the high commission premises.  They were very arrogant and threatened to beat the embassy staffers deployed outside to watch over the rally, if they came close to them. The protesters vandalised and dishonoured the portrait of Bangabandhu. How shameful!

Before Khaleda’s verdict BNP men attacked a prison van near the High Court and snatched two detainees as Khaleda Zia was returning from the court hearing. BNP activists often gathered on the roadside from the High Court to Bakshibazar to wave to their party chief but ended up clashing with police on the way back of Khaleda from the special court.

As per the constitution and election law, if someone is convicted for at least two years, he or she will not be able to participate in the polls for the next five years after serving the sentence. Although, Khaleda is currently ineligible, an appeal may turn the tables. Even if the High Court grants her bail but upholds the conviction, or the appeal takes time, she will not be able to contest. The conviction can be challenged with the Appellate Division. If the conviction is also upheld by the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court, she will have to serve the entire term. In which case, she will be unable to contest. Only a stay of conviction and a bail will allow Khaleda to take part in the election.

BNP men might try their utmost to benefit from the judgment by politicising it.  Awami League leaders should not make any remark about the verdict that might help BNP draw public sympathy. Awami League should rather campaign against Khaleda and challenge the legality of her involvement in politics.

We need to remember that the rule of law protects us by ensuring that laws apply equally to all of us; that those who exercise government power do so guided by the law and not by their own views, and that no one has absolute power over our lives. The rule of law can only function properly when courts act in an independent, fair, public and transparent manner. Law takes its own course through the verdict and Khaleda’s verdict proves none is beyond the purview of the law.

(The author acknowledges with gratitude the different sources of information.)

 

The writer is the Assistant Professor, Department of Public Administration, Jagannath University

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