Bangladesh will be catapulted to third in the league table of death penalty countries, behind Iran and China if the executions of 152 border guards to death over ‘2009 mutiny’ are carried out, a process that was slammed by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, amongst others.
In young and developing democracies like Bangladesh, the imprisonment of dissenting voices is commonplace, but not unsurprising. Yet it is the incendiary act of executing high-level opposition leaders before an election which risks plunging Bangladesh into turmoil. Criticism of legal processes aside, it is this challenge to the very fundamentals of a modern democracy that must concern all.
Baroness Warsi, the UK’s Senior Foreign Office Minister, released a statement via the FCO’s website over a month ago to coincide with World Day Against Death Penalty. ‘The UK Government’, she said, ‘remains committed to working towards the worldwide abolition of the death penalty’. Her colleagues at the FCO echoed these statements on social media and elsewhere. The FCOs own ‘Strategy for the Abolition of the Death Penalty 2010-2015’, published two years ago, clearly states the UK Government’s approach. This includes high level lobbying, political dialogues and funding of human rights and democracy programmes.
British national Chowdhury Mueen-Uddin was sentenced to death in his absence, at the Bangladesh’s International Crimes Tribunal (ICT). He was accused, like the dozen men before him, of war crimes committed during the country’s 1971 Independence War.
Mueen-Uddin’s case is highly troubling. Neither he nor his defence team was ever contacted by the Bangladeshi authorities. He was presented with no evidence. He still does not know the exact charges, relying solely on second hand media reports from Dhaka.
Mueen-Uddin can take some small comfort from knowing the British government does not extradite to a country that enacts the death penalty. Any cynical attempt to alter the sentence to ensure extradition will not wash with a British Court. And this is before this wholly compromised trial process is even taken into consideration.
The British Foreign Office does not comment on extradition requests. But in their aforementioned strategy paper, they clearly state the use of ‘all appropriate influence to prevent the execution of any British national.’ Those lobbying for his extradition, either in the UK or abroad, should not waste their time.
Abdul Quader Mollah, one of two defendants who faced life imprisonment, had his sentence changed retroactively to death. Simply put, legislation was passed to give him the death sentence that was never available at any stage during his trial.
Besides, most of all defendants originate from the political opposition parties. With elections in Bangladesh around the corner, it is now evident this Tribunal is an attempt to paralyse the opposition ranks.
Nationwide strikes and unrest on the streets of Bangladesh continues. At the time of writing, the opposition activists torched vehicles in reaction to the alleged abduction and murder of their leaders. They claimed the victims were last seen being picked up by local plain-clothes police officers. Their anger follows the de-registration of their parties from the upcoming elections – a foolhardy move by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina that will only galvanise opposition ranks. Her refusal to allow a credible cross-party caretaker government to oversee the polls carries the dangerous sign of a leader clinging to power at any cost.
The ICT’s first round of executions may start soon. If so, Bangladesh may enter a dark chapter in its history. Such deep political division and retributive violence is now no surprise. As the French writer Guy de Maupassant observed: “Since governments take the right of death over their people, it is not astonishing if the people should sometimes take the right of death over governments.”
The internationalisation of these trials, and a moratorium on all death penalty sentences, may provide the solution.
Courtesy: Huff Post, UK