BANGLADESH: Clemency must not be a political game 

The President of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh Md. Zillur Rahman has once again exercised his power of clemency. This time his office has commuted the sentence of a convict formerly given a life sentence to that of a ten years’ imprisonment.  It is not surprising that the same person has received two commutations in a row. He belongs to the ruling political regime and is alleged to be a thug who controls “political business” for the Bangladesh Awami League, including murder.

The authorities have not yet revealed what is the normative principle or assessment based on justice that is followed by the Office of the President in granting clemency in Bangladesh.  Is there a standard in compliance with the purpose of justice that compels the Office of the President to exercise an extraordinary power as it is doing in granting clemency that is applicable in the country?

Awarding clemency in Bangladesh has no other standard other than political considerations and the incumbent President is no exception. Often it is done to suite the writ of a ruling political regime rather than serving any purpose of justice or humanity, as it appears in this particular case. From experience, granting clemency in Bangladesh is an exercise that, in essence, overrules the writ of the judiciary in the country, which the judiciary also obtains from the same constitution that the President invokes in cases where clemency is granted.

Such random and slipshod approach in invoking extraordinary powers of the President’s office, in particular, concerning the remitting of sentences in criminal cases, and also for the withdrawal of prosecutions, is an encroachment into the authority of the court, negates the premises of impartiality and trivialises and subjugates the very notion of justice process — an institution that is mandated to deliver justice in the country. In a practical sense, it demoralises not only the judiciary but also the other professionals associated with the criminal justice process, including the investigation organs of the State like the police and lawyers, including prosecutors. Such arbitrary unwarranted and politically motivated presidential clemency indirectly justifies extrajudicial execution and torture.

According to the information received, A H M Biplob was convicted in the case of murdering a lawyer, whose body was cut into pieces and thrown into river. The Sessions Court awarded him the death penalty for the murder in absentia. He was further convicted for the murder of two other persons on separate occasions. He committed the crimes in 2000 and 2001 when the Bangladesh Awami League was in power. The High Court held the judgement of the Courts of Sessions in the case of murdering the lawyer but remitted the death penalties of two cases to life imprisonments. Following applications from Biplob’s mother the President pardoned Biplob in the murder case of the lawyer in July 2011 and, now, remitted the two other life imprisonments to ten years imprisonments.

As it has happened in this case, the Presidential clemency trashes the very right to know the truth of the victims who are either murdered disappeared without a trace or had to put up with other physical or mental injuries when all of sudden the government withdraws prosecution of criminal cases on the excuses that such prosecution was initiated on pure political motives. One may also argue that if such a large number of prosecutions are initiated by political parties according to the whims and fancies as they hold fort in Dhaka, it throws light to the alarming fact that the criminal justice apparatus in the country is wholesomely misused by the political parties. If this is true, the country’s justice apparatus is used to call black as white and white as black on a rotation of every five years. This also implies a huge amount of public money is spent on sheer waste and for fabrication of cases than, in fact, serving any purpose of justice.

Article 49 of the Constitution of Bangladesh empowers the country’s President to exercise prerogative authority to “grant pardons, reprieves and respites and to remit, suspend or commute any sentence passed by any court, tribunal or other authority”.

There is no disagreement to the fact that the President can exercise this constitutional power. But, as a matter of fact, Mr. Zillur Rahman as the president of the country is just playing the same cards as his predecessors had and his successors would, with no sense of justice or humanity, help the associates of his political party. The president is exercising his official prerogative to fit the requirements of the ruling political regime. What has made Pakistan today what it is from which Bangladesh rightfully wrestled its independence is also similar misuse of presidential authority. In that country it was more at the whims of the military than any political party. There is no guarantee that the military in Bangladesh would not learn bad lessons from its distant neighbour.

According to Article 48 (3) of the Constitution of Bangladesh the President shall act in accordance with the advice of the Prime Minister. This constitutional provision indicates that the President has materialised the decision made by the other organs of the State controlled by the Prime Minister.

The President misusing the constitutional texts is a scandal. A Prime Minister, who requires a President to do so, is equally responsible for the consequences. Unfortunately, the direct casualty of this despicable situation in Bangladesh is the very notion of justice, the foundation upon which the concept of democracy is built. The question is how far can the country and its people ignore the alarming reality that these scandals are eroding the foundation of the country itself?

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-037-2012
Countries : Bangladesh,
Issues : Administration of justice, Corruption, Impunity, Rule of law, Victims assistance & protection,