BANGLADESH: Courts impose inequality before the law

Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has recently rebuked her political counterpart and former Premier Khaleda Zia that the latter “lacks courage” and “just can’t face the court”. In a meeting at her official residence, on 12 October 2016, Hasina said that her government is being blamed for pursuing false cases. She asked, “Which case filed against her [Khaleda Zia] was false? Didn’t they burn people alive and set fire on hundreds of transports? People were killed in their instruction and many people are still suffering from their assault. So, how she will ignore it?”

The Prime Ministers’ statements would make anyone that has observed Bangladesh do a double take. Rather than the pitch battle between the two political tribes and their matriarchs, however, the tragedy of Bangladesh can be explained much better if one were to look closer at its justice institutions, particularly the Courts that the Prime Minister has referred to. The institutions’ attitudes and actions affecting litigants are grossly subjective; they factor in the identity of the litigants concerned and the agenda of the government of the day. The Bangladesh Courts that the Premier invites others to “face” decide matters subjectively, burying any purported objective of upholding justice.

The subjective attitudes of the justice institutions are quite vivid in the prolonged detention being suffered by Mr. Mahmudur Rahman, Acting Editor of Daily Amardesh. He has been arbitrarily detained since 11 April 2013, with Daily Amardesh having been shut down by Hasina’s government since his arrest. The Sheikh Hasina led government has used the police and other non-State actors to fabricate 74 cases against Mahmudur Rahman. For all these years, he is being repeatedly “shown arrested” for pending cases, as soon as the High Court grants him bail.

On 19 April 2016, the Bangladesh Police claimed to have shown Mahmudur arrested in a case of “conspiracy to kidnap and murder Prime Minister Hasina’s son in the USA”. The police registered the complaint, on 3 August 2015, when Mahmudur had already been in jail, as an under-trial, for 16 months, and the content of the complaint had nothing involving him in the so called conspiracy.

The justice institutions of Bangladesh that the Prime Minister invites others to face, have entertained the spree of fabricated cases lodged against Mahmudur, without any compunction of maintaining the principles of justice – equality before law, right to fair trial, right to personal liberty, and even legality.

For example: “showing arrested” or “shown arrested” does not exist as any legal terminology in the laws in effect in Bangladesh. However, the Courts have been justifying numerous cases wherein the police routinely use the term “shown arrested” to prolong the detention of a person already in jail, without even producing the detainee in Court, which defies the provision in Section 351 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898, and basic principles of justice.

In the most recent case in which Mahmudur has been implicated, the one involving alleged conspiracy to kidnap the Prime Minister’s son, the police have also made eminent journalist and writer Shafik Rehman a principal accused. After almost five months’ of detention Shafik Rehman has been released from prison on 6 September 2016, following a High Court Bench granting him bail.

A High Court Bench granted bail to Mahmudur Rahman on 7 September in the same case. The Chamber Judge’s Bench of the Supreme Court, on 18 September 2016, stayed Mahmudur’s bail till October 30, in response to the stay petition lodged by the Office of the Attorney General. The Chamber Judge’s decision defies the jurisprudence of the Bangladesh Judiciary. The Chamber Judge’s Bench has, in fact, violated the right to personal liberty of Mahmudur Rahman for six more weeks, defying the basic norm of equality before the law .

For nearly four years Mahmudur Rahman, who is facing the Courts, has been facing trumped up charges at the cost of his right to personal liberty. Those who observe Bangladesh’s justice institutional behavior will find it hard to believe that the police will not come up with another series of trumped up charges against targeted detainees such as Mahmudur Rahman, if the highest tier of the country’s Judiciary grants him bail after the ongoing autumn vacation. All the branches of Bangladesh’s Judiciary and law-enforcement agencies have established themselves as institutions are immersed in subjective behavior and action.

There is an even easier way to showcase the subjectivity of the Courts the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina wants others to face. Remember, all the criminal charges against Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina were dropped soon after her party assumed office in 2009. These were dropped with the label of them having been “politically motivated cases” . These included cases involving scandalous corruption, which were dropped like hot bricks, amidst the prosecution process.

The Courts bowed to Executive decision and did not object to such withdrawal of cases. This threw out of the window any vestige of legality and principles of justice. Today, the same Prime Minister, who was worried about facing the Courts for her own alleged crimes, is challenging others for avoiding the Courts.

When Courts and the entire justice system operates with such whimsy, who in their right mind would willingly face these Courts? Only those who are in power, or those close to its levers, would be brave enough to do so. For a majority of Bangladeshis, the Courts’ are not on their side, because they are not on the side of upholding justice through the maintenance of equality before the law.


[1] “Government files no false cases case against Khaleda: PM”, The New Age:

[2] Advocate Ruhul Kabir Rizvi Vs. State, The High Court Division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh in the case of Advocate Ruhul Kabir Rizvi Vs. State[1] concludes:“[I]f the bail is granted to one co-accused, the other co-accused whose case stands on the same footing is entitled to get bail.” published in 65 Dhaka Law Report (DLR), in Page 541.
In the case of Haibat Ali Vs. State[1] the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh observed: “[T]here is no material to discriminate the case of the appellant from those of the co-accused who have been enlarged on bail. High court Division has not exercised discretion judicially. Bail allowed.”, published in 3 Bangladesh Case Reports (BCR), in Page 170.

[3] Article 27 of the Constitution of Bangladesh enshrines that “All citizens are equal before law and are entitled to equal protection of law.”

[4] “Dropping of 11 cases against Hasina on cards” The Daily Star report can be accessible at:

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-163-2016
Countries : Bangladesh,
Issues : Institutional reform, Judicial system, Prosecution system, Rule of law,