Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The increasing absurdity of the Mahfuz Anam affair

A thoughtful Bangladeshi friend of mine told me the other day that he was glad what was happening to Mahfuz Anam. I asked him in astonishment, how could he say that. He said: "Politics in Bangladesh has become so absurd, and what is happening to the editor of the Daily Star may actually make people sit up and realise that things have simply gone too far."

Well, I doubt that will happen. But it is certainly the case that what is happening to the Editor of the Daily Star is as an unedifying reflection of how in Bangladesh, the leader, the party and the state has increasingly meshed into one and how (using the courts) the governing party and its supporters can trample on the rights of just about any one in whatever way they wish. As John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton said: 'Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.'

Yes, it is simply unbelievable that there are 55 criminal cases lodged against Mahfuz Anam - 12 for sedition (each of which allows for three years imprisonment) and 43 for defamation (each of which allows upto 2 years imprisonment).

I have already written about some aspects of the hypocrisy and absurdity involved in this case, but here are four further points focusing on the legal cases against Anam.

1. Sedition charges: There is simply no way in which any conduct of Mahfuz Anam, even if given the most negative interpretation amounts to the offence of sedition - whether the offence is defined as it set out in the constitution or as it is in the penal code. (To read more about why, see point 12 here)

How is it that none of the 12 magistrates who have accepted a sedition case, have simply not thrown the case out right at the beginning?

2. Multiple cases: How can a person be prosecuted for exactly the same offence in different courts throughout the country. Apart from the 12 magistrates who have accepted a sedition charge against Anam, there are 43 separate magistrates who have accepted a defamation case against him.

It is obviously orchestrated harassment - but it also almost certainly in violation of the Bangladesh constitution: Article 35(2) states that:
No person shall be prosecuted and punished for the same offence more than once.
One would imagine that these magistrates, who are under an obligation to uphold the constitution, would consider the appropriateness of initiating a second, third, forth etc case when he or she is fully aware that a similar case has been filed elsewhere in the country. One would hope that before a court summoned Anam, the magistrate would seek to find out whether the case before him is or is not identical in facts to the other cases filed in other courts which have been highlighted in the media
3. Third party defamation cases: There should be only one person taking a defamation case and one person alone. That person of course is Sheikh Hasina. If she feels that her reputation has been inappropriately traduced due to inaccurate reporting then she should file a defamation case - noone else. There cannot be many other places in the world where a criminal (yes, not civil, but criminal) case of defamation is lodged by a third party claiming that another person's reputation has been traduced.

4. Compensation: In all of the defamation case, the plaintiffs have sought compensation - a total of 73, 831 crore Taka. This means for those who bemused by the idea of crores - Tk 738,310,000,000 which  converts as $9381 million.

But the penal code offence does not provide any opportunity for a person to seek compensation, and the magistrates has no power to deal with such claims.

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