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Pressuring the Defendants' Families: A New Barrier to be Broken in Bangladesh

17/12/2015 16:32 GMT | Updated 16/12/2016 10:12 GMT

Ali Ahsan Muhammad Mujahid was executed on 22nd November 2015. He was found guilty of 'international crimes' in what can only be seen as a hopelessly flawed trial, before the International Crimes Tribunal of Bangladesh (ICT). The verdict and the subsequent confirmation of the death sentence by the Supreme Court merely re-affirmed the impunity with which the tribunal operates rather than offering a credible route of appeal, and accordingly, failed to address the significant legal deficiencies that resulted in the entire proceedings falling gravely short of international standards.

Numerous international bodies and institutions, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights criticised Mr. Mujahid's death sentence and called upon the Government of Bangladesh to halt his execution. In the United States, the U.S. Congress Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, and international experts such as the former U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Stephen Rapp echoed these criticisms.

The Bangladeshi government nevertheless, ignored these calls and proceeded with Mr. Mujahid's arbitrary punishment. Given the grave violations of due process rights in Mr. Mujahid's trial and the Tribunal's woeful disregard for fair trial standards, it could be concluded that Mr. Mujahid's death amounted to a summary execution.

The absence of such standards in the trials before the ICT and the Tribunal's systematic targeting of the country's political opposition are widely acknowledged matters that have received a great deal of international attention. Such is the seriousness of these criticisms that the tribunal has lost all its international legitimacy and defendants are commonly perceived as being deprived of meaningful justice.

However, this injustice has now extended to the defendants' families, who have become the focus of official oppression in their personal and professional lives. One such case is that of Mr. Mujahid's son, Ali Ahmed Tahkik, who has recently been forced to resign from his position at Grammeenphone, the leading and largest telecommunications service provider in Bangladesh.

During his father's trial before the ICT, Mr. Tahkik was first transferred between different departments in his company and then, forced to resign. According to his testimony, he was not provided with any explanation about these decisions, neither with alternative options. In a meeting on 1st November 2015, he was obliged to sign a voluntary retirement scheme promising a certain amount of money as financial compensation, but even this compensation is now put into question.

Mr. Tahkik is an experienced professional with an admirable and long-standing career within the company, where he held the position of Partner Relations Officer. In 2014 he had been rewarded for his outstanding performance.

Therefore, the timing of his resignation being coupled with his father's trial before the ICT invites us to question whether there were certain political interests behind his de facto dismissal. As a matter of fact, he was forced to present his resignation the same day of Mr. Mujahid's review hearing at the Appellate Division in the Supreme Court of Bangladesh, despite being asked for an additional day to present his resignation given the specific circumstances.

For Mr. Tahkik, Grammeenphone's actions derive from "baseless and false news published in few online media where he had no connectivity at all at any level", and he defends that he was judged based on his identity and family background.

Interestingly, Grammeenphone, a communications and information technology company is one the largest companies in Bangladesh and one of the largest taxpayers in the country. Therefore, the links with the Government of Bangladesh are evident.

The company is part of the Norwegian group Telenor, which in the following days is going to be the main issue in a hearing at the Norwegian Parliament. Given the potential political motivation behind Mr. Tahkik's forced resignation, it would be appropriate for the Norwegian authorities to raise the issue, and further, commission an investigation into the suggested unlawful and arbitrary transfer, and dismissal Mr. Mujahid's son; to dismiss an employee based on his family background would constitute a discriminatory policy and a breach of the right to equality.

If the political motivation of Mr. Tahkik's forceful resignation is confirmed, the Government of Bangladesh would appear to have broken a new barrier and set an unparalleled precedent in its crackdown on the political opposition: attacking the families of prosecuted high-profile political leaders in all spheres of lives. These attacks would constitute acts of mere political vendetta and unjustified revenge over innocent citizens, based solely on their family links. Such 'familiar responsibility' more proper of the Medieval Ages or the Pharaonic era, are not only woefully illegal but also contrary to every ethical standard. Yet, sadly, ethical considerations never seemed to be an issue for the Government of Bangladesh.

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