Security for a few and insecurity for all

Adilur Rahman Khan

THE cabinet has finally given approval and decided to introduce to the National Parliament the draft Bill on "The Father of the Nation's Family Members Security Act 2001" for approval. The Bill deals with the security of the living family members of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founder President of Bangladesh. Under the Bill, two daughters of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman would get state security as ' very important persons' as defined in the Special Security Forces (SSF) Ordinance 1986, which itself is known as a repressive law.

The Special Security Force was originally called the Presidential Security Force and came into being in 1986. Its function was to "provide physical security" both to the President, wherever he may be and to the VIPs (including any Head of State or Government or any person declared to be a VIP by the government). Following restoration of the parliamentary system, it was renamed the Special Security Force (SSF) and its primary function is to protect the Prime Minister, the President and other VIPs. Its work also includes "collecting and communicating intelligence affecting the physical security of the Prime Minister, the President or a VIP" (Section 8). The SSF is accountable to the Prime Minister under the present parliamentary system. The SSF has been given the following powers:

"Arrest without warrant of any person when there is reason to believe that the presence or movement of such person at or near the place where the Prime Minister, the President or a VIP is living or staying or through which he is passing or about to pass is prejudicial to the physical security of the Prime Minister, the President or such VIP and if such person forcibly resists the endeavour to arrest him or attempts to evade arrest, such officer may use all means necessary to effect the arrest and may, if necessary and after giving such warning as may be appropriate in the circumstances of the case or otherwise, so use force against him as to cause death" (Section 8).

The wide and unfettered powers granted to the authorities under the Special Security Forces Ordinance are exacerbated by section 11, which prevents prosecution for such acts without government sanction. The SSF presently has strength of 100 plus army personnel under the command of a Major General.

This will be the third national security legislation enacted by the second Awami League government after Public Safety Act and Father of the Nation Portrait Act 2001. The proposed bill derives its force from the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, where section 34(Kha) of Act 2 of 1975 (which introduced the single party BAKSAL system and made the chairperson of the BAKSAL the President of Bangladesh) contains statements as to how Sheikh Mujibur Rahman will take over the role of the President under the BAKSAL system by using "Father of the Nation" and "Bangabandhu" for the first time in 1975. There is a big debate among the constitutional experts now as to whether this particular section is still valid after the demise of BAKSAL.

Furthermore, the legal experts and the opposition political leaders have already mentioned that this proposed Bill will contradict the spirit of the neutral caretaker government, as this will bring some special benefits for election candidates who are also proposed to be the beneficiaries of the proposed Bill. Clearly, this will vitiate the level playing field for the contestors of the members of the family of the former President Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

Although Pakistan inherited some of these draconian laws from the British Raj, no such law was made part of the Bangladesh national legal system since the birth of its Constitution in December 1972. The notorious Special Powers Act 1974 was enacted through the scope provided by the Second Amendment and came to be enforced in the name of security of the people. But it was used to suppress the voice of the then opposition, who succeeded in waging a campaign in the face of the corruption and injustices. As a result, thousands of political activists, mostly belonging to the radical left camp, were put behind the bars. There were widespread allegations of custodial deaths and torture by the law-enforcing agencies and by a special paramilitary force, known as 'Jatiyo Rokkhi Bahini'. As claimed by the opposition, about thirty thousand people, mostly belonging to the radical left camp were allegedly killed during the time of first Awami League government.

This was only the beginning. The subsequent martial law regimes used the national security laws for their own benefits. Thousands of people belonging to the opposition groups languished in prisons under the national security laws during their regimes. The downfall of the Ershad regime in December 1990, brought a scope for repealing all repressive laws and putting the country on course for a democratic order. Unfortunately this scope did not materialise.

The promulgation of the 'Anti-terrorism Act' in 1992, by the BNP government, recreated a sense of insecurity in the minds of the common people, who viewed it as an undemocratic act to suppress the voice of the opposition. The 'Anti-terrorist Act' under which several thousand people suffered, died a natural death in 1994, leaving a deep sear in the political history and psyche of this country.

While in opposition, the present Prime Minister declared many times that if she came to power, she would scrap the 'Special Powers Act, 1974' the possibility of which has already been ruled out after the introduction of the 'Public Safety (Special Provision) Act 2000. Father of the Nation Portrait Act 2001 and now The Father of the Nation's Family Members Security Bill 2001 are some of the laws which will eventually make people insecure and will effect the constitutional right of freedom of expression.

These laws are also contrary to Article 32 of the Constitution, which states that every one is equal in the eyes of the law.

The new Bill has been approved at a time when the law and order situation has almost been despaired. People have become totally insecured. Death, rape, torture and extortion have become the law of the day. People asking for justice are as if banging their head in a stern wall. For example, the sensational murder case of Advocate Habibur Rahman Mondol. In this case the report submitted by police leaves a room for presumption whether they have allegedly let go the offenders. Similarly the influential murderers of Shipu are still at large and the entire country has become a valley of fear and death.

Under such circumstances, one must seriously question the implications of this new Bill. It is obvious that it is a shelter to protect a few, while the rest of the citizens of the country have to face the consequences of escalating terrorism, corruption, extortion, bad governance and bad laws. There are also other family members of assassinated President in our country who has ruled the country, they never felt the necessity to enact such 'private' security laws, perhaps because the country has never faced such civil strife.

Adilur Rahman Khan is an advocate of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh.

Source: The Daily Star: Dhaka, July 17, 2001

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