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Ex-leader’s son fears unjust trial

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The son of Bangladesh's detained former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed says military personnel in Dhaka are intimidating his mother's attorneys and he worries she will not get justice.

Bangladesh's military-backed interim government accuses Mrs. Hasina of extorting about $411,000 from a businessman during her term in office from 1996 to 2001. She is also accused in the killings of four political rivals. Her July 16 arrest in Dhaka sparked protests.

The interim government took control of Bangladesh in January following a dispute between Mrs. Hasina's Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, which led to deadly street battles.

Sajeeb Wazed, a consultant based in the Washington area, told The Washington Times his mother is being confined in an apartment where "she is not allowed access to telephones or any other means of communication."

He said his mother's attorneys told him that all judges, including those on the Supreme Court, "are now either handpicked or threatened and intimidated into issuing predetermined rulings."

A spokesman for the Bangladeshi Embassy in Washington, Sheikh Mohammed Belal, refuted Mr. Wazed's charges. "This is a legal, criminal issue," he said. "She faces definite charges of extortion, and will be tried in an open, transparent court."

Mrs. Hasina is the daughter of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Bangladesh's first prime minister who led the nation to independence from Pakistan in 1971.

A source close to Mrs. Hasina said from Dhaka that the government decided to try her under the "Emergency Power Rules 2007," thereby depriving her of the due process of law, a fair trial and justice.

Mrs. Hasina's counsel, Abdul Matin Khasru, told reporters in Dhaka on Friday that the former leader "has expressed her apprehension that she may not get justice ... she also fears that an in-camera trial might be arranged."

In London, some British Parliament members sent a letter to the Times newspaper last week, calling on Bangladeshi authorities to release Mrs. Hasina on bail so that she can prepare her defense.

The military-backed government has not spared top politicians in its anti-corruption crusade.

Mrs. Hasina's bitter rival, Bangladesh Nationalist Party leader and former Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia, also faces criminal charges and is ordered to appear before a court by Aug. 26 on tax-evasion accusations.