Authorities in Bangladesh have arrested former prime minister and current Bangladesh Nationalist Party, or B-N-P, leader Khaleda Zia. Ms. Zia is charged with corruption in connection with the awarding of a multi-million dollar government contract. Her younger son, Arafat Rahman, was arrested with her. Her older son Tarique is also being detained on corruption charges.
Another target of the Bangladesh caretaker government’s anti-corruption drive is former prime minister and current Awami League Party leader Sheikh Hasina. Ms. Hasina has been held without bail since her arrest in July. This week, a Bangladesh court ruled that Ms. Hasina must stand trial. Over one-hundred-seventy Bangladeshi politicians, businessmen, and civil servants have been arrested by on corruption charges, since January.
The Bangladesh Nationalist party government handed power over to a caretaker government in October 2006. Elections scheduled for January were postponed following months of protests, strikes, and political violence.
Fakhruddin Ahmed, head of the caretaker government which took over in January, has promised to hold elections before the end of 2008. Bangladeshi authorities say they must first deal with violence and corruption before free and fair elections can be held.
But some critics of the military-backed caretaker government say the corruption charges are politically motivated. Mahfuz Anam, editor of the Bangladesh newspaper, “Daily Star,” wrote, in response to Ms. Hasina’s arrest in July, “the government is attempting to manipulate our politics by trying to predetermine who will be and will not be part of its future.”
Concerns about press freedom are also being voiced. “The interim government has so far maintained that it is not imposing direct censorship, but it is clearly taking steps to control media coverage,” said Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. The caretaker government ordered C-S-B News, the country’s twenty-four hour television news channel, to suspend broadcasting for seven days. The station was reportedly warned by authorities in August against broadcasting “provocative news, video footage and talks shows.”
U.S. Charge d’Affaires in Bangladesh, Geeta Pasi, said, “corruption has too long robbed Bangladeshis of the fruits of their labors. It must not go unpunished.” But, said Ms. Pasi, “in calling corrupt individuals to account,” the government “must hold itself accountable to the international standards of due process and human rights.”