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Tuesday, 26 February 2008

SC resumes hearing on Hasina verdict TodayStaff Correspondent

Security measures at the Supreme Court were beefed up Monday as it began hearing the government's leave to appeal against the High Court's dismissal of an extortion case against Sheikh Hasina.

A security circle was created at the court premises centring around the hearing. Lawyers had to show identity cards to enter the court, while journalists had to show ID cards and register their names on entering.

A number of AL supporters were seen thronging the area outside the main entrance to the court premises, but they were not allowed inside. Police gave chase several times with batons.

A six-member full bench of the Appellate Division headed by the Chief Justice Md Ruhul Amin started the first day's proceedings at 9.30 am. The hearing will resume on Tuesday.

The court had earlier deferred the hearing scheduled for Feb 19, till Monday. The government filed an application seeking permission from the Appellate Division to challenge the HC verdict on former prime minister Sheikh Hasina.

Hasina's lawyers immediately petitioned the court to postpone any hearing on the leave to appeal. On Feb 6, the HC dismissed the extortion case filed by Azam J Chowdhury against Hasina, after ruling illegal its inclusion under emergency powers rules.

The ruling came on a writ petition filed by Hasina challenging the case's trial under EPR. Additional attorney general Salahuddin Ahmed, acting for the government, said in court Monday: "The two main aims of the government is trial of corruption and holding elections."

"Corruption had been rampant in the country year after year. The state of emergency was promulgated to curb corruption and try the corrupt. These trials must continue amid the state of emergency." "The graft cases detected and filed during the emergency should be tried now, as trial of such cases will not be possible once the emergency is lifted," he said.

"The government approved the inclusion of the case filed against Sheikh Hasina under emergency powers rules, considering its merit as a case of public importance.

If the High Court verdict prevails corrupt persons cannot be tried," Salahuddin argued. "The High Court's verdict quashing the case contradicts the spirit of the appellant's submission." Sheikh Hasina's counsel Rafique-ul-Huq replied that Hasina's writ petition had been filed challenging whether emergency powers rules could be applied in the case.

He conceded that a case could be brought under the emergency powers rules considering its public importance. But in the case of Sheikh Hasina the case was approved under EPR considering only her social status, not the case's status in the eyes of the public.

"The state of emergency was promulgated for state, social and financial security, and for ensuring the fair price of essentials and services," he said. Describing the background to the state of emergency, he said: "Emergency powers rules only apply during the state of emergency." "No incident that took place before the state of emergency can be brought under the emergency powers rules," he argued.

He also stressed that although the constitution allowed the president to promulgate a state of emergency, he could not enact any law which would not be passed by parliament. "The judiciary are also responsible for upholding the constitution," he said. At one stage of the proceedings, Hasina's lawyer Shafique Ahmed brought the stringent security measures to the notice of the court, mentioning large number of armed police and BDR posted on guard.

Lawyers, their assistants and justice seekers were being harassed in the name of security, he alleged. The court replied that the measures had been taken for reasons of security only, adding that in many countries higher courts had strict security measures on a permanent basis and all concerned, including lawyers, entered court premises by showing identity cards.

Businessman Azam J Chowdhury filed the Tk 3 crore extortion case against Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Selim with Gulshan police on June 13, 2007. The case details said the accused received a total of Tk 2.99 crore from the litigant in 2001 in exchange for illegally awarding a contract to build Siddhirganj Power Station.

Hasina was arrested on July 16, 2007. She was shown arrested in the case later the same day after inclusion of the case proceedings under EPR. Charges were framed against the accused, including Sheikh Hasina's sister, Rehana, on Jan 13.

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