Bangladeshi Government Proposes Tighter Controls of Courts, Media

DHAKA, Bangladesh–The Bangladeshi government unveiled legislation to impose tighter controls on the judiciary and the media in what critics say is a heavy-handed attempt to consolidate power in the South Asian nation. 

The ruling Awami League on Sunday presented a constitutional amendment that would give Parliament the right to impeach Supreme Court judges. The party said the move will ensure accountability of the judiciary, but some analysts said it would undermine the independence of the country’s judges.

The party, led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, also is considering a new law that would require media organizations to adhere to a strict code of conduct, prohibiting news outlets from spreading news deemed against “the ideals and principles of the state.”

Ms. Hasina’s detractors say the proposed media law—which has been drafted but has yet to be put up for consideration in Parliament—places restrictions on content and leaves too much scope for abuse by government officials.

Law minister Anisul Huq, who proposed the amendment to allow Parliament to sack judges, said judges would only be removed for “misconduct and incapacitation.”

“No judge will be removed for his judicial decisions,” the minister said in comments broadcast on television.

The proposed legislation was criticized by opposition parties and civil society members who warned it threatened the rule of law in the country. Parliament is dominated by Ms. Hasina’s Awami League and its allies after the main opposition, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, stayed away from national elections held in January. The BNP said at the time that Ms. Hasina was using her control over the administration to give her party an unfair edge in the polls. She denied the allegations.

Mahbubur Rahman, a senior leader of the BNP, said the proposed amendment was a step “aimed at establishing control of the ruling party over the judiciary.”

Under current law, Supreme Court judges, once appointed, can only be removed by a Supreme Judicial Council, composed of the Chief Justice and two senior judges.

Kamal Hossain, a prominent lawyer who was involved in the drafting of Bangladesh’s constitution after independence in 1971, said the proposed change could leave the judiciary exposed to politics.

“It is questionable whether members of Parliament can be impartial when dealing with the question of removal of a judge,” he said.

The proposed amendment is expected to be put to a vote next week and is almost certain to pass as the Awami League and its allies secured an absolute majority in the 350-seat Parliament after the opposition boycotted contentious and violence-riddled elections in January. The U.S. and the European Union said at the time that the polls didn’t appear to “credibly express the will of the Bangladeshi people.”

Ms. Hasina’s critics say she is intent on consolidating power by tightening controls on the judiciary and the media, an accusation she denies.

In January, the government shut down a pro-opposition newspaper, accusing it of fabricating information. In April last year, police sealed off the printing press of another pro-opposition newspaper called Amar Desh, shortly after arresting its editor Mahmudur Rahman, a critic of the ruling Awami League. A month later, the government closed two television stations, charging them with inciting violence.

The government said it acted to maintain law and order.

Last week, the Editors’ Council, a platform of Bangladeshi newspaper editors, rejected the proposed media law, expressing fears that it would curb press freedom and hinder the free flow of information.

“Journalists are expected to engage in responsible reporting,” Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia Director of Human Rights Watch, said. “But [the new policy] will enable the government to make arbitrary decisions on what it finds acceptable.”

Share this post:

Recent Posts

Leave a Comment

Print This Post