An untenable security law

Mozammel H Khan

The Bangladesh cabinet recently gave its final nod to ‘Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s Family Members Security Act 2009’. According to the approved act, Bangabandhu’s immediate family members will enjoy state security provided by Special Security Forces (SSF), and will get well secured residences. A similar law, in more limited scale, was enacted at the fag’ end of the last AL government in 2001, which was promptly overturned by the alliance government in the first seating of the eighth parliament. It was generally assumed that before enacting any such law once again, the government would go over the pros and cons of the tenability of any such law when the AL would not be in the helm of the state. However, as it appears, the current act, as evident from the published information, contains more untenable elements vis-à-vis the one that was enacted in 2001.
It is an un-denying fact that in every society, leaders who are responsible for creating watershed in history invariably become targets of violence. A single individual is capable enough to carry on with any heinous act with the evil intention to create a roadblock in the course of history. Dr. Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi, are the glaring examples of how the revered leaders whose main philosophy was non-violence became the victim of violence themselves. Even, as was disclosed recently, President Obama is receiving on an average thirty assassination threats every day. In Bangladesh, Bangabandhu never ever contemplated that he could be a victim of such ruthless assassination by his ‘own’ people. If he had an iota of mistrust on any one or group, he would be staying in the secured walls of the Bangabhaban, rather than living in the modest personal residence that was accessible anytime to any of the ordinary constituents of his ‘my people’. After what happened to Bangabandhu and most of his family members, the numerous threats to the lives of the two surviving daughters of Bangabandhu, especially of Sheikh Hasina, are real and have no reason to be taken lightly.
Unlike the earlier law that stipulated providing some privileges for Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana, the law in its present form extended the same to their children as well. Privilege could be of two types: protection and benefit. Protection is given to help the powerless. The protection, as evident from the bill, is in the form of providing SSF security. Out of all the extended family members of Bangabandhu, as envisaged in the bill, only Sheikh Hasina lives in Bangladesh and is in public life. As the current PM, she is already enjoying the highest degree of protection the state could possibly provide. However, when she would be out of office, the government of the day would decide, irrespective of the soon to be passed law, how much security she should be enjoying. The other members, all of them are currently residing outside the country and are private citizens, and as such do not fall within the purview of the law. If they visit Bangladesh, they will be residing inside the secured zone of the PM’s residence. However, when they venture out, it is not clear how the SSF security could be provided to private citizens even when the AL is in the government, let alone when they are out of it. Therefore, the only tenable part, as far as the ‘protection’ part of the act is concerned could be sustainable only to Sheikh Hasina when she would cease to hold the office of the Prime Minister and still remain in public life, only, in our extremely polarized society, if similar ‘protection’ is provided to the current leader of the official opposition.
The second part of the privilege, the benefits in terms of getting ‘well secured residences’ for the members of the extended family of Bangabandhu is redundant in one hand and in violation of equal privilege for every citizen of the Republic on the other. All the members of the Bangabandhu family, except for Sheikh Hasina, are either citizens or residents of other countries. Sheikh Rehana has been residing in UK with her children for many years. Two of the three grandchildren of Bangabandhu are married to foreign nationals and there is no reason to believe that they are not financially well off. Sheikh Hasina’a daughter lives in a posh neighbourhood of the suburb of Toronto with her husband and children and taking into cognizance their frequent trip to Bangladesh in recent months there is no reason to believe that they need any financial gratuity from state to secure a residence in Bangladesh if they wish to do so. Sheikh Hasina too, after the demise of her husband, is the sole owner of a house in Dhaka city at this time. Given the above facts, how one could justify to the people of our improvised nation to provide ‘well secured residences’ by the state for the financially well to do expatriate members of the Bangabandhu family?
A few months ago, the government issued a legal notice to evict the current leader of the opposition from her house of the cantonment, albeit the allotment was given at that time in a logically acceptable (one house at least) humanitarian ground. Under this backdrop, it has become paradoxical for the government leaders to invoke the constitutional provision for equal right for each citizen in favour of her eviction. It would be extremely difficult for the government to make the law palatable for the people in general, let alone to its detractors. When the bill is run through the parliament, it becomes a law and the government follows through with its provisions, it will lose much of the ground in the court of law as well as that of the people so far the eviction of the opposition leader from her current residence is concerned. In the broader perspective, people will view it as an acute abuse of authority in carrying coal to Newcastle and impractical protection for the members of the Bangabandhu family. At the end, the law will not only be untenable but will irreversibly diminish the serenity and love the family members of Bangabandhu enjoy in the heart of the millions. Will the supreme leadership of AL come out of the narrow assembly of the sycophants to the broader arena to listen to the voices of the common masses?
Dr. Mozammel H. Khan is the Convenor of the Canadian Committee for Human Rights and Democracy in Bangladesh.