The military government in Bangladesh has given up trying to exile two former prime ministers due to pressure from within the country and from the international community.
Dhaka, April 25 (bdnews24.com) – The military-backed government Wednesday lifted the ban on Sheikh Hasina’s homecoming and said there were no restrictions on Khaleda Zia’s movement.
In a statement, the home ministry said the ban on Hasina’s return was temporary and the authorities have decided to lift it because of "views from the media and other quarters".
In another statement, the ministry said the government had never put pressure on Khaleda to leave the country.
This comes on the heels of the Bangladeshi press and courts showing some backbone and on the heels of this exchange at the State Department Press Briefing yesterday:
QUESTION: Sean, two questions on Bangladesh, please. The (inaudible) in Bangladesh has cancelled elections and also is trying to establish dictatorship just similar to in Pakistan by General Musharraf. And a Vice Prime Minister is under house arrest in Bangladesh, second one fled to London and she has not been allowed and she has been told you cannot return to Bangladesh. What’s the Secretary feel now as their human rights and dictatorships and also democracy that we’re talking about around the globe?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, the situation in Bangladesh is one that we’re watching quite closely. There is a caretaker government in place and we have urged that caretaker government to move as expeditiously as possible to elections so the Bangladeshis can exercise their right to vote and choose who is going to lead them in the future and hopefully be able to put these past incidents behind them. It is a case where if not handled properly and if the caretaker government doesn’t take the right decisions, then this — there is a real possibility that this can threaten Bangladeshi democracy and nobody wants to see that.
QUESTION: I’m sorry.
MR. MCCORMACK: No, that’s it.
QUESTION: Anybody from the U.S. Government in touch with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in London?
MR. MCCORMACK: I know our embassy has been in close contact with them and several months ago, Nick Burns talked to them.
The Daily Press Briefing is currently featured in the State Department web site under the title "Daily Press Briefing: Bangladeshi Democracy at Risk?"
How do you spell P-R-E-S-S-U-R-E"?
There is reason for optimism today for Bangladesh and the future of democracy there.
Update (4/25/2007 5:30 pm):
Sheikh Hasina was just interviewed [interview starts at 19:50 minutes into the audio] by the BBC World Service Newshour radio program. In the interview Hasina sounds exhausted but thanks the Bangladeshi and foreign press, Bangladeshis at home and abroad, foreign leaders for putting pressure on the military government. IBN live has more.
The Daily Star has more on the pressure put upon the military government.
The Daily Star also has the following editorial (a bold act from a newspaper that only last week was all but cowed):
The ban on Sheikh Hasina’s entry into the country and the apparent fetters on Khaleda Zia’s movements have been withdrawn.
We welcome this change in the direction of the government’s policy; for it is the fundamental right of the two leaders to live in their own country. Exile holds no answer to the political problems facing us. On the contrary, it can exacerbate them.
We have been observing with concern over the last several days government being enmeshed in a nontransparent, shortsighted, confusing, and boomerang of a policy exercise pertaining to consigning of the two political leaders — Sheikh Hasina and Begum Khaleda Zia — to exile. A chronology of events will prove our point.
Closely on the heels of two advisers to the government denying that any force was being applied on the two ladies to leave the country when Sheikh Hasina set off from the USA to return to Bangladesh earlier than scheduled to face extortion and murder charges levelled against her she was requested by an adviser to stay back for a few more days. Then a press note was issued by the government debarring her entry into Bangladesh and instructing the airlines not to carry her home. She was in effect not given a boarding pass to travel to Dhaka by British Airways. Then in a tell-tale sequence a warrant of arrest was issued by the metropolitan magistrate a few hours before the BA flight from London. Once it came to be known she was not flying home the warrant was withdrawn for six months to carry out further investigation. It was injudicious and farcical, making a mockery of the legal system.
As for Begum Khaleda Zia the government faced a ruling by the High Court in a Habeas Corpus writ to produce her in court by April 27 to prove that she is not confined to her home.
Bangladesh’s image abroad took a drubbing in the way the two ladies have been handled. Credibility of the government has also taken a tumble on the issue.
With the change of policy a great amount of uncertainty would have ended. We think now the government should move full speed ahead about preparation for election. We think the only durable solution to our problems can come through transfer of power to an elected government, but one that comes through a genuinely free and fair election. Let us now concentrate fully on that.