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Govt reviews EPR to ease bail

The government has initiated a move to relax some major provisions of the emergency power rules (EPR), especially the ones concerning bail in corruption cases.

After rounds of discussions with anti-corruption watchdogs over the last few weeks, it yesterday formed an experts' committee to review in particular section 15 that deals with graft-related charges.

The amended emergency rules would benefit many of around 200 high profile corruption suspects, observed officials involved in the anti-corruption drive.

These are stringent laws with restrictions on bail, and many of them are interlinked in a way that if one provides some room, others block that, said sources in the government and anti-corruption watchdogs.

According to some sections, a government sanction is needed for emergency rules to hold good in some cases. But there are sections according to which certain cases come under the EPR automatically.

For instance, sources said, section 15 relates to all corruption cases and no permission from the government is needed as it provides for automatic application of the EPR to graft cases.

Interestingly, many public administration and anti-graft body officials were not fully aware of the provision for automatic application till May 8 when charges were pressed against 24 people including ex-premier Khaleda Zia, her son Arafat Rahman Koko and eight former ministers in the much-talked about Gatco graft case.

As it was not mentioned in the charge sheet that the EPR would be applicable, many accused expected that they would get bail in the case.

But the charge-sheeted accused who surrendered or were arrested were sent to jail later. Some others were refused anticipatory bail by the High Court.

The accused ministers from BNP are M Saifur Rahman, Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan, Khandaker Mosharraf Hossain, M Shamsul Islam, MK Anwar, Amir Khasru Mahmud Chowdhury and AKM Mosharraf Hossain while from Jamaat-e-Islami is its ameer Motiur Rahman Nizami.

After automatic application became an issue of discussion, the ACC asked its senior counsel ABM Sharfuddin Khan Mukul about implications of the section.

“I informed the commission that no government sanction is required to bring any corruption case under the emergency power rules since they apply automatically,” Mukul told reporters.

After that, a process was initiated to relax the rules and yesterday's formation of the committee was a sequel to that.

Coming out of the meeting at the law ministry where the review committee was formed, Commerce Adviser Hossain Zillur Rahman said, “We have discussed the emergency power rules in efforts to strengthen the environment of confidence. As you know, the curbs on indoor politics have already been relaxed. We meet today to identify specifically what else can be done in this regard.”

Talking about the committee's work, he said, “There are some practical dimensions here. Those who are experts, like the secretary and lawyers, would know these better. The law adviser is leading all these.”

Law Adviser AF Hassan Ariff, Home Adviser MA Matin, Communications Adviser Ghulam Quader, acting ACC chairman Habibur Rahman and ACC Commissioner Monjur Mannan attended the meeting.

The move comes hard on the heels of temporary release of Awami League (AL) President Sheikh Hasina and the process to release Khaleda Zia, another former prime minister, and her two sons. It has given rise to questions whether the government is now trying to provide some relief for high profile detainees.

Talking to The Daily Star yesterday, ACC Director General (admin) Col Hanif Iqbal sought to brush aside such possibility. He said, “The initiative to review the emergency rules has been taken to give some relief to the accused irrespective of their identity.”

The government did not have to relax the EPR to release AL General Secretary Abdul Jalil and AL chief Sheikh Hasina on parole. This move has been taken for the benefit of all, said a source, claiming that the EPR would be made “pro-people”.

But an anti-graft body official speaking in return for anonymity said, “Since the move has been initiated after the submission of charge sheet in Gatco case and that most of the accused in corruption cases are high profile individuals, it's quite obvious the bigwigs are going to reap the benefits.”

He however said even if some sections are relaxed, it would not hamper the speedy trial of corruption cases.

After yesterday's meeting, the acting ACC chairman said the commission would have no difficulty continuing the cases even if section 15 is amended.

Queried whether the government is going to amend the EPR so that one does not have to be arrested once a case is filed against him, the commerce adviser said, “We'll talk about it later.”

Replying to another query, he said the committee will also look into matters relating to lifting of the state of emergency.

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