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Monday, June 16, 2008
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Convicts who served half their terms may be freed

The government has started an initiative to free convicts, who have served half of their punishment, under special consideration since jails are overcrowded with inmates.

"Owing to accommodation problem in jails, we have directed deputy commissioners to send proposals after scrutinising who might be released," Home Secretary Abdul Karim told a press briefing at his ministry yesterday.

He said earlier the government considered freeing those who have served two-thirds of their sentences.

Bangladesh has the capacity to accommodate 27,386 inmates in jails across the country but as of May 28 the total number of inmates was 85,866.

At the press conference, Home Adviser Maj Gen (retd) MA Matin replying to a query said, "A provision could be considered mentioning where we will apply EPR [Emergency Power Rules, 2007] and where not."

Replying to another question, he said the government is not acting in a biased way regarding the release of former prime ministers Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia.

"Sheikh Hasina applied for her release, so she was released. Khaleda Zia is still in detention as she has not yet applied for her release," the adviser said.

Asked whether Hasina would be allowed to address any political meetings, Matin said, "The advisers in charge of the political dialogue can answer clearly in this regard."

However, the home adviser said he believed that under such special conditions of release there was no scope for holding or addressing political meetings.

Asked whether repeated amendments to Emergency Power Rules during the longest state of emergency in Bangladesh were a sign of the government backing down, he said, "It cannot be said that Emergency Power Rules have failed."

"An amendment to the rules is not a sign of the government backing down. The government can make such amendments for the sake of the country," he said.

About the ongoing arrest drives, he reiterated that the government has no political motive whatsoever behind the arrests.

"The current drive is not being conducted to undermine, harass or arrest anybody with any political motive," he said, adding, "Those who are being arrested have specific allegations against them."

Around 24,062 people were arrested between May 29 and June 12 against 19,362 arrested during the same period last year, said the adviser denying allegations of mass arrests.

He said 16,997 of them were arrested with outstanding warrants against them, 153 under Arms Act and Explosive Substances Act and 7,521 in connection with other cases including murder and rape.

The home adviser said only 191 people were arrested under the Emergency Power Rules.

Matin said special operations have been launched to improve law and order situation and remove fear from people's mind.

Inspector General of Police Nur Mohammad was present at the briefing among others.

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