Diplomatic tension has been created between Dhaka and Ankara over Turkish President Abdullah Gul's letter to President Zillur Rahman calling for "clemency" to the accused under trial in the International Crimes Tribunal for the "sake of peace in the society".
Gul requested clemency for Ghulam Azam and the other accused, foreign ministry sources said.
Tension intensified as Ankara summoned yesterday Bangladesh Ambassador to Turkey Md Zulfiqur Rahman, a day after Dhaka summoned Turkish Ambassador in Bangladesh Mehmet Vakur Erkul on Wednesday.
The foreign ministry sources told The Daily Star yesterday that content of the December 23 letter from the Turkish president is not acceptable and it is a clear interference in the internal affairs of Bangladesh.
Gul said the accused leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami are too old to stand trial and apprehended that it might cause a civil war in Bangladesh, the sources mentioned.
Dhaka was surprised to get such a letter and was going to send a reply to the Turkish president, but it was delayed because of the president's illness.
Subsequently, the visit of a 14-member delegation of Turkish NGO Cansuyu Aid and Solidarity Association from December 20 to 24 hiding their identity and misusing “on arrival visa” facilities and its inappropriate activities have made Dhaka too unhappy.
The foreign ministry summoned the Turkish envoy in Dhaka and asked him to explain the NGO team's visit without informing the government.
Acting Foreign Secretary Mustafa Kamal also handed over an aide memoir (diplomatic letter) to the ambassador in which Dhaka strongly protested Gul's letter and said it was an interference in the internal affairs of the country.
The aide memoir categorically mentioned that Bangladesh government is determined to conduct the war crimes trial as there is overwhelming support from the people.
It said the trial is taking place in the most transparent way by maintaining international standard, and categorically stated that the government will not compromise on this specific issue.
The two-page letter also mentioned the visit of the Turkish NGO delegation which it said misused the “on arrival visa” facility.
“Bangladesh believes that it is not the job of a friendly country to create any problem or confusion about an issue and hopes that this type of incident will not happen again,” the letter stated.
In 2009, Dhaka unilaterally offered “on arrival visa” for tourist, investor, business, official, diplomatic and special passport holders, while Ankara approved on arrival visa only for official and diplomatic passport holders from the middle of this year.
Talking to The Daily Star yesterday, some foreign ministry officials said the government could have sent back the NGO delegation but it refrained from doing so considering the excellent bilateral ties with Turkey and the recent exchange of visits at president and prime minister level.
They said the Turkish envoy has violated certain diplomatic norms and he can be expelled as he did not give prior information to the government about arrival of the delegation and subsequently he concealed information about its programmes and schedules.
The ambassador did not inform the foreign ministry about the delegation's meeting with leaders of BNP and Jamaat and others as well as its visit to the ICT.
A senior official said during the meeting with acting foreign secretary, the envoy claimed that the delegation's visit was not sponsored by the Turkish government, but he failed to give a satisfactory reply when asked why he accompanied the team during meetings with the opposition leaders.
Asked, a senior official that despite the tension, the existing bilateral relations with Turkey will not be affected and "our cooperation in all sectors will continue".
However another foreign ministry source told The Daily Star last night that the Turkish president wrote the letter both to the president and prime minister on December 23 and the Turkish embassy sent it to foreign ministry and the ministry subsequently sent it to Bangabhaban and PMO.
Sources said the Turkish president in his one-page letter, written in Turkish language and attached with English translation, requested Zillur not to give death sentence to Ghulam Azam and other Jamaat leaders.
President Gul said they came to know former Jamaat chief Ghulam Azam is being tried at the International Crimes Tribunal. It is learnt that this 90-year-old leader might be sentenced to death. Some other elderly leaders are also facing trial, which is a matter of great concern.
According to the Turkish president, if these leaders are punished, it might affect Bangladesh's socio-economic advancement and cause social instability and bloodshed.
Dhaka considered Gul's letter as the first ever interference since the ICT was formed in 2010, the sources said.