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Monday, June 9, 2008
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Court clears way for Hasina's going abroad

AL leaders, supporters throng special jail in anticipation of her release

Detained former premier Sheikh Hasina is set to be released from a special jail, which might be a big leap forward in the Awami League (AL) chief's trip abroad 'for better treatment', as a special court yesterday removed the legal barriers.

Hasina's lawyers said since the barge-mounted power plant graft case against Hasina is in its trial phase, a court order exempting her from appearing in person before the court during the trial proceedings, was needed for her release.

The judge yesterday accepted her petition for that exemption, submitted by her counsels on grounds of her illness, said Barrister Shafique Ahmed, one of Hasina's counsels.

"As charges are yet to be framed in other cases, no court order is needed in connection with those. The government may now, through executive orders, allow her to go abroad," Shafique told reporters yesterday.

Hasina may now fly out of the country anytime if the government issues the executive orders in connection with the other cases against her, Shafique added.

Judge Firoz Alam of Special Court 1 resumed his court proceedings in his chamber on the parliament building premises for the second time in the day at 5:30pm yesterday. After a brief hearing the court accepted the petition and scheduled 10:00am today for the final ruling.

Earlier, the court adjourned till June 12 the trial proceedings of the barge-mounted power plant graft case against Hasina and seven others.

Anti-corruption Commission (ACC) Public Prosecutor Shahidul Islam Sardar did not oppose the defence's petition, court sources said.

Earlier at 4:00pm, Hasina's three counsels -- Barrister Shafique, Advocate Sahara Khatun, and Barrister Fazle Noor Taposh -- met her at the special jail for 22 minutes.

As the news of her possible release on bail spread among AL leaders and activists, hundreds of them thronged the parliament building complex and her Sudha Sadan residence in Dhanmondi.

Her aunt Khodeja Khanom and her cousin Shelly Zaman were allowed to spend time with her in the special jail between 6:55pm and 8:15pm.

Meanwhile, AL Presidium Member Amir Hossain Amu waited at the entrance of the makeshift jail for an hour since 7:30pm in an effort to meet her, but in vain, while other top leaders of the party including Abdur Razzak, Tofail Ahmed, Matia Chowdhury, Suranjit Sengupta, Sajeda Chowdhury, Syed Ashraful Islam, Saber Hossain Chowdhury, Asaduzzaman Noor, and Mahmudur Rahman Manna went to Sudha Sadan and stayed there for hours.

No sources however could confirm till filing this report at 1:45am today whether the AL chief was leaving the country early today.

There was also no government confirmation.

But a cross-section of sources however told The Daily Star that Hasina might leave the country anytime between today and June 12.

Security at the sub-jail and Zia International Airport were beefed up yesterday.

Col (retd) Faruk Khan of AL told The Daily Star last night that the government decided to send Hasina abroad.

Hasina has been suffering from acute ear and eye problems. A medical board formed by the government on Friday in its report suggested that her hearing aid should be replaced as soon as possible.

Hasina's lawyers earlier said her hearing aid became dysfunctional due to expiry of its durability, and that the device needs to be replaced immediately in order to save her hearing.

After the trial proceedings of the barge-mounted power plant graft case against Hasina earlier in the day, her counsels told reporters that she will heed the medical board's advice regarding her treatment abroad.

UNB reported that Inspector General (IG) of Prisons Brig Gen Jakir Hasan yesterday said the jail authorities are fully ready to execute any decision of the government regarding medical treatment of detained former premier Hasina, and Khaleda Zia's son Arafat Rahman Koko.

He was talking to journalists after a high-level meeting of the chiefs and top officials of various government departments and armed forces with Home Adviser Maj Gen (retd) MA Matin at Bangladesh Secretariat.

The IG (prisons) further said what he knew about Hasina's and Koko's medical treatment is more or less the same as the news published in the media.

When the journalists tried to get comments from the home adviser on Hasina's treatment, he said, "I am unable to say anything on the topic."

Meanwhile, highly placed sources said yesterday in a meeting with the chief adviser, some other advisers including the home adviser to the military backed caretaker government discussed the issue of sending Hasina abroad 'for treatment'.

Hasina was detained on July 16 last year in connection with an extortion case accusing her of extorting the plaintiff a businessman named Azam J Chowdhury of Tk 3 crore, but the proceedings of the case were stayed by an order of the High Court (HC). The Appellate Division of the Supreme Court (SC) on May 8 however cleared the bar on continuing its trial.

The hearing on charge framing in the MiG-29 purchase case and Niko graft case against her already started.

Besides, two more extortion cases against her, filed by AL leader Noor Ali and a businessman named Tajul Islam Faruq, are now under investigation.

A murder case against her, in connection with a killing at Paltan intersection in the capital, is pending in a Dhaka court.

Trials of Meghna Ghat power plant graft case, and frigate purchase graft case both filed against her during the tenure of BNP-led four-party alliance government remain stayed by the HC orders.

Six other graft cases against her which were also filed during the four-party alliance government's rule are also under investigation.

During the first round of court proceedings yesterday, Judge Firoz Alam of Special Court 1 adjourned the proceedings as the defence asked for time.

Hasina was brought to the court around 10:00am from the special jail where she is being detained since her arrest.

The defence yesterday cross-examined three persons who witnessed the listing of seized items in connection with the case. The witnesses who were cross-examined are Assistant Director of Power Development Board (PDB) Enamul Haque, PDB's lower division clerk Nurunnahar, and a computer operator of the Ministry of Power, Energy and Mineral Resources, Motaleb Hossain.

As a defence lawyer Advocate Syed Rezanur Rahman asked Enamul how many pages is the list of seized items, Enamul said he does not know.

On September 2 last year, ACC Deputy Director Sabbir Hasan filed the case with Tejgaon Police Station.

HASINA'S PASSPORTS
Our court correspondent added that a Dhaka court yesterday adjourned till June 12 the hearing of a petition regarding returning Sheikh Hasina's 'three passports' seized after her arrest.

Metropolitan Magistrate Abdullah Al Mamun passed the order following a petition submitted by Hasina's lawyers.

On March 12, another court ordered the authorities concerned to return Hasina's passports, but the next day the same court stayed the earlier order following a petition submitted by the prosecution.

In the defence's petition, a counsel of Hasina appealed to the court that their client might need her seized passports any time.

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