Thursday, Feb 27, 2003
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By Haroon Habib
The law gives the joint forces immunity from legal proceedings in civil courts for their actions during the countrywide "Operation Clean Heart'' anti-crime drive between October 16, 2002 and January 9, 2003.
However, the bill was approved by Parliament in an amended form, with a sharp departure from the original presidential ordinance that had exempted the armed forces from trial even under the defence forces' laws. Members of the main Opposition Awami League led by Sheikh Hasina, raised black flags in the House and staged a noisy walkout as Parliament passed the bill.
This is the second such indemnity granted to a group of people. The first indemnity was given to the army officials who assassinated the country's founding father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, in 1975.
The passage of the bill was delayed till Sunday at the request of the Law Minister, Moudud Ahmed, amid an Opposition outcry. The Prime Minister, Khaleda Zia, was not present in the House as she is attending the NAM summit in Kuala Lumpur.
Mr. Ahmed said the indemnity would protect the members of the armed forces from facing the civil justice system. At the same time, they would remain under the purview of their own laws.
Many senior Ministers and policy-makers were against granting indemnity to the joint forces, but the ruling party's high command gave in to hardliners, newspapers reported. Several persons have died in army custody during Operation Clean Heart.
The Awami League general secretary, Abdul Jalil, said, "We cannot be a party to an unconstitutional law'' saying the bill would deprive people of their constitutional right to seek justice "in the killing of 53 persons'' during the army-led operation.
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