In a BBC interview, the Bangladeshi premier said she had to wait 35 years for justice
In an interview with British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in London, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said the government is never led by any intention to expose people to torture in custody.
“To tell you the truth, our government is never led by any intention to torture people in custody and it (government) also does not do it (either),” she said.
She said this in an interview while discussing Bangladesh's economical, social, and political situation with Manoshi Barua, senior broadcast journalist of BBC World Service.
Manoshi asked about Bangladesh's long history of custodial torture, not taking place during any specific government, and what steps the incumbent government has taken to overturn the phenomenon.
In reply, Sheikh Hasina said there are some international rules for interrogating presumed and suspected criminals and her government was training law enforcement agency personnel in that regard, sending them to countries like the US and the UK.
“Information is gathered from criminals using methods other countries practice, and nothing is done beyond it,” she said.
The premier said right at this moment, incidents of custodial deaths were very rare compared to before, while the phenomenon of torture in custody has also largely disappeared.
However, Sheikh Hasina reminded the BBC journalist that past regimes had virtually developed a culture of impunity and she herself was a victim of that with the loss of her parents, brothers, and other near and dear ones in 1975.
"The killers were provided indemnity instead of putting them on trial . . . that meant you (actually) entertained the culprits,” the premier said, adding that it was very difficult to curb crimes in a country where a social system is built by recognizing the crimes.
Sheikh Hasina said she had to wait for 35 years to get justice.
Asked again, what initiatives her government had taken to stop such a culture, Sheikh Hasina said: “all appropriate measures in this regard.”
Sheikh Hasina said the Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was assassinated within three and a half years of independence and this culture continued for many years when military dictators ruled the country directly, and often in the guise of politicians.
“This culture has continued for years and years and it was a difficult task to bring back the country to a healthy trend . . . we performed that difficult task,” she said.
The prime minister said a class or section of society still persisted, which is spearheading propaganda on the rights situation, while a democratic system runs the country.
“They always desperately try to find fault with us, as their status is elevated when an unconstitutional, abnormal government, or martial law rules the country,” she said.
The premier said she knew that the question of torture in custody was raised in Geneva where Bangladesh's law minister and other representatives were present.
“The law minister and others gave proper replies in this regard,” she said.
On the question of whether the people are reaping the benefits of economic growth, Sheikh Hasina said the people are certainly getting the benefits of the growth.
“Think a little bit; the country’s poverty rate was over 41% during 2005-2006 and the rate has been brought down to 21.4% … we were able to attain this success within 10 years,” she said.
The prime minister said annual per capita income has surged to about $2000 from $400/500 ,and the country achieved an 8.1% gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate in the last fiscal year.
“When higher growth is achieved, inflation increases naturally. But we did not allow that and maintained it at 5.5% or 6%,” she said, adding its fruits are very naturally reaching the common people .
About the migration of people, Sheikh Hasina said there is a tendency of people since ancient times to improve their lot by moving to other places.
“You cannot link the issue with poverty and it is a natural tendency of people,” she said, mentioning that her government is providing unsecured loans to youths who want to work.
When the interviewer questioned about the “vulnerable situation” in Bangladesh's banking sector and its loan default culture, the prime minister said the matter is not to the extent it is publicized.
The prime minister said the culture of not repaying bank loans was initiated during the rule of military dictators. “Whenever we have come to government, we have tried to realize the loans,” she said, adding that if consistent action is not taken, it will not yield any results.
Sheikh Hasina said special incentives were given in this year’s budget. “Those intending to take loans have been asked to repay within the stipulated timeframe, otherwise they will not be given credit,” she said.
She said the country would not have witnessed such socioeconomic progress and the economy would not have been so strong, if the problems were big.
About freedom of work in mass media, Sheikh Hasina said there was only one television channel (Bangladesh Television), one radio station and a few newspapers in the country till 1996.
But after coming to power in 1996, she said the Awami League government opened up the private sector.
“There are 44 television channels in the country now,” she said, adding that her intention was to generate employment.
She said the mass media has full freedom.
"If it (freedom of mass media) does not exist, then how is propaganda and falsehood being carried out against me and my government?,” she questioned.
The prime minister asked if anybody enjoyed such freedom during the regimes of military dictators. “It (freedom of mass media) was absent, even during the regime of Khaleda Zia,” she added.
Sheikh Hasina said many people are saying there is no freedom of mass media: "But how do they speak if freedom of speech does not exist?"
The prime minister said her government is making strides to maintain a peaceful atmosphere in the country.
“If anybody gives a provocative speech, will others remain idle? … No, they (provocative speech givers) cannot do it,” she said.
“Security will have to be given to the people first and we will have to do whatever is needed for their security,” she asserted.