The Sikder brothers incident sets a dangerous precedent for the rule of law
The first thing that came to my mind was: Are all men actually created equal or are some special? As opposed to what was professed by the great Thomas Jefferson -- one of the architects of the American dream.
This came to mind when I woke up on Friday morning to the scandalous news of the Sikder brothers, one of the wealthiest families to have made their luck in recent years, reportedly fleeing the country for Thailand to avoid imminent arrest in a criminal case filed by Exim Bank officials.
More astonishingly, their escape, amidst the period of lockdown when flights are totally closed to the outside world, was reportedly facilitated by government officials with a total disregard for the law.
Earlier, on May 27, Dhaka Tribune reported that two directors of the Sikder Group had allegedly tortured and attempted to murder Exim Bank’s Managing Director Md Haider Ali Mia and Additional Managing Director Md Firoz Hossain by shooting them, after they refused to price the former’s mortgaged property’s value at a higher level for a loan.
The brothers had also allegedly held the bankers against their will and beaten them at a house in Dhaka’s Banani area, before shooting them. The Exim Bank authorities filed a criminal case at the Gulshan Police Station, on behalf of Haider Ali, against the managing director of the Sikder Group of Companies and his brother for allegedly torturing two top officials and firing at them for refusing to grant a loan of over Tk500 crore.
The Sikder brothers were allowed to flee after they were already implicated in a serious cognizable offence, the investigation of which is now ipso facto pending. They were apparently allowed to abscond by a very special arrangement, at a time when all sorts of flights and travels with any other country are closed, even for the terminally ill or dying cancer patients who might otherwise be required to avail medical facilities.
They apparently fled the country via their private air ambulance to avoid prosecution, surprisingly with the active cooperation of state officials. From a Daily Star report, it appears that the Bangladesh embassy in Thailand sent a letter to the Foreign Ministry of Thailand on May 23, requesting it to allow the arrival of an air ambulance.
The Thai government, thereafter, gave the permission on the same day, and a letter was sent to the Thai embassy in Dhaka, requesting it to issue medical visas for two persons. The visa was issued on May 24, and they flew to Bangkok the next day.
It is astonishing that everything was done with the active participation of state functionaries, just for two alleged offenders. State functionaries are supposed to protect the law and bring the delinquents to justice. Instead, they actively acted in an unlawful and unconstitutional manner, letting two accused of a serious crime flee from jurisdiction.
This is not just against the spirit of the rule of law, but a serious violation of the letters of laws. It is in my view a punishable offence on the part of state functionaries, to collude with offenders to facilitate such an escape.
Undeniably, the way in which governmental authorities are reported to have actively facilitated their departure, making all exceptional arrangements in the shortest possible time, only to let two alleged criminals get away with their crime, amounts to an offence of obstruction to and perversion of the course of justice.
This incident will set a dangerous precedent on the law and order situation of Bangladesh and the country’s adherence to the principle of the rule of law. It would also seriously undermine people’s faith in our justice system, which is widely perceived to be favourable to the rich and powerful. It is now incumbent upon the government to clarify the incident officially -- otherwise, people will lose faith in the administration of justice in this country.
This state-sponsored escape is certainly violative of constitutional provisions that guarantee equality before the law for all citizens, as well as the constitutional duty upon executives to protect law and order. The state must ensure that the rich, powerful, and elite are not above the law, and that they do not enjoy any impunity from the state when they commit any offence.
While the government has been using the rhetoric that a culture of impunity has no place in Bangladesh, whatever they say is being undermined by incidents of such nature.
The torture of bank officials for refusing to grant loans in such a fashion is already unprecedented in our country. Nonetheless, facilitating their escape from the law by law protectors themselves is doubling down on the unprecedented notoriety.
Unless it is corrected by bringing them back and punishing those involved in the process, this will have a far-reaching impact on the legal system’s already ailing reputation. The government must visibly show that it does not protect the powerful and rich from the due process of law.
People have sacrificed their lives to establish equality before the law and to abolish preferential treatment of the rich and powerful.
Our founding fathers fought a war of independence and sacrificed innumerable lives to eradicate inequality and to establish a just society where all citizens will be treated equally and in accordance with the law.
Our nation was founded on three basic principles -- equality, human dignity, and social justice. It seems, time and again, that these three founding objectives of our liberation are still unresolved.
M Abdul Qaium is a Barrister of Gray’s Inn and practices as an Advocate in the Supreme Court of Bangladesh. He can be contacted on [email protected]