A senior UK lawyer has claimed that the Indian government deported him from the country at the behest of neighbouring Bangladesh government, which wanted to stop him from lobbying on behalf of a jailed opposition leader.
Lord Alex Carlile QC, a member of the legal team of Khaleda Zia, chairperson of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), who was jailed in February for five years on corruption charges, said that he was “shocked that India should have succumbed supinely to representations by the Bangladesh government”.
The BNP leader and five others were accused of embezzling over 21 million taka ($252,000) from foreign donations intended for the Zia Orphanage Trust – a charity named after former President Ziaur Rahman, Zia’s husband.
Lord Carlile was deported from New Delhi airport early on Thursday morning.
Zia’s lawyer said that “Bangladesh is now a pariah state in rule of law terms” and the Indian government “should be hanging its head in shame” about deporting him following “representations made by Dhaka”.
A week ago, Bangladesh newspapers reported that the country’s foreign ministry had summoned Dr Adarsh Swaika, India’s acting High Commissioner in Dhaka, to discuss its concern over Lord Carlile’s impending visit and to deny him a visa.
Al Jazeera contacted Shahidul Haque, the Bangladesh foreign secretary, but he did not respond to a query about the news reports. Attempts to contact the Indian High Commission in Dhaka were also not successful.
However, in a statement issued at the time of his deportation, India’s Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Raveesh Kumar made no reference to this meeting, only stating that Carlile was denied entry into India as he had “arrived in New Delhi on July 11, 2018, without having obtained the appropriate Indian visa”.
The statement added that “his intended activity in India was incompatible with the purpose of his visit as mentioned in his visa application”.
The lawyer's visit 'was trying to create some kind of problem between India and Bangladesh, our relationship'
At a press conference later on Thursday, the Indian government spokesperson also argued that Carlile’s motivation was “a bit suspect”.
Kumar said that it appeared to him that the lawyer’s visit “was trying to create some kind of problem between India and Bangladesh, our relationship, and … also to create some kind of misunderstanding between India and the opposition party in Bangladesh”.
Lord Carlile told Al Jazeera that he had applied for an “e-visa for business” and that he answered all the questions in the application “correctly”.
“The comment made by the external affairs spokesperson is completely inaccurate and unjustified, and I am writing to the Indian High Commissioner asking for an explanation and compensation,” he said.
The senior lawyer stated that he had wanted to come to India to brief the international media about the case of the Bangladesh opposition leader. “In Delhi, there is a very large press cohort which has an interest in affairs in South Asia. So, it seemed the right place to go,” Carlile added.
“My whole problem about the Zia case is that it is highly political; there is no evidence. She has been convicted totally contrary to rule of law principles and as recent events show there has been a huge amount of political interference in the case. The independence of judiciary does not exist in Bangladesh any more.”
He claimed that the offices of the defence lawyers have been raided a number of times, that “hearings are manipulated” and that “procedural irregularities have been used by the prosecution” to deny Zia bail pending her appeal.
Mahbubey Alam, the Bangladesh attorney general, denied these claims. “These comments are not correct. The case against Khaleda Zia is not at all political, as money has been taken from the Zia Orphanage Trust and she is responsible for it. This is a very authentic case, based on facts.”
“Khaleda Zia has been granted bail by order of the Supreme Court so how can he say that the courts are not independent”.
These comments are not correct. The case against Khaleda Zia is not at all political ... This is a very authentic case, based on facts
In May, the Supreme Court granted Zia bail for the embezzlement conviction, but she remains in jail, with three more pending cases against her.
Carlile argued that he wanted to inform journalists that the reason Zia was in jail was to help the Bangladesh government win parliamentary elections that are set for later this year.
The London-based lawyer said that in deporting him, the Bangladesh government’s intention may have backfired as the case will get even more international attention.
The BNP’s relationship with the Indian government has been fraught due to the party’s close relationship with the Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami party, which has since been barred from contesting elections.
Indian security agencies have accused the party of harbouring rebels from India’s northeast region when the party was in power between 2001-06.
However, with elections on the horizon, the BNP has sought to improve its relationship with the Indian government.
Imtiaz Ahmed, Professor of International Relations at Dhaka University, said that “there is an impression that New Delhi will play a role in the forthcoming Bangladesh election and the BNP wants to assure India that it can also be a good partner despite in the past having had an anti-Indian image.”