Bangladesh court rejects sedition case over Al Jazeera report

A Bangladeshi lawyer sought to bring in sedition charges against four people, including Al Jazeera’s director general, over an investigation into high-level corruption.

Haris Ahmed, Aziz Ahmed and several foreign dignitaries [Al Jazeera]
Fugitive Haris Ahmed and General Aziz Ahmed meeting several foreign dignitaries [File: Al Jazeera]

A court in Bangladesh has rejected an attempt to bring charges of sedition against the director general of Al Jazeera Media Network (AJMN) and three others who contributed to an investigation into high-level corruption in the country.

Advocate Moshiur Malek had filed the sedition charges on February 17 after Al Jazeera’s investigation – All The Prime Minister’s Men – revealed how the head of the Bangladesh Army, General Aziz Ahmed, helped his brother Haris Ahmed to escape a prison sentence for a 1996 murder.

Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit tracked Haris Ahmed down to Hungary where he was living under the false identity of Mohammed Hasan and buying properties and businesses in Europe. The investigation published a range of documents that showed how the army chief abused his power to help his brother flee arrest.

Malek described Al Jazeera’s investigative report as “fictitious and flawed” and an attempt to “topple” the government of the country.

Local media reported on Tuesday that Dhaka Metropolitan Magistrate Shahidul Islam had ordered the sedition charges against AJMN Director General Mostefa Souag, journalists David Bergman and Tasneem Khalil, and businessman Zulkarnian Saer Khan, to be withdrawn as the legal move was not authorised by the government of Bangladesh.

Haris and Aziz in Budapest, Hungary [Al Jazeera]
Haris and Aziz in Budapest, Hungary [File: Al Jazeera]

Secret deal

In total, three of the army chief’s brothers were convicted in 2004 for the murder in Dhaka eight years earlier, a conviction that was upheld by the High Court of Bangladesh in 2007.

One of the brothers, Josef Ahmed, was sentenced to death but in 2018, just weeks before General Ahmed was appointed head of the army, Bangladesh’s President Abdul Hamid granted him a pardon releasing him from prison.

The day before Malek filed the sedition charges earlier this month, it was revealed the Bangladesh home ministry had agreed on a secret deal to remove the life prison sentences for murder given to the other two of General Ahmed’s brothers, Haris and Anis Ahmed.

The move in March 2019 meant that the two were free men, despite absconding from their murder convictions and not serving any time in prison.

Al Jazeera discovered Anis Ahmed hiding in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, where he had bought a property with Haris Ahmed, who used a false identity.

Days after the secret deal to lift their prison sentences, Haris and Anis Ahmed attended the high-profile wedding of General Ahmed’s son, held at the army’s headquarters in Dhaka, and attended by international dignitaries, including Hamid.

Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan said he had no knowledge of the deal but told Prothom Alo newspaper: “A fugitive criminal does not get any legal rights. In order to get legal rights, he will have to surrender.”

The Bangladesh Army has called Al Jazeera’s investigation a “malicious attempt … to debase a professionally highly skilled, universally accepted Chief of Army Staff without any valid evidence”.

General Ahmed has insisted there are no criminal charges pending against his brothers.

Source: Al Jazeera