Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina yesterday told the BBC that her government does not support 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 doesn’t do it [either],” she said.
Senior broadcast journalist at BBC World Service Manoshi Barua interviewed the PM in London when issues of Bangladesh economy, politics and social issues came up.
Her comments on the custody issue came as Manoshi asked what steps the present government took to stop such torture, which the journalist described as a legacy of subsequent governments.
“Incidentally, some [one or two incidents] may happen . . . if you see our position in the last 10 years, we could take appropriate measures to control crime,” Hasina said.
Manoshi’s question was Bangladesh had a long history of custodial torture and it did not take place during any specific government and what steps the incumbent government took to come out of it.
Hasina said there are some international rules to interrogate presumed and suspected criminals and her government is providing law enforcement agency personnel with training in this regard, sending them in countries like the US and the UK.
“Information is gleaned from criminals using methods practised by other countries and nothing is done beyond it.”
The PM said now incidents of custodial deaths appear rarely while torture in custody also largely disappeared.
Hasina, however, reminded the BBC journalist that the past regimes virtually developed a culture of impunity and she herself was a victim of that situation after losing her parents, brothers and other near and dear ones in 1975.
“The killers were provided indemnity instead of exposing them to trial . . . that meant you [actually] entertained the culprits,” the PM said, adding that it could be very difficult to check crimes in a country where a social system is built by recognising the crimes.
Hasina said she had to wait 35 years to get justice.
Again asked what initiatives her government took to stop such culture, Hasina said all “appropriate measures in this regard” had been taken.
Hasina said 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 continued for year after year and it was a difficult task to bring back the country to a healthy trend . . . we performed that difficult task.”
The PM said there is a class or section of society which is spearheading a propaganda on the rights situation while democratic system runs the country.
“They always desperately try to find out our faults . . . as their status become elevated when an unconstitutional or abnormal government or martial law rules the country.”
The PM said she knew that the question was raised in Geneva where Bangladesh law minister and other representatives were present.
“The law minister and others gave reply properly in this regard.”
On a question whether the people are getting the benefits of economic growth, Hasina said the people are certainly getting the benefits.
“Think a little that the country’s poverty rate was over 41 percent in 2005-2006 and the rate has been brought down to 21.04 percent … we could attain this success within 10 years.”
The PM said the country’s per capita income surged to about $2,000 from $400/500 and the country achieved 8.1 percent GDP in the last fiscal year.
“When higher growth is achieved, the inflation increases naturally. But we didn’t allow raising inflation and we maintained it at 5.5 or 6 percent,” she said.
About migration of the people, Hasina said there is a tendency of the people since the ancient period that they will have to build their fate by moving to other places.
“You cannot link the issue with poverty and it’s a tendency of the people,” she said, mentioning that her government is giving loans without security to the youths who want to work.
When the interviewer questioned about the “vulnerable situation” in banking sector and loan default culture, the PM said the matter is not to that extent as publicised.
She said the culture of not repaying bank loans was initiated during the rule of military dictators. “Whenever we came to power, we tried to realise the loans,” she said, adding that if action is not taken always, it will not yield any results.
Hasina said special incentives were given in this year’s budget. “Those intending to take loan have been asked to repay within the timeframe; otherwise they won’t be given credit,” she said.
About the press freedom, Hasina said there was a television channel (Bangladesh Television), one radio centre and a few newspapers in the country until 1996.
But after coming to power in 1996, she said the Awami League government made open all things in the private sector.
“There are 44 television channels in the country,” she said, adding that her intention was to generate employment.
She said there is full freedom of mass media. “If it doesn’t exist how is a propaganda mixing truth with falsehood being carried out against me and my government?” she asked.
The PM asked whether anybody enjoyed such freedom during the rules of military dictators. “Even it was absent during the regime of Khaleda Zia,” she said.
Hasina said many people are saying that there is no freedom of the media. “But how do they speak if freedom of speech doesn’t exist?”
The PM said her government is making strides to maintain a peaceful atmosphere in the country. “If anybody gives any provocative speech, will others remain idle? … No, they cannot do it,” she said.
“Security will have to be given to the people first and we’ll have to do whatever necessary for their security.”