Actions shrouded in questions
Mobile court operation during the 36-hour hartal from Sunday dawn has sparked controversy among different quarters as around 113 hartal pickets were convicted for the first time during the countrywide shutdown called by the opposition.
A number of lawyers and eminent persons said conviction of pickets during hartal is totally unlawful, raising questions about the way the courts were conducted.
Barrister Rokanuddin Mahmud said the proceedings of the mobile courts during the hartal were not transparent.
A mobile court requires at least two witnesses to convict a person and even the magistrate conducting the court needs to witness the offence, he said.
It is not clear whether the convicted persons made confessions in panic or the police forced them to do so, Mahmud said.
He heard that many passersby were victim of the mobile court action. No court can convict anybody on charges of calling hartal or picketing, as the Supreme Court has not declared hartal illegal, he added.
Sultana Kamal, former adviser to a caretaker government, said: “Many people informed me that the mobile courts did not maintain procedure while convicting people.”
She said the courts did not read the case statement before the convicts or did not take their signature on it.
“I do not support anarchy… Mobile courts can take action against persons involved in anarchy, but following the procedures,” she added.
Former adviser to a caretaker government ASM Shahjahan, also ex inspector general of police, said legal experts will understand well whether mobile court operation during hartal is lawful.
He, however, said the government should be careful so that no picket is repressed in the name of trial, as hartal is a democratic right.
Hafizuddin Khan, another former adviser to a caretaker government, fears that the mobile court might lose its credibility by operating during hartal.
Amid chaos of a hartal day, it is very difficult to determine if anybody is a criminal.
Additional Home Secretary Iqbal Khan Chowdhury, however, said if people do not participate in a strike spontaneously, nobody has the right to compel them to observe it.
So, he added, the government decided to conduct mobile courts to punish the pickets who create unrest and force people to take part in hartal.
The mobile court has jurisdiction, Iqbal said, and the convict can appeal to the higher court if he thinks he was wrongly punished.