Justice versus Public Cry

On September 17, 2013, the Supreme Court of Bangladesh reached its final verdict for Abdul Quader Molla and sentenced him to death for mass murder during the 1971 liberation war against Pakistan.

Abdul Quader Molla is a senior Islamic opposition leader who sided with Pakistan during the liberation war but he refuses to accept any involvement or liability for the alleged crimes that occurred during those years.  Molla is also is the fourth-highest leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, which is now banned from contesting during the general election.

The surprising part about this ultimate  “death penalty” decision is that the original sentence for the senior Islamic opposition leader was life sentence that was delivered back in February.  However, secular protesters were so angry about this February decision claiming that it was too lenient. The protesters gathered at a square in Dhaka for weeks and accused him of killing hundreds of innocent people during the war. Their ultimate request was the execution of Molla. These unstopped demonstrations forced the parliament to change the war crime laws to allow the prosecution to appeal the original sentence and seek the death penalty in the Supreme Court.

Following this change, the Supreme Court of Bangladesh was able to enhance the original life sentence and impose the death penalty. The defense lawyer was definitely not happy with the verdict.  He said:

We are stunned by the verdict.  This is the firs time in South Asian judicial history that a trial court sentence has been enhanced by a Supreme Court.

It appears that the government was not able to resist a cry and find a middle ground to satisfy the public so the easiest solution that they came up with was to change the law.

Putting aside the fact that Molla was probably responsible for the crimes he was charged with, how fair do you think to enhance the original life sentence and impose the death penalty?  Would it not be considered as trying the person for the same offense twice? Is it acceptable to change the law to enable the court in imposing a sentence that the public asked for? Where should we draw the line between fairness and the public cry?

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2 comments

  1. While I could not agree more with severely punishing those responsible for murdering the innocent, I cannot say I agree with the decision to change the law. If laws are changed so easily it shows instability in a nation’s legal infrastructure. This instability further leads to political unrest. One group will see that Bangladesh was so quick to bend under pressure and know to apply this same pressure the next time a decision comes out against one of their own in a way they do not like.
    Laws should be set up in a way that provide justice both to the oppressor and the oppressed. This means that when one is tried he should be penalized fairly and accordingly so that the oppressed can obtain some type of solace. It is for this reason that a nation should be very careful when it decides to change a law and should make sure it was an absolute necessity to do so. Bangladesh must be very firm in instances like these or they may be facing a complete upheaval of their set of laws in the future.

  2. The decisions of judges and high ranking law makers should not be influenced by the public. Although this may have been an appropriate sentencing for Molla, the fact the Supreme Court enhanced the sentence casts doubt in their judicial system. The justice system is supposed to ensure fairness and efficiency by an impartial body. They seem to have acted out of a cry from the public. To ensure their credibility, they cannot be influenced from the public, especially when Molla was already sentenced. It defeats the whole legal process if court’s just change their mind when the public does not favor their rulings.

    Public cry should have some impact on a case or decision, but it should not have the weight to enhance a sentence. Judges often make decisions where public policy is a significant factor, but that is different than enhancing a decision to a life sentence as a result of the public. The reason there is a justice system is to keep bias out of the law. Regardless, the public will always have a strong opinion on a certain case/ruling, but it should not force the hand of the judges.

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