Thursday, May 30, 2013

Bdnews24 feeds the frenzy: Another yellow report against the Hefazat in Bangladesh

I seem to have lost the count of the times I have been berating the Daily Star and bdnews24 for their well planned acts to morally sabotage selected sections of the society, a.k.a yellow journalism. Bdnews24 has tried opening another avenue to insult Hefazat-e-Islam. This was via a news article saying, “‘Govt needs to act against 13-point”. It was an article that supposedly quotes Rashida Manjoo, a special rapporteur of the UN on Violence Against Women, when it said that “She says it is the government that needs to act against the 13-point charter of demands the Islamic organisation announced from a rally at Dhaka’s Motijheel on Apr 5.” 

The propaganda,
It followed that by a slew of propaganda, which is given as follows, “Their demands include curbing women’s right as they have asked to repeal the National Women Development Policy and a ban of free mixing of sexes in public. The hitherto little-known Hifazat, a madrasa-based organisation also demanded a ban on all imprudence, misconduct, adultery, lighting of candles in the name of individual rights and freedom of speech. That day not a single woman had turned up in the rally, but female journalists came under their attack when they went there to cover their event, which clearly shows their attitudes towards women.”

The facts,
All seems well in perspective with the narrative of human rights until you consider the fact that Hefazat has denied knowledge and responsibility for highly trumped up attack on Nadia Sharmin but asked for apology all the same through the following statement, "If our activists carried out the attack, we apologise for that but we believe that ruling party terrorists in the guise of Hefazat activists have carried out the attack on ETV journalist to create our negative image." 

The omissions,
In its eagerness to forward its particular version of events, Bdnews24 has completely ignored the unrelenting government stance on the Hefazat from the very beginning. Few will forget the government role on the 5th of April, where cheap tactics such as paralysis of the public transport system and paying ‘scholars for hire’ to do some damage failed to prevent more than 5 million people joining the long march to Dhaka. Omissions of bdnews24 reek of yellow journalism when it fails to condemn or expose the massacre of innocent protesters at the hands of government forces at pre dawn hours of the 6th May 30, 2013 or the horrendous press statement given, while holding on to a narrative that increasingly stands as being a parroted version of the discourse of Sheikh Hasina herself (Read on the BBC interview of PM Hasina).  The news agency has yet to condemn the torture carried out in the name of remand against Junaid Babunagari.

On the contrary, the bdnews24 agency has spawned complete reports with the single aim to ridicule, demonize, misinterpret and create a permanent negative image of the Hefazat in the country. 

I urge bdnews24 to stop such despicable acts of yellow journalism.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Garments in Bangladesh: Still Neglected

At least ten people were injured in a clash between the workers of readymade garment (RMG) and police at Shewrapara in Kafrul thana of the capital today Wednesday. Police and witnesses said a meeting on wage-hike was scheduled between the workers and the authorities of MM Shirt Garment at its factory today (Wednesday). However, on coming to their workplace at about 8 am, they found the gate of the factory closed. Angered, they blocked Shewrapara road, disrupting vehicular movement. On information, police rushed to the spot at about 9 am and charged batons to disperse the agitating workers, triggering a clash that left 10 workers injured. Three garments workers were reported to have been arrested by police.

Targets for pockets,
Workers of the garments industry in Bangladesh have become a major section of the society. Economists like to view them as a driving force for the economy. Politicians like to view them as ‘revolutionary’ forces of either the Sramik League (workers organisation of the ruling Awami League) or the Sramik Dal (workers organization of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party). Landlords in Dhaka and Ashulia view them as favourable sources of income that stay out of the house for almost 14-15 hours a day and pay the rent on time. Yes, on time. That is because a major portion of garments workers are immigrants from remote villages, who usually value truth and honour more than some (I’d rather say most) of their morally inept employers; employers who moan and bitch all the time on how much they lose out while paying the workers their wages. A generation of businessmen has sprung up catering to the needs of this section of the society while executives of different brands congratulate themselves on developing novel ways to relieve the garments goers off their money. 

Rights ?
The Savar tragedy has changed many things; one of them being the fact that the world wept at scenes the lifeless bodies from the Rana Plaza, while rejoicing at the news of the rescue of Reshma after 17 horrible days. One of them has been a renewed call to address workers rights. One would have expected the government to start taking immediate action in this regard. They did. But it was not how the workers expected it be. Protests for better wages and working conditions turned violent when the government forces took ‘immediate’ action to ‘peacefully disperse’ the protesters, using tear gas and indiscriminate baton charging to good effect. As a result, hundreds have been injured over the past few days at Mirpur and Gazipur. Calls for setting a voluntary international minimum wage limit for all workers in Bangladesh by Nobel Laureate Dr Yunus were snubbed by the finance Minister AMA Muhith as being unrealistic. Employers themselves have not played any effective role in improving the situation. Responses have usually resulted in garments closures (bottling the livelihood of the workers) while playing the poverty card to outsiders and foot dragging on issues such as worker’s wages. 

Defining the stance of an autocratic government,
Largely silent on issues of worker rights, especially the right to form trade unions and entitlement to a minimum wage, a recent letter from Jute and Textiles Minister Abdul Latif Siddiqui to US Ambassador Dan W Mozena speaks volumes. Siddiqui on Monday said the reported remark of the US ambassador that trade union rights should be introduced at all garment factories in the country was a provocative one. He then wanted to know the number of US states that allowed trade union rights to workers at the moment. Such belittling statements clearly identify how the government feels on the issues at hand. One will not be wrong in assuming that this is the unofficially official position of the Government of Bangladesh at present.   

Wrapping up,
Change is inevitable. Whether the government, garments owners or the foreign buyers want it or not, one day the work conditions and the wages of workers in Bangladesh will improve. History and time is witness. 

The question is whether they want to be a part of the inevitable or not.  

Saturday, May 25, 2013

In Bangladesh, it is (an unofficial) crime to be Shibir

The 25th of May was like just another normal day to the many in the Peoples Republic of Bangladesh. The day was cloudy; the temperature was down; it was cloudy and the greatest fact of all, it was a government holiday. But what seemed a nigh perfect day for meeting up with friends and family turned into a nightmare for some. The true meaning of the ban on any type of congregation, as announced by the home minister of Bangladesh on the 19th of May, 2012 was observed. Here is what the news agencies turned up.

Police said that they had arrested 35 leaders and activists of Shibir, the student front of Jamaat-e-Islami, from King of Chittagong Community centre under Pachlaish Police station here on Saturday, as reported by the UNB. Police conducted a drive and arrested them from the community centre during a reception programme of the students of Prabaha coaching centre. The programme had been arranged to felicitate the meritorious students who had obtained GPA-5 in the recently concluded SSC examinations. The arrested students were taken to Pachlaish Police station. Other accounts narrate of 20 arrests ( and 40 arrests (Daily Star) respectively. They were allegedly preparing for meet to plan acts of sabotage, police claimed while locals said a reception of successful SSC candidates of ‘Probaho Coaching Centre’ was being held there. Chittagong Metropolitan Police DC Abdur Rauf said the detainees were being interrogated. Anyone found unconnected to planning mischief will be released, he said. He said none of the students attending the programme had been harassed. Sadly, he failed to mention why 40 students were arrested for previously unheard of crimes such as ‘prize ceremonies’, highlighting the law situation in a country which has become notorious for increasingly violent extrajudicial killings and where tales of indiscriminate force used against protesters have become part of everyday police stories. Just a few days ago, RAB had killed a previouslyabducted Shibir member, claiming that he had been killed in crossfire.

At Brahmanbaria, two Shibir activists, including Brahmanbaria Zila General Secretary Amir Hossain and Cosba upazila president Nasir Ahmad were arrested at 8 pm in the evening from the premises of Cosba T.Ali College. Police have muttered the presence of cases against them.

That is not all. Eight students had gone on a picnic at Mohishakhola village, Gangni upazila, Meherpur. Police claim they had arrested them on Friday evening. Today afternoon they were sent to a Meherpur court. When contacted, Gangni thana OC Alamgir Hossain informed the press that the police had obtained information that a group of Shibir activists were holding a ‘secret’ meeting in the name of attending a picnic. He claimed that police chased them and managed to capture eight students from the scene. 

All this in a day’s work. The night is still young as I write this post. Who knows how many more have been arrested or are on the verge of being arrested?

In Bangladesh, it is an unofficial crime to be a part of a registered students organization called Islami Chatra Shibir.  

And the tale of oppression goes on and on…………   

Friday, May 24, 2013

Amnesty Human Rights Report Bangladesh 2013: Some Important Observations

The main opposition party of Bangladesh, the BNP, nailed it when they said that the 2013 Amnesty report on Bangladesh was the tip of the iceberg. What the amnesty report has alluded to is huge, and as reports of other human rights organizations such as Odhikar and Human Rights Watch have indicated, the human rights situation in Bangladesh has gone the drain over the course of 2012, with no signs of improving.

The report begins with the following information in the background section, “In January, the Prime Minister stated that no human rights violations had been committed in the country.

It largely talks of events of 2012, which was relatively peaceful compared to 2013. The claims and the instances backing them up are pretty damning and warrant very serious attention. According to the report, “Some 30 extrajudicial executions were reported. State security forces were implicated in torture and other ill-treatment and at least 10 enforced disappearances. Political violence resulted in the death of at least four men. Women continued to be subjected to various forms of violence. The government failed to protect Indigenous communities from attack by Bengali settlers. At least 111 workers died in a factory fire, some allegedly because officials refused to let them leave the premises. More than 20 Buddhist temples and monasteries, one Hindu temple and scores of Buddhist homes and shops were set on fire during a communal attack. One person was executed and at least 45 people were sentenced to death.

This is not counting bigwigs such as the Rana Plaza disaster, government crackdown on the Hefazat rally on 5th May and the subsequent massacre, closing down of private media, or the indiscriminate shooting of over 200 people in the aftermath of February 28, events which are sure to have a big impact the next report. Also expected to feature will be the deaths of Shahbagh bloggers and the detaining the of 4 atheist bloggers for defamation of religion.  

Unfortunately, the report has failed to address some important issues, namely, 

1. The refusal of the government of Bangladesh to facilitate the persecuted Rohingya fleeing from neighbouring Myanmar
2.  The injustice being meted out to defendants in the BDR mutiny trials as highlighted by a recent HRW report on Bangladesh 
3.  The death of five journalists in the year 2012 and the subsequent media repression, as highlighted by Odhikar. 
4.  The banning of Youtube on September 17th 2012 at 10:30 pm; a form of online censorship that has actually been used as a tool to prevent online activism. It has not been opened since.
5.    The President’s politically motivated clemency for criminals.
6.  The politically motivated and inept war crimes trials taking place in Bangladesh, which aim to deliver international standards of justice through domestic courts. Rampant irregularities and instances of injustice have been reported by rights organizations such as Odhikar, Human Rights watch and Asian Human Rights Commission.  

Shocking as it may sound, the Amnesty report has been rejected by the government of Bangladesh. Two junior ministers -- Quamrul Islam and Shamsul Hoque Tuku -- on Thursday turned down the assessment of the Amnesty International on Bangladesh’s human rights situation in its annual report, terming it error-ridden and lopsided one.

What was more shocking was the belittling of the report by a prominent HR boss in Bangladesh. In view of the Amnesty International Report 2013, National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) Chairman Mizanur Rahman said the report didn’t carry much importance following the discussions at the 16th session of UNHCR (United Nations Human Rights Council) in Switzerland’s Geneva on 29 April.Besides, the country’s overall human rights situation is progressing positively”, stated Rahman.

Such comments and opinions point out to the prevalent attitude of the government and its supporting institutions in light of the worsening human rights situation in the country. There is no alternative to change; change of attitude; change of perception; change of the culture of impunity; and if necessary, change of the current regime.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Inu, Opportunistic Minister of Misinformation

Remember Aung San Suu Kyi? She was a Nobel Peace Prize winner. Those were the days when she was an oppressed citizen of Burma. Today she is a lawmaker, the leader of the opposition in Burma. Yet the country has been witness to a systematic genocide of the Rohingya by its ruling elite and she has remained silent, totally silent, opting to cling on to her newfound power rather than speak out for the oppressed.

What could change a person so? In answer, a quote of Suu Kyi herself comes to mind, “It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.”

Suu Kyi represents a brand of politicians who are abundant in supply, their demand stemming from their flexibility in compromising the most basic of their beliefs for the sake of that Holy Grail called power. One such person is Hasanul Haq Inu, Minister of Information; Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh. Son of Late AHM Qamrul Haq, who retired as General Manager of Karnaphuli Paper Mills, Inu comes across as the typical silver spooned toddler. Before I delve further, it is of importance that we keep in mind that Inu did not have ideals to start with. His history bears witness. 

The badder the better, 

Inu, on his profile on the ministry of information website, gives us censored bits and pieces of his life. He started with the Chatra League in 1968. To step up towatds a more intense role, he joined the rage of the time, ‘Shwadin Bangla Biplobi Parishad’ (Bangladesh Liberation Front) in 1969. It is mentionable that Swadhin Bangla Biplobi Parishad, was secretly organised for the independence of Bangladesh in 1962. Later it formed a political wing, Bangladesh Liberation Force (BLF), which was renamed ‘Mujib Bahini’ during the 9-month Liberation War. His role in the Liberation war seems to be warped up. After a series of armed marches (as claimed by his website), he suddenly gets relocated to India, playing a very 'major role' in the Liberation War (as an instructor at a camp in India). It is clear however, that the man did not fight or kill one Pak soldier in the entire course of the war. His war tales subside to take him to join the opposition left party Jatiyo Samajtantrik Dal (JASOD), apparently in a fallout with the ruling Awami League just five months after Bangabandhu 'entrusted' him with a job to create a new party (Jatiyo Krishak League). How important he was at the time, we do not really know. Trumping up his version of events, he places himself as the founder of the Gono Bahini after the banning of all political parties in 1974 by founding father of Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman(the emergence of the BAKSAL).

Some missing truths,

The Gono Bahini (People's Army) started as a 'noble' endeavor to resist the BAKSHAL. In reality, it was party to an ugly chapter in Bangladeshi politics. An offshoot of the JASOD, it is rarely talked about nowadays due to obvious reasons I shall talk about later. Here is a description I find quite informative, "Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal, formidable enemy of the Awami League, was getting enough clout in educational institutions across the nation. In the village level its underground fronts, namely, Gono Bahini and Bangladesher Communist League were gathering experience in killing Awami Leaguers and confronting Rakkhi Bahini. Although JSD was proponent of “Scientific socialism”whatever it means, it was not thrilled to see a left wing metamorphosis of Awami League. This party was ready to push the country to a bloody civil war with the clear ambition of eliminating Awami League from the political power." A BAKSAL supportive blog has this to say about the Gono Bahini, "Most of the cadres of the Islamic parties went underground. At the same time, the Maoists/communists formed underground political parties with armed cadres to carry on armed revolution inside our motherland. In the aftermath of the independence of Bangladesh, all these underground extremists created a terrible condition in the newly born republic. Even the ultra-leftists formed political parties and their armed wings (such as Gonobahini) to implement “scientific socialism,” a term not quite clear even to the proponents." 

The Gono Bahini was led by Colonel Taher and his deputy was Hasanul Haque Inu. The feud between the Rakhi Bahini (paramilitary force sanctioned by the state) and the Gono Bahini along with a group of other armed groups led to thousands of deaths. I shall not go into details, but what I intend to say is that the Gono Bahini was not an angel as Inu claims it to be. A recent article by Sangram details how Gono Bahini was involved in acts of massacre of civilians and terrorist acts against the state.

A murky history,

The same article refers to an article by Amader Shomoy (5 November, 2009) which details how Col. Taher (tugging behind him Inu), planned to ultimately kill Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib and perform a coup; only they were beaten to it by a group of military officers. The duo had contact with the army officers, met army officers at the Betar Bhobon after the coup, and even met President Khandakar Moshtaq (president immediately after the coup) at the Bangabhaban for at least 3 days in order to influence the chain of events. Inu, of course was complicit in all of this.

Stooge and Slime ball,

Inu, after his new job as Minister at the Ministry of Information, his first chance at a real government post, has shown his true colours. The latest in this facade of upholding freedom and ideals of democracy in Bangladesh are his scathing comments against editors of the country’s 15 daily newspapers, who on Saturday demanded the government allow the recently closed private television channels Diganta TV and Islamic Television to go on air again and the release of Amardesh acting editor Mahmudur Rahman. In a scathing attack, he said such appeal was ‘not in the best interest of the media’. An Islamophobic atheist all his life, it was rather heart warming indeed to hear him spewing farcical statements saying that Mahmudur Rahman had not been arrested for his writings against Hasina or the state, but for his 'hurting religious sentiments'  and 'hacking' of the ICT conversations.

Smashing the facade,

A Daily Star editorial was cuttingly indignant in its reply, saying that "It appears that 15 editors of, almost all leading papers of the country, collectively do not know “facts” which only the information minister knows." The facts it raised stroked the problems to their core. I can only do justice by reposting it here. "The fact Mr. Minister is that Amar Desh is closed without being banned. The fact is that Mahmudur Rahman, editor of Amar Desh, has been in jail for the last one month with dozens of charges against him with none having been proved in the court law. The fact is that he has been taken on several days’ remand during which, his family has alleged, that he was tortured.Do you remember Mr. Minister the days when it was customary to assume someone innocent before proven guilty in court? The fact the honourable minister is that Amar Desh printing press is under lock and key on the excuse that the premise in being investigated. How long does it take to do so? Well it can take a few hours or few years as the government wants and we know what it wishes. The fact is that the government is yet to give reasons why the two TV channels are being kept closed?These are the facts protesting which the 15 editors have given a statement."

A New Age editorial was more pragmatic in its approach when it put forward this simple observation in refuting the comments of Inu when its said that his comments were "a reconfirmation of the incumbents’ increasing intolerance with divergent opinion — be it in the political arena or in society at large." On the issues at hand, the editorial scathingly retorted, "Indeed, the Amar Desh acting editor is guilty of his paper’s publication of a misleading photograph; however, he did subsequently apologise for the mistake. No one should presume that a journalist or a media outlet is infallible because they are not. What deserves recognition and even appreciation is when a journalist or a media outlet regrets the mistake and apologise, both of which Amar Desh and its acting editor did. As for the closure of Diganta TV and Islamic TV, the government has clearly acted arbitrarily and now seems to be at pains to justify its actions. It is worth noting that these two television channels broadcast live the predawn joint operation by the police, the Rapid Action Battalion and the paramilitary Border Guard Bangladesh at Motijheel on May 6, just as many other electronic media outlets did. However, these other television channels managed to evade the government’s wrath, apparently because of their close links with the ruling Awami League." A few words were enough to decimate the government's attitude towards the media, "Regrettably, such highhandedness is neither isolated nor unprecedented but has, in fact, characterised the tenure of the AL-led government since its assumption of office in January 2009." 

The solution ?

Trust New Age to give a fitting one. "Hence, rights-conscious and democratically-oriented sections of society need to raise their voice in unison against the abuse of people’s mandate to govern the country by the incumbents."