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Saturday, June 27, 2009

Breaking the silence: ensuring justice for women

Photo: Pro-democracy political activist secually harassed by male police officers on the streets of Dhaka, Bangladesh

VARIOUS ORGANIZATIONS and individuals have been fighting for decades to ensure justice for women and children in Bangladesh. While progress has been nominal, violence continues to be notable.

Innocent souls are crying for justice. From January to March 2009, 73 women and children were the victims of rape or attempted rape; among those, 29 were gang raped and 13 were between ages 7 and 12. In May alone, 33 women and girls were the victims of rape. Among those, 16 were women and 17 were children under the age of 16. Out of the 16 women, five were victims of gang rape and three were killed after being raped. Out of the 17 girls, five were victims of gang rape and two were killed after being raped.

Between January and March 2009, six serious acts of violence against women were instigated by fatwas. When I discussed this issue with the law minister, he denied the necessity of introducing a specific law to ban fatwas. I repeatedly insisted on the necessity of a specific law to fight fatwa, as well as a law to identify the paternity of a child in cases where it is disputed.

Dowry is another social disease in Bangladesh. From January to March 2009, 44 women faced dowry-related violence; among these women, 23 died.

Bangladesh has the highest maternal mortality rate in the world: 440 per 100,000 live births, according to UNICEF, and more than 20,000 women in Bangladesh die annually from complications related to pregnancy and childbirth.

In Bangladesh, women do their best to fulfill their duties and take care of all their men's needs; yet, from January to March 2009 alone, 45 women were abused by their husbands or their husbands’ relatives. Very recently, a woman, Parul Akter, who was seven months pregnant, was killed and her body thrown in a river; her two other children are still missing. This is the reality that many women in Bangladesh face.

We can name thousands of ways that women and children are facing oppression and repression in Bangladesh. Confucius said, “We should feel sorrow, but not sink under its oppression.” I do agree with that. For almost two decades, Bangladesh’s prime ministers have been women. The number of people who oppose and oppress woman and children are larger than the number of people who are oppressed or suppressed.

Women’s empowerment alone will not solve the problem; we need to treat women as human beings first, rather than simply as women. We need to break the silence and stand up against religious and cultural traditions that encourage the repression of women and children. I dream of a day when a woman will be treated as a human being first, when women will really be empowered and lead the nation toward a more humane way, as they are the source of the human race.

The whole system in Bangladesh is male-dominated, inspired by common prophet religions that have a culture of suppressing woman historically. We need to deal with these oppressors first. Many aw and wonderful steps had taken to bring an end to the suppression to woman and children but hopefully none of them succeed.

Sometimes, a police officer who oppresses his wife in the home is used to investigate a case of oppression against a woman. In this case, the police officer should be brought to trial before anything else. Bangladesh even has cases where, after being raped, the woman gets raped again in the police station by police officers.

More than anything, the religion of Islam encourages the majority of people in Bangladesh in the historical cultural traditions of oppressing women. Laws can change, while religion inspires adherents through heaven and hell; in this light, how will jail or capital punishment be able to make any significant change?

The Prophet Mohammed said, “I was standing at the edge of the fire (hell) and the majority of the people going in were women.” When the Quran and the Prophet Mohammed guide the majority of people in Bangladesh, and the Quran (4:34) orders a man to beat his wife if she doesn't obey him, how will the law prevent the beating of women? Laws and conventions contradict the holy sayings of the Prophet and Allah and will surely fail to ensure the rights of women.

I silently cry for justice for women like Parul, Rahima, Rebeka, Shima, who was raped in front of her father, and Mili Rani, a minority girl who was raped and later committed suicide. All this happened inside of the society before you and me.

We need to break the silence and step up a revival for humanity and justice. #

William Gomes is an independent human rights activist, freelance journalist and a political analyst. He can be reached at

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Shahidul Alam secures bail for illegal crossing Indo-Bangla border


CELEBRATED BANGLADESHI photographer Shahidul Alam secured bail from a Kurigram court on Wednesday after the BDR sued him on charges of illegal intrusion in the Indian territory.

DrikNEWS editor Azizur Rahim Peu said the Kurigram judicial magistrate's court granted him bail after he was taken there at around 12:45pm in the case filed with Rowmari Police Station in Kurigram.

He was detained for six hours by Indian Border Security Force on the northern Rowmari-Sahapara border on Tuesday night.

Lt Col Mizanur of Bangladesh Rifles said BSF handed Alam back at around 11.15pm.

Alam, founder of Drik Gallery and chief editor of international photo agency DrikNEWS, was working on a National Geographic assignment on the Brahmaputra river, said Peu.

Sumeru Mukharjee, one of two colleagues that had accompanied Alam on the assignment, told that they were taking photographs near the border fence on Tuesday.

"As we inadvertently pointed our cameras toward the Indian side, a BSF patrol team called us over."

"Shahidul went to speak to the Indian border guards, while we stayed behind."

Bangladesh Rifles director general Maj Gen Md Mainul Islam had quickly confirmed that Alam was being held at the BSF's Sahapara camp.

He told DrikNEWS that BDR were doing all they could to get the famous photographer released the same night.

He told that Alam had been detained on the Indian side of the border from about 5pm until his release just after 11pm.

His two colleagues, who remained on the Bangladeshi side in Kurigram district, were unable to contact him for some time.

Local residents and BDR personnel told that Alam and his two associates went to the Rowmari border with a local guide, where they were caught taking pictures of a barbed wire fence near the 1065th border pillar.

They said the group may have mistakenly strayed into no-man's land.

First published in, June 17, 2009

Shahidul taken to court for bail


SHAHIDUL ALAM is on his way to the court in Kurigram. In the same boat are his colleagues, Sumeru Chakravarty and Abul Kashem. Also, police headed by ASI Amir Ali. Since Sumeru is in the same boat, I have been able to speak to Shahidul, and also, to remain updated of what's happening, through Sumeru.

An influential lawyer of the Kurigram Bar Association Advocate Siddiqur Rahman has consented to represent him, the Vice President of the Bar Association Advocate Abdul Khaleque will also be present at the hearing. If they can reach Kurigram court by 11:30, it is expected that the hearing will take place today. By all indications, he is expected to get bail.

I am overwhelmed by messages of support and concern expressed by friends in Bangladesh, and abroad. And the stupendous all-out efforts being made to ensure a speedy bail. My heartfelt thanks to each and every one of you.

Members of Manobadhikar Sangbadik Samity (Journalists for Human Rights Forum) have already reached the court premises. Kurigram Press Club members have been informed, who have said they will be present at the bail hearing, with food! Uttar Bongo Sangbadik Parishad (North Bengal Journalists Council) has also been informed and their members will also show up at the court, to rally support for Shahidul. #

Source: Rahnuma Ahmed, DrikNews

Now Shahidul Alam arrested by Bangladesh border forces for illegally cross Indo-Bangla border


LAST NIGHT at 3:00 am on Thursday 17 June, renowned Bangladeshi photojournalist Shahidul Alam telephoned from Rowmari thana (police station) to say he has been shown arrested. A case was filed by sub-inspector Amir Ali (0191-401-8992) of Rowmari thana under the Control Entry Act/4, 1972 Bangladesh (case number 6, dated 17.06.2009).

Shahidul spent the night in custody at the thana. He is due to appear at court on Thursday 17 June, and is expected to appeal for bail from Kurigram court. His camera and phone were confiscated.

The case follows his arrest and subsequent 6 hour detention (including interrogation) on Wednesday 16 June, around 6.10pm, by Indian border guards, BSF, while taking photographs for his Brahmaputra river project, one that encompasses China, Mongolia, Tibet, and India, and has been carried out over several years. While taking photographs in the Bangladeshi side, BSF guards had asked him to come over, and then detained him at Sahapara 21 IPP, across the Memokar Char border, Rowmari, Kurigram. #

Photographer Shahidul Alam spends 6hrs in BSF custody

RENOWNED BANGLADESHI photographer Shahidul Alam was detained for six hours by Indian Border Security Force on the northern Rowmari-Sahapara border on Tuesday.

Lt Col Mizanur of Bangladesh Rifles said BSF eventually handed Alam over at around 11.15pm.

Sumeru Mukharjee, one of two colleagues that had accompanied Alam on an assignment, told that they were taking photographs near the border fence earlier in the day.

"As we inadvertently pointed our cameras toward the Indian side, a BSF patrol team called us over."

"Shahidul went to speak to the Indian border guards, while we stayed behind."

Bangladesh Rifles director general Maj Gen Md Mainul Islam had quickly confirmed that Alam was being held at the BSF's Sahapara camp.

He told DrikNEWS that BDR were doing all they could to get the world famous photographer released quickly.

Alam, founder of Drik Gallery and chief editor of international photo agency DrikNEWS, was working on a National Geographic assignment on the Brahmaputra river, said a spokesperson for the agency.

DrikNEWS editor Azizur Rahim Peu told that Alam had been detained on the Indian side of the border from about 5pm.

His two colleagues, who remained on the Bangladeshi side in Kurigram district, were unable to contact him for some time.

Lt Col Mizanur, commanding officer of BDR's Six Rifles Battalion, based at Jamalpur, said he had specially asked his counterpart in India, Sunil Mehta, to release Alam that night.

"Usually, handovers do not take place at night, but Shahidul Alam is a well-known photographer and journalist, and my counterpart agreed to hand him over before the end of the night," the BDR officer said.

Locals told that Alam and his two associates went to the Rowmari border with a local guide, where they were caught taking pictures of a barbed wire fence near the 1065th border pillar.

The group may have mistakenly strayed into no-man's land, they said. #

First published in, June 16, 2009

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Bangladeshi photo-journalist detained by Indian border forces


Guwahati, June 16, 2009: Eminent Bangladeshi photo-journalist Dr Shahidul Alam has been detained by the Border Security Forces (India) today (Tuesday) evening while working on the Indo-Bangladesh border areas.

The founder of Driknews, a portal dedicated for news photographs, Dr Alam was working for his project titled Brahmaputra in the Bangladesh side of the border, claimed Rahnuma Ahmed, the director of Driknews.

Mentionable that the Dhaka based Driknews is, as stated in the portal, an independent body of Drik Picture Library, aims to cover news photography and investigative reporting by disseminating both locally and internationally through the web.

“He (Dr Alam ) called me at 18:21 pm to tell me that the guards had asked him to come over, and then detained him at Sahapara 21 IPP, across the border from Rowmari. His two colleagues remained on the Bangladeshi side,” said Rahnuma Ahmed #

Nava Thakuria is journalist based in Guwahati, Assam. He could reached by phone: +0091-98640-44917 mobile,

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Should Pakistan extend its hands?


ALTHOUGH JOHN Demjanjuk was 89 years old and was not able to take flight due to his deteriorating physical and mental health, but was deported from US to Germany in last May. Demjanjuk, who is a native Ukranian and is a naturalized US citizen, is a Nazi war crimes suspect who is charged with being an accessory to the murder of about 29,000 civilians at the Sobibor death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland in World War II.

Because there is no statute of limitations for crimes against humanity, each and everyone who committed genocide must be held accountable for his/her inhumane actions.

The term “war crimes” evokes a litany of horrific images. The world has suffered much genocide in human history, but the worst genocide in the annals of history in 1971 was not simply possible by the state-sponsored Pakistani army against Bangladesh. People suffered such attempted extermination with the help of local allies. What weren’t happened with general Bangladeshis- murder, ill-treatment, torture, mutilation, corporal punishment, rape, enforced prostitution, indecent assault, summary executions, hostage taking, collective punishment, or pillage?

This is not quite the Bangladesh where lives were sacrificed; blood was shed for in 1971. So is it possible for any Bangladeshi to forget the barbaric killings of 1971 and to let bygones be bygones with regard to that atrocities committed by the Pakistani army and their local allies?

While government of Bangladesh has pressed on with the planned war crimes trial with the support of UN, EU, US, and even asked cooperation from Pakistan, a senior Pakistani government spokesperson replied and warned that such attempt would hamper ties and cast a shadow on the two country's relations. “The atrocities during 1971 were a sad chapter and we should not remain frozen in time but should look forward," Masood Khalid, the additional secretary for Asia Pacific of Pakistani foreign ministry, said to a visiting Bangladeshi media group in Islamabad, Pakistan on Sunday, June 07, 2009.

However, on Wednesday, June 10, 2009, the Pakistani High Commission in Dhaka replied in a statement saying Masood Khalid’s remarks have evidently been misconstrued and quoted out of context. Earlier on May 14, 2009, Pakistan replied negatively and rejected Bangladesh foreign minister’s demand for apology over alleged 1971 atrocities. According to Dawn, an English daily newspaper in Pakistan, foreign office spokesman Abdul Basit said that under the 1974 agreement Pakistan had regretted the incidents that took place in 1971 and in 2002 the then President Musharraf had also expressed regrets for the 1971 incidents during his visit to Bangladesh. “Let bygones be bygones,” he concluded.

Forgiveness is not in the gift of those who have not themselves been the victims of those who committed atrocious crimes. We could not do anything else than to forgive such a person. But if people believe that their actions were justified, they have to vindicate themselves.

People too are tempted to want to forgive and forget. But when a person or a group is involved against national, racial or religious groups to destroy their political and social institutions, culture, language, national feelings, religion, economic existence, and the destruction of the personal security, liberty, health, dignity, and even the lives of the individuals belonging to such groups, there is no forgiveness for them as they commit moral atrocities.

Forgiving or forgetting does not mean ignoring injustice. Letting go of grudges is one thing, and it takes an immense amount of moral muscle to do so, but the most controversial aspect of the entire subject of forgiveness, concerns confronting not ignoring the great evils perpetrated by people. And in case of war criminals, whoever is merciful to the cruel is indifferent to the innocent. People never forgive, in this view, because forgiving or forgetting is a sign there is a moral escape valve, that to forgive acts of brutality is in effect to endorse and perpetuate rather than combat their evil deeds. The blood of the innocent cries out forever.

So much is certain, that no civilized society, any more than a society at peace, can allow unpunished criminal activities and certainly not war crimes.

War criminals should be hunted down, tried and convicted, no matter how long it may take. By doing so, a message will be sent out to any potential war-criminal that the world community will hunt them down and prosecute them and should expect no mercy. War criminals should be prosecuted regardless of the amount of time that has elapsed. As a way of deterring criminals from their crimes, everyone should know that no matter how long it takes, or how far they go from their original crimes, they will be found and punished. This is important because among other things, such prosecutions allow society as a whole to re-examine the shared values that gave rise to such crimes.

Bangladesh can’t be lenient towards war criminals as the crimes like genocides and the movements against humanity that can make Bangladesh to be an orthodox Islamic republic, negating the concept of secular Bengali nationhood, which was the basis of the liberation war. To further consolidate their grip on the country, the defeated forces of the 1971 liberation war are now carrying out their misleading fundamentalist ideologies across Bangladesh. They don't believe in democracy, rather they use it as a way of surviving, and propagating their views.

Showing respect of millions of peoples’ expectation that influenced the Bangladeshi voters to vote massively in favor of them in December ’08 elections, the present government reasonably asked Pakistan not to make any adverse comment on the trial of those accused of war crimes in the 1971 war since it is an internal matter of Bangladesh and is also beyond diplomatic norms.

However, people in Bangladesh, who are speaking for a war crimes tribunal, their intentions are not to seek revenge and undeserved retribution, rather, they are advocating for the establishment of a realistic and credible examples that will deter future criminal liberators from feeding death and destruction to any human mankind. Because they believe bringing war criminals to justice can have a positive effect in unifying a nation, legitimizing its government, and keeping it on the right path.

Though German government never took responsibility for World War II, but it helped track down war criminals for the Nuremberg Trials and opened its wartime archives to researchers and investigators. Japanese government felt sorry and said that it had no objection to the international tribunal's verdict in 1948 which found the Japanese military responsible for forcing Chinese women to provide sex to Japanese servicemen during World War II.

Pakistan has moral responsibility to try their war criminals as international laws on crime against humanity are also obligatory for them and can extend their hands to Bangladesh. #

First published on June 11, 2009, New York

Ripan Kumar Biswas ( is a freelance writer based in New York

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Islamist Militancy in Bangladesh

Book review: Jihadi terror in Bangladesh


Islamist Militancy in Bangladesh: A Complex Web
By Ali Riaz; Routledge 2008; Pp172;
Price £80

In this book he gets to the root of what led in 2005 to a countrywide setting off of 450 bombs that signalled the coming into its own of jihadi Islam

BANGLADESH HAS Harkat-ul Jihad Bangladesh (HUJIB), the Jama’at-ul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), and the Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB) as functioning jihadi organisations. These three organisations can be traced to a single network. Others include Hizb-ut-Tawhid, Shahadat-i-Hiqma, and Jaish-e-Muhammad. Reliable data about the militant organisations, particularly the profiles of the activists, are not available, but profiles of the militants arrested since the beginning of 2006 indicate that former participants of the Afghan war and disaffected youth are at the helm of these organisations. The top leaders are thus ‘connected’ to organisations outside Bangladesh.

Their attacks have traced a uniform pattern, possibly in response to one central directive. They frequently target specific groups: locally prominent NGOs and NGO-run schools, members of the judiciary, women, and so on (p.31), which conforms to the pattern in Pakistan. Violence against the Hindus in Bangladesh after the 2001 Babri Masjid incident is well documented. Beginning in 2002, the Ahmedis were attacked by Khatm-e-Nabuwwat (KN), an umbrella organisation of the Islamist groups. They have begun a campaign to declare Ahmedis non-Muslims, just like Pakistan.

The BD government, instead of clamping down on the perpetrators of these attacks, has succumbed to their pressure and on January 8, 2004, banned all Ahmedi publications. It also allowed this organisation to attack Ahmedi mosques, and seize their properties, while the police and local authorities helped them pull down the signboards of Ahmedi organisations, more or less as in Pakistan, where the Ahmedis have been constitutionally declared non-Muslims. The Ahmedi headquarters in Dhaka was attacked in 1992, and Imam Shah Alam was killed in Jessore in 2003. (p.35)

The Saudi-assisted Ahle Hadith movement became strong in the 1980s and Bangladesh saw a mushrooming of the madrassas. Between 1972 and 2004, their growth rate was 73 percent. In May 2004, the police chief in Rajshahi was telling the press that Bangla Bhai was assisting the law enforcers in tracking down the left-wing outlaws. Bangla Bhai was a jihadi veteran from Afghanistan whom Pakistan had facilitated and who was eventually hanged once the civilian governments were removed with the imposition of emergency in 2006.

Bangla Bhai, with hundreds killed and maimed at his hands, gave Bangladesh a bad name in the world. But Bangladesh was on the self-chosen course of degradation together with Pakistan. Pakistan did it under its India-driven policy but Bangladesh did it out of sheer liking for violence under Islam. Others too were chosen for patronage. The case of Mufti Rauf is instructive.

Abdur Rauf went to Afghanistan via Pakistan in 1989 and fought alongside the Taliban until the end of 1992. He became a key organiser of a militant group soon after his return to Bangladesh. By his own admission, he imparted military training to madrassa students as a teacher in Madaripur district for about three years. Later he came into contact with the Rohingya rebels in the south-eastern region. In 1995 he was arrested with 40 other militants from a training camp at Cox’s Bazaar but was jailed for only five months (p.52).

Why was Bangladesh soft on terrorists? This is a question all Muslim states have to answer but will not. The question is important because their bias in favour of these terrorists has led to the death of many peaceful citizens.

Geographically, Bangladesh is surrounded almost entirely by India on its eastern western and northern borders, sharing 4,053 km (3,035 miles) of frontier and 193 km (172 miles) of it with Myanmar in the southeast. The Bay of Bengal, shared with India and Myanmar, bounds Bangladesh in the south. Five Indian states border Bangladesh, including four in India’s troubled northeast where dozens of militant groups are fighting for full statehood, greater autonomy or independence. (p.62)

Author Riaz writes: “After the 1975 military coup in Bangladesh, a new identity, called Bangladeshi nationalism, was articulated in a manner that portrayed India as an adversary. Over the following 30 years, the situation has worsened as more issues of difference have been added to an already distrustful relationship. There are four sources of boundary conflicts: (1) non-ratification of the 1974 Indo-Bangladesh Land Agreement; (2) non-delineation of maritime boundaries in the Bay of Bengal; (3) ownership of Talpatty Island referred to as New Moore Island; and (4) sharing of river waters that flow from India to Bangladesh.”

The book says India organised groups inside Bangladesh and gave them material support to conduct a low-intensity conflict till 1997. The military regimes in Bangladesh retaliated by resurrecting a policy begun by the Pakistani government of providing shelter and support to the insurgent groups of Indian north-eastern states (p.63). Bangladeshi masses converted to hardline attitudes towards the non-Muslims after the BJP arose in India and in 1992 caused the Babri Masjid crisis. This helped the Islamists argue that the right course for Muslim-majority Bangladesh would be to pursue an Islamist path. The secularist Awami League failed to present an alternative vision which would underscore national sovereignty, and address Dhaka’s concerns vis-à-vis India.

It further says: “The Indo-Bangladesh fence-construction project has progressed slowly and, to date only about half of the border has been fenced. Bangladesh authorities allege that Indians are violating the 1975 border guidelines which clearly state that any type of defensive work cannot be carried out within 150 yards of the zero line.” (p.64)

Relations with Burma went bad too. Between late 1977 and May 1978, about 200,000 Burmese Arakanese Rohingyas crossed the border and took shelter in Bangladesh as a result of persecution by the Burmese authorities (p.65). Later the Arakanese turned up in Karachi madrassas.

The above-mentioned terrorist organisation HUJIB, run by Shafiqur Rehman who had returned from jihad in Afghanistan, moved to the Chittagong Hill Tracts to help the Rohingya refugees. Subsequently, HUJIB militants acknowledged the existence of various training camps in Chittagong and Cox’s Bazaar districts based on madrassas established with foreign funds.

Foreign funds had also gone to the Naga rebels in India’s northeast. When the Indian army went after the Nagas in 1958 the most prominent leader of the Naga independence movement — Angami Zapu Phizo — fled to the then East Pakistan. Phizo was cordially received by Pakistani intelligence officials who helped go on to London to internationalise the Naga demand for an independent state, while his followers began receiving military training inside East Pakistan. (p.66)

Author Riaz reveals that “the Pakistani military intelligence agency had set up a Coordinating Bureau to supervise its covert operation in Nagaland; and that China began providing active support to the Naga movement in 1966 and military training to the rebels in 1967. The National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) continued to receive support from Pakistani intelligence agencies even up to the 1990s.” (p.67)

In Bangladesh, the presence of Indian intelligence operatives within Bangladesh is a matter of common discussion. RAW has been present and active in Bangladesh even when it was still East Pakistan, although RAW has always denied the allegations. Bangladeshi intelligence is ill-equipped. In December 2002, three army officers and a number of civilians were arrested from the border districts of north-eastern Sylhet and northern Mymensingh for spying for the Indians (p.78).

By 2003, the presence of the ISI in Bangladesh became so conspicuous that the foreign minister of Bangladesh acknowledged it to the press: “ISI and Al Qaeda have their networks throughout the world and they might have their activities in our country too,” commented Morshed Khan on September 19, 2003. It should be noted that Khan had previously denied any ISI presence in Bangladesh. For example, on November 28, 2002, Khan described Indian allegations about the presence of Al Qaeda elements and the ISI in Bangladesh as “unfounded and malicious”. (p.79)

Riaz writes: “Ostensibly, the ISI’s strategy was not only to help the existing north-eastern Indian insurgents but also to build other groups who would be able to keep the border regions unstable, provoke the Indian authorities, and drive a wedge between India and Bangladesh. RAW, on the other hand, was trying to beat the ISI.” (p.79)

The Afghan connection of the Bangladeshi militants is important because it facilitated the organisational structure of the militants without being known outside Bangladesh. Although it is widely known that the radical Islamists who fought the Soviets in Afghanistan alongside the mujahideen have been incorporated into the Islamic movements throughout the Middle East and Central Asia, their impact in other parts of the world, particularly in countries like Bangladesh, is understudied.

Beginning in 1984, a ‘volunteer corps’ was organised to join the jihad in Afghanistan. Some 3,000 people under the leadership of Abdur Rahman Faruki travelled in several batches to Afghanistan to fight alongside other volunteer mujahideen. Over the following four years at least 24 of them died and ten became disabled. In 1988, a delegation of self-proclaimed ulema too visited Afghanistan. (p.82)

As in Pakistan, Islamist terrorists attack the NGOs in Bangladesh. Throughout the 1980s, NGOs, especially through their micro-credit programmes for poor rural women and free primary education programmes as an alternative to madrassas, irked the Islamists. The Islamists responded with critiques of the NGOs, portraying them as aided by ‘Jews and Christian conspirators who undermine Islamic cultural values, spread atheism, convert people Christianity and try to create an aggressively feminist, impure society’. They are helped by Rabita Al-Alam Al-Islami, the World Assembly of Muslim Youth, the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, the International Islamic Relief Organisation (IIRO), the Revival of Islamic Heritage Society (RJHS), etc. (p.83) #

First published in The Daily Times, May 24, 2009

Ali Riaz heads the Department of Politics and Government at Illinois State University and has written before on Islamism in Bangladesh

Awami League Government: So Far So Good


THE AWAMI League-led government in Bangladesh, which completed 100 days in office, has received public approval, as expressed in opinion polls, for its management of the economy and for how it tackled the Bangladesh Rifles mutiny. The one explicit concern of citizens is that the AL cadre, including the student wing of the party, have begun to be involved in criminal acts, exactly as they did during the 1996-2001 government of the party. Overall, despite tensions that continue to simmer beneath the surface and in the face of economic problems, the elected government of Sheikh Hasina seems to be in a stable position.

The first 100 days of the new Awami League (AL)-led government have come and gone, and the indications are both that the government seems to be performing in a reasonably creditable manner, but, equally important, that the popularity which swept it to a landslide victory in national elections last December shows no immediate signs of ebbing.

The Daily Star conducted a country-wide poll on the first 100 days, carried out by the polling firm, A C Neilsen, and the results can only be read as highly encouraging for Sheikh Hasina and her government. Fully 70% of the poll’s respondents thought that the country was heading in the right direction following the December 2008 elections, and 80% indicated that they were either satisfied or highly satisfied with the incumbent government’s performance so far. Similarly, almost 60% of respondents indicated that they approved of the fledgling government’s handling of the economy, and over 70% approved of the government’s measures to address inflation and bring down the prices of essentials, which had been the public’s number one concern prior to the election.

Managing the Economy
Indeed, the polls merely reflect the stewardship of the economy by the government, with two veteran ministers, A M A Muhith at finance and Motia Choudhury at agriculture at the helm of the two ministries that are most crucial in terms of keeping the prices of essentials within the reach of the ordinary citizen and ensuring that the economy remains on an even keel.

Despite the economic devastation being wrought all over the planet, Bangladesh’s economy has remained remarkably buoyant, with no major fallout yet observed in its garment exports or in the flow of remittances, which are the two pillars of the economy and the foreign exchange reserves.

The central bank has tussled with the World Bank and other independent analysts on the figures for economic growth, but there seems to be a general consensus that growth will not dip below 4.5% in the current fiscal year, with the government putting the figure closer to 6.5% right at par with the country’s average over the past 15 years of democratic rule. Even the lower estimate would be a creditable showing for the government in these difficult times.

In addition to the global financial crisis, the government has also inherited a power crisis, and, as the nation is finding out due to excellent media coverage over the past month, environmental pollution threatens to render the capital city Dhaka unlivable within a decade unless drastic and immediate steps are taken to curtail industrial pollution and to ensure that the rivers in and around the environs of Dhaka city are free of untreated sewage and toxic waste.

Of course, the solutions to crises such as these take years to implement, but the encouraging thing for the government is the indication that the average voter is well aware of the limitations of what can be achieved in a short period of time, and has the patience and maturity to give the government both the time required to make a dent into pre-existing problems and the benefit of the doubt while the processes are ongoing.

Deteriorating Law and Order
The noteworthy exception to the government’s quietly competent performance and the only one that has raised the ire of the public is the deteriorating law and order situation. It is a sad but true observation that law and order is typically better both under a state of emergency and under a non-elected government, and certainly there has been a rise in crime since the lifting of the emergency and the elections of 29 December 2008.

Indeed, part of the problem is that a not inconsiderable proportion of crime is, in fact, committed by cadres associated with the party in power. It was extortion, looting, rape, and the like committed by AL party activists or their criminal affiliates (often the line between the two is blurry) that had been the biggest black mark against the last AL government (1996-2001) and that had been a major contributory factor to its ignominious defeat in the 2001 election, and the early signs are that the party has still to learn its lesson and rein in its hoodlum element.

When asked to identify the government’s principal weakness in its first 100 days, 24% of The Daily Star poll respondents cited law and order and a further 16% the negative role of the Chhatra League, the AL’s student wing, which has lost little time since the election in establishing itself at the expense of opposition party student wings and politically unaffiliated common criminal gangs, and has also been engaged in vicious intra-factional fighting over the division of the spoils.

More than 50% of those polled were able to identify areas that had been negatively affected by the Chhatra League, and 44% agreed that the party needed to keep the student wing under stricter control, with 5% wanting stern action, and a further 13% opining that all student politics should be banned.

Bangladesh Rifles Mutiny
But of specific relief to the government would be the poll’s findings that fully 80% gave it good marks for its judicious and restrained handling of the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) mutiny/massacre of 25-26 February 2009 that left 74, including 57 army officers, dead.

The government’s handling of the situation, specifically, its decision to negotiate a settlement and the prime minister’s steadfast refusal to give the army the go-ahead to storm the BDR headquarters compound where the mutineers were holed up with their hostages, had prompted a crescendo of criticism from the opposition and the army. The government will thus be gratified to note that only about 10% of the general public share this point of view.

The government’s official probe into the carnage has been finalised and submitted to the Home Ministry, although it is yet to be officially released to the public. Nevertheless, bits and pieces have, of course, been selectively leaked to the press, and the indications are that no links between the mutineers and militant groups have been found. Similarly, there is no concrete evidence that there was any political dimension to the mutiny, nor that any foreign government or intelligence agency played a role.

How accurate and thorough the probe has been remains a question for the historians, but the immediate impact of such an anodyne report will be to insulate the government from any instability on this count. Indeed, the evidence suggests that the incident, less than three months ago, is already fading from public consciousness, and will most likely not result in lasting damage to the government or pose a threat to the stability of the state.

Curbing Militancy
That said, even as the BDR mutiny/massacre is being relegated to the back-burner, there is every sign that Sheikh Hasina’s government has decided to take a strong stand on militancy and anti-state activities.

On 14 May there was a sensational capture from a safe-house in Dhaka of Boma Mizan, the alleged bomb-making mastermind of the Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), and every day brings new revelations with respect to the Chittagong arms haul of 2004 where more than $100 million worth of arms and ammunition were apprehended.

Two former intelligence chiefs have already been arrested in connection with the arms haul case, an action unheard of in the recent history of the country, and one that has sent shock waves through the security community. In addition, another former intelligence chief, who had only recently been relieved of his command, has quietly been retired from active service.

By all accounts, the prime minister seems to have the bit between her teeth and is determined to consolidate her position, both against militant groups, who have always targeted her and her party, and against rogue elements within either the armed forces or the intelligence services, who may also have an interest in destabilising her government. It seems that she is thoroughly persuaded that to not take action would only lead to further instability and even threaten the tenure of her government.

One point to watch is whether the army chief, General Moeen, whose term has been extended once already and which is due to expire in June 2009, is given a further extension, as seems to be on the cards. The army chief was under a great deal of pressure within the army following the BDR massacre/mutiny, with many army officers holding him as responsible as the prime minister for not storming the compound, although he received high marks from independent observers both for subordinating himself to the civilian government and for keeping strict control over the army itself.

If Moeen were to be allowed a second extension it would indicate that the prime minister still believes that he is the best man available to protect her right flank. However, if he manages to survive, just a few months after the slaughter of 57 officers in an incident that led much of the officer corps to demand his resignation, it would also be an indication that he has managed to reconsolidate his control over the army. The evidence of the past two years suggests that he is neither antagonistic to a democratic government, this particular government, nor entertains ambitions to assume power himself. As such, his retention of the army command would be, on balance, a sign of stability.

In short, despite tensions that continue to simmer beneath the surface and threaten to explode at any moment, and despite potential economic problems that do not look like they are going away any time soon, the country seems to be in as stable a position as could be hoped for. Whether this will remain the case as what promises to be a long, hot summer gets underway, remains to be seen. #

First published in Economic & Political Weekly (EPW), May 30, 2009

Zafar Sobhan ( is op-ed editor, The Daily Star, Dhaka

Friday, June 05, 2009

Bangla crackdown

AFTER YEARS of persuasion by the Government of India, Bangladesh Government has finally initiated moves to deal with anti-India forces, which may give a tough time to the leaders of the militant groups using the territory of the neighbouring country as safe haven for years. Bangladesh Government recently started a crackdown on those involved in the arms smuggling case of 2004 and it is reported that the commander-in-chief of the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), Paresh Baruah was forced to escape from that country to take shelter in the Yunan province of China following the crackdown. Way back in 2004, shiploads of arms and ammunition were seized in Bangladesh and though the Government of India has been seeking the detailed reports of the investigations into the incident for years, only recently, the Government of that country launched the crackdown and arrested even former intelligence officials, which exposed the nexus of the Government agencies and militants taking shelter in Bangladesh. If the reports of Paresh Baruah’s escape from Bangladesh are proved to be correct, the ULFA may face serious problems in the days to come as for years, the leaders of the militant outfit have been carrying out anti-India activities from their safe sanctuaries in the neighbouring country. The crackdown and the arrests of former intelligence officials will also act as a deterrent for other Government functionaries, who might be assisting the militant groups and other anti-India forces and it is hard to believe that the militants will be able to survive in Bangladesh without direct or indirect assistance from any Government functionary.

In fact, the hopes of Government of India for receiving help from Bangladesh to deal with the problem of militancy soared after the Awami League Government came to power last year. It was during the previous tenure of the Awami League Government that the ULFA was forced to shift its headquarter from Bangladesh to Bhutan and even the bank accounts of the militant group were seized. But till now, even after the Awami League Government assumed charge, no action has been taken against the leaders of the militant groups taking shelter in that country and Paresh Baruah was forced to shift his base only after the crackdown on those involved in the arms smuggling case. The Bangladesh Government has not yet given any assurance in black and white on handing over ULFA general secretary Anup Chetia to India despite repeated requests by the Government of India. However, on the positive side, the Bangladesh Government has accepted India’s proposal for creating a joint task force for dealing with militants and if the force comes into being, sharing of intelligence between the security forces of both the countries will improve and make life hard for the militants. But under the present circumstances, with the Government of Bangladesh plagued by its own problems, creation of the joint task force may take some time giving enough time to the militants taking shelter in that country to relocate to safer places. #

First published in The Assam Tribune, editorial, June 5, 2009

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Hypocrisy of mourning in Bangladesh

Photo: Human Rights Watch and other human rights networks recommends to disband RAB, which has been dubbed as "death squad"


THE HUSBAND of Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Dr. M. A. Wazed Miah, passed away on May 9 at the age of 67. Wazed Miah, whose reputation as an eminent nuclear scientist went beyond his family’s political spectrum, had been suffering from heart problems, diabetes and other ailments for the last few months.

The death of a loved one is always sad for family members, relatives, friends and well-wishers. Wazed Miah surely had a large number of well-wishers at home and abroad to mourn his death. Many Bangladeshis as well as foreigners expressed their sorrow and condolences after learning of his death.

However, it is not clear how many among those who sent condolences in fact had motives other than the sense of great loss felt by the family.

In the weeks since Wazed Miah’s death, a segment of the country’s politicians, including top policymakers, have been busily using this opportunity to participate in mourning rituals almost every day. Ministers, parliamentarians, senior government officials and public servants have been mourning in public under the banners of various sociopolitical and public institutions.

It appears that the death of a relative of the most powerful person in the government has created an opportunity for political parties – especially the Bangladesh Awami League, the current ruling party – to compete with other parties in displaying their shock and grief. Many leaders hope to get their names in the prime minister’s good book by arranging “mourning” activities across the country.

In the midst of this political mourning, Cyclone Aila struck the coastal and southwestern parts of Bangladesh. At least 150 people died as high waves surged onshore from the Bay of Bengal, and the homes of tens of thousands of people were destroyed.

Thousands of people, who have been homeless since the cyclone hit on May 25, are suffering without food or drinking water, as corruption competes with relief work in the affected areas. The people who lost loved ones in the cyclone have had no chance to mourn their deaths.

Only victims living in easily accessible places are getting small quantities of relief on an irregular basis. However, the government has been serious about creating video footage of relief distribution to a small group of affected people, in an attempt to show the nation that it is taking care of the victims – which is an untrue picture of a painful reality. The government keeps promising the affected people that it will help them.

There are many people in Bangladesh who have been unable to properly mourn the deaths of lost relatives. These include victims of extrajudicial killings by state law-enforcement agencies. When the Rapid Action Battalion, the police and the armed forces kill people, they have only to label them “criminals” – even though they died without trial for their so-called crimes.

In such cases, law enforcers routinely intimidate family members of those who are killed, warning them not to tell anyone, especially human rights defenders and journalists, about the death. In most cases the perpetrators also cordon off the home and burial place of the deceased, barring relatives from speaking out.

Out of more than 1,000 such cases, not a single one has been investigated by a credible authority since the practice of extrajudicial killings was adopted. Ironically, the government keeps pledging to stop extrajudicial killings and bring the perpetrators to justice, claiming “zero tolerance” for this particular practice.

Still, the ruling political party – which cannot create a stable society in which ordinary citizens can mourn their dead – remains busy mourning the death of the prime minister’s husband. This marathon mourning by political leaders is nothing but hypocrisy; it contributes nothing to a nation and people that have so many urgent needs.

The politicians should realize that the practice of extrajudicial killing, which has been institutionalized by successive governments regardless of their political and non-political identities, should be resisted and prosecuted. And if people are killed under unfortunate circumstances, their relatives should be allowed to conduct mourning rituals without intimidation.

Unfortunately this does not happen, because the relatives of victims of extrajudicial killings cannot benefit the politicians as a powerful person like the prime minister can.

All the institutions related to the rule of law – the police, criminal investigators, prosecutors and courts that try criminal cases – lack credibility in Bangladesh. State institutions have been surviving on arbitrariness and impunity instead of equality and justice. The people do not trust these institutions. Thus, what the Bangladeshis really have to mourn is the death of rule of law in the country.

If the leading politicians are not inclined to share in this mourning, they have two options. They can think about how to bury the institutions, so there is no question of legality. Once they have established unhindered lawlessness, the citizens will no longer expect lawful actions in the country.

The other choice is for the government to think about reforming the rule-of-law institutions into genuine, functioning bodies that the people can trust. This has long been an urgent task for the nation. #

First published by UPI Asia Online, Hong Kong, China, June 03, 2009

Rater Zonaki is the pseudonym of a human rights defender based in Hong Kong, working at the Asian Human Rights Commission. He is a Bangladeshi national who has worked as a journalist and human rights activist in his country for more than a decade, and as editor of publications on human rights and socio-cultural issues

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Bangladesh dropped from religious freedom watch list

The Commission held public hearings that examined the threat to religious freedom and security posed by violent religious extremists in Sudan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, and reviewed possible U.S. government responses. Two hearings focused on the impact of religious extremism on religious freedom and security in Bangladesh and Pakistan.

In December 2008, the Commission convened a hearing entitled Bangladesh: Religious Freedom, Extremism, Security, and the Upcoming National Elections. In light of the anti-minority, particularly anti-Hindu, violence associated with Bangladesh‘s 2001 national elections, Commissioners examined the national elections scheduled to be held later that month, the prospects for Bangladesh re-joining the ranks of the Muslim world‘s functioning, moderate democracies, and the Commission‘s long-standing concerns regarding the threat to the human rights posed by religious intolerance and extremism. Seven witnesses participated, including U.S. Ambassador to Bangladesh James F. Moriarty. Representative Crowley (D-NY) participated in the event.

The Commission placed Bangladesh on its Watch List from 2005 to 2008 due to a number of concerns, including past election related violence targeting religious minorities and a range of serious violations of human rights under the previous military-backed ―caretaker government. On December 29, 2008, national elections took place, ending a two-year suspension of democratic governance. International and local observers characterized the elections as free, fair, and peaceful.

The elections brought the Awami League to power, headed by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. The Awami League is considered more favorably disposed toward minority rights protection, based in part on the fact that the 1997 Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accords and the Vested Property Return Act, both measures meant to safeguard minority rights, were established under a previous Awami League administration. The 2008 elections allowed for minorities to exercise their voting rights and proceeded without the anti-minority violence that followed the last national elections in 2001. At that time, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP)-led government failed to investigate or prosecute acts of severe violence, including killings, rape, land seizures, arson, and extortion against religious minorities, particularly Hindus, who were perceived to be allied with the then-opposition Awami League.

The absence of measures to promote minority voting rights and the failure of the government to investigate the severe anti-minority violence of 2001 were among the reasons for placing Bangladesh on the Watch List from 2005 to 2008. In light of the positive developments witnessed during the 2008 elections, the Commission is removing Bangladesh from its Watch List in 2009.

Despite these improvements, Bangladesh continues to have outstanding religious freedom issues and face threats from religious extremism. The Commission therefore urges the new Awami League administration to strengthen protections for all Bangladeshis to enjoy the right to freedom of religion or belief, and undertake efforts to improve conditions for minority religious communities. The Commission hopes that the government of Bangladesh will investigate and prosecute to the fullest extent of the law perpetrators of violent acts against members of minority religious communities, women, and non-governmental organizations. Reforms of the judiciary and the police are also necessary to ensure that law enforcement and security services are equally protective of the rights of all, including Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, Ahmadis, and other minorities. Additional efforts are needed to counter societal and governmental discrimination in access to public services, the legal system, and government, military, and police employment.

Following independence from Pakistan in 1971, Bangladesh was established as a secular state in which national identity was based on Bengali language and culture. Although the 1972 constitution guaranteed the freedom of religion, subsequent military regimes added amendments affirming that ―absolute trust and faith in Allah is ―the basis for all [government] actions. Islam was made Bangladesh‘s state religion in 1988 under H.M. Ershad‘s military dictatorship.

Aided by the expansion of Islamic schools (madrassas) and charities, many of which receive foreign funding with varying degrees of government oversight, Islamist activists have gained significantly in political, economic, and social influence in recent years. Members of Jamaat-e-Islami allegedly used their influence in the previous BNP-led government to deny funding to or otherwise disadvantage groups viewed as opposing Jamaat‘s Islamist political and social agenda. Although some calling for a more Islamist Bangladesh engaged in peaceful political and social activities, others adopted an approach sanctioning violence towards perceived opponents of Islam.

On January 11, 2007, threats by the then opposition party, the Awami League, to boycott the national elections, alongside an ongoing controversy over voter registration and the impartiality of the electoral process, prompted the caretaker government to declare emergency rule and indefinitely suspend the upcoming national elections. The military was given sanction to enforce emergency rule, which included the suspension of the freedoms of speech and assembly, and due process, among other rights. The caretaker government was widely criticized by international and local human rights agencies for serious human rights abuses, including suspected extrajudicial killings by the security forces, arbitrary detentions, torture, curbs on press freedom, and violations of the right of due process.

Even during periods of democratic governance, Bangladesh‘s high levels of political violence and instability have provided opportunities for religious and other extremist groups to engage in criminal activities with relative impunity. Authors, journalists, academics, and women‘s rights and civil society activists debating sensitive social or political issues, or expressing opinions deemed by radical Islamists to be offensive to Islam, have been subject to violent, sometimes fatal, attacks. Some Muslim clerics, especially in rural areas, have also sanctioned vigilante punishments against women for alleged moral transgressions. Rape is reportedly a common form of anti-minority violence, and sexual assaults on Hindu women were reported in 2008. The government commonly fails to punish perpetrators, since the law enforcement and the judicial systems, especially at the local level, are vulnerable to corruption, intimidation, and political interference.

Bangladesh was ranked tenth from the bottom on Transparency International‘s 2008 Corruption Perceptions Index. From 2001-2005, Bangladesh was ranked at the bottom of the list. Islamist extremists coordinated a wave of hundreds of almost simultaneous bomb attacks, carried out in all but one of Bangladesh‘s 64 districts on August 17, 2005. These extremists were also implicated in a series of bomb attacks on Bangladesh‘s judiciary in October-November 2005 which accompanied a demand to substitute sharia law for Bangladesh‘s secular jurisprudence system. In March 2007, six members of the armed Islamist group Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), including JMB leader Sheikh Abdur Rahman and Siddiqul Islam, alias ―Bangla Bhai, were executed for their involvement in the 2005 bombings. During the 2007-2008 emergency, Islamist groups rose in political prominence and public visibility. In September 2007, emergency restrictions on assembly were apparently waived to allow Jamaat and other Islamist supporters to burn effigies and stage public protests against the publication of a newspaper cartoon they believed mocked an element of Bangladeshi Islamic culture. Cartoonist Arifur Rahman was jailed without charge for six months. In March 2008, restrictions on assembly were again ostensibly lifted to allow protests by Islamic groups against a policy proposed by a consortium of women‘s organizations to strengthen constitutional provision for the equal rights of women. In October 2008, federal agencies removed five sculptures of traditional Bengali musicians opposite Zia International Airport in Dhaka at the behest of Islamic leaders, who allegedly deemed the sculptures ―un-Islamic.

In February 2009, during a mutiny of the border security force, the Bangladesh Rifles, 74 Army officers were killed. Some news reports alleged the involvement of Bangladesh- and Pakistan-based Islamists, although details surrounding the revolt remain unclear. In March 2009, a cache of weapons was found at a madrassa in the south of Bangladesh. According to news reports, some government officials fear a re-arming of Islamist extremist groups in the lull following the government crackdown and executions.

Although the constitution provides protections for women and minorities, Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, Ahmadis, and other minorities must regularly grapple with societal discrimination, as well as face prejudice that hinders their ability to access public services, the legal system, and government, military, and police employment. Religious minorities are also underrepresented in elected political offices, including the national parliament. The Vested Property Act (VPA) continues to be used as justification by some Muslims to seize Hindu-owned land. The VPA‘s implicit presumption that Hindus do not belong in Bangladesh contributes to the perception that Hindu owned property can be seized with impunity.

The most serious and sustained conflict along ethnic and religious lines has been in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT), an area with a high concentration of non-Bengali, non-Muslim indigenous peoples (often referred to as Adivasis, Paharis, or Jumma). Resentment among members of indigenous groups remains strong over settler encroachment, human rights abuses by the Bangladeshi military, and the slow, inconsistent implementation of the 1997 Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accords. Muslim Bengalis, once a tiny minority in the CHT, now reportedly equal or outnumber indigenous groups. In 2007, Bangladesh human rights organizations reported a surge in Bengali settlements on tribal land in the CHT. In 2008 in the Sajek area of the CHT, tribal residents endured military-backed encroachment by Muslim Bengali settlers, via home burnings and land seizures.

On December 29, 2008, a few hours before the general elections, a Buddhist temple and three homes in a minority-dominated part of Fatikchari, CHT were subject to an arson attack, reportedly to intimidate minorities and scare them into nonparticipation on voting day.

Bangladesh‘s small Ahmadi community of about 100,000 is the target of a campaign to designate the Ahmadis as ―non-Muslim heretics. In January 2004, the BNP government bent to extremist Islamist pressure and banned the publication and distribution of Ahmadi religious literature. Police seized Ahmadi publications on a few occasions before the ban was stayed by the courts in December 2004. The ban is not currently enforced. An Ahmadi library, closed by local officials in Dinajur district in March 2008, remained closed through the reporting period. In some instances, local anti-Ahmadi agitation has been accompanied by mob violence in which Ahmadi homes have been destroyed and Ahmadis are held against their will and pressured to recant. However, violence against Ahmadis has diminished due to improved and more vigorous police protection.

The Commission has recommended that the U.S. government encourage the new government of Bangladesh to take early action on the following issues and ensure consistent implementation: 1) investigate and prosecute perpetrators of the anti minority violence that occurred in the wake of the 2001 national elections; 2) repeal the Vested Property Act and commit to restoring or compensating for properties seized, including to the heirs of original owners; 3) rescind the 2004 order banning Ahmadi publications, and ensure adequate police response to attacks against Ahmadis; 4) enforce all provisions of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accords and declare that members of Bangladesh's tribal communities are deserving of the full rights of Bangladeshi citizenship; 5) create and support the promised National Human Rights Commission, which should be independent, adequately funded, inclusive of women and minorities, and defined by a broad mandate that includes freedom of religion or belief; 6) include in all public and madrassa school curricula, textbooks, and teacher trainings information on tolerance and respect for freedom of religion or belief; and 7) ensure that members of minority communities have equal access to government services and public employment, including in the judiciary and high-level government positions. #

Excerpts from the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom’s 2009 Annual Report, May 1, 2009