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Saturday, July 31, 2010

Bangladesh Supreme Court paves way for secular politics

Photo: Bangladesh Supreme Court in capital Dhaka and (below) Law Minister Shafique Ahmed


THE SUPREME Court of Bangladesh has imposed a ban on political parties that propagate Islamic ideology, reverting to the first Constitution 38 year ago.

The 184- page judgment was issued on Wednesday. The apex court got rid of bulk of the fifth constitutional amendment, 1979, including provisions that had allowed religious political parties to prosper, and legitimised military dictatorship.

The verdict dubbed such parties as extra- constitutional adventurers and suggested “suitable punishment” to these perpetrators who installed military regimes and imposed martial laws.

It is a major blow to the Islamist parties as they advocate imposition of the Sharia and for the Quran and Sunna to overshadow the state constitution.

The Islamists also demand that the 158 million strong, Muslim- dominated country should be an Islamic republic.

Nearly 11 Islamic parties are likely to fall under the axe of the independent Bangladesh election commission, said election commissioner Muhammad Sakhawat Hussain. The election commission will take action once the judgement reaches their office.

Eleven Islamic parties, including the Jamaat- e- Islami that is blamed for its involvement in war crimes and crimes against humanity during the 1971 war of independence, were registered with the election commission.

Five senior leaders of the Islamist party were recently arrested and are awaiting trial by the International War Crimes Tribunal set up in accordance with an election pledge of the present Awami League government.

Law minister Shafique Ahmed said “ secularism will be reinstated in the Constitution” in line with the Supreme Court ruling.

“The amendments that were enforced by military orders from August 15, 1975, to April 9, 1979, have been declared illegal and repealed by the Supreme Court,” the law minister said.

The first constitution of Bangladesh included secularism as a key political philosophy based in the spirit of the war of independence that severed the country from Pakistan in 1971.

After the assassination of founder Shiekh Mujibur Rahman in a military putsch in 1975, the army- led government doctored the Constitutions guiding principle and penned Bismillahhir Rahmanhir Rahim, or Faith in Allah, into it in 1979

Simultaneously, religion- based parties were legalised and ushered into politics in 1979, which is known as fifth amendment.

Shafique alleged that the changes made in the Constitution through the fifth amendment were against the spirit of the war of independence, which also went against a democratic and non- communal state.

Another military junta dared to rewrite the Constitution and made Islam the “ state religion” and also incorporated Quranic verses in it.

However, the amendment made by the second military- backed government will not be affected by the court verdict, Shafique said.

International jurist and author of the secular constitution Dr Kamal Hossain said there was no hurdle in implementing it. The government will now have to issue a gazette notification that will endorse the historical judgement.

Finance minister AMA Muhith said establishing a non- communal, prosperous and rights- based social structure was the main challenge before the country.

Since the Awami Leagues win over the Islamist- allied Bangladesh Nationalist Party ( BNP) in 2008, the government has cracked down on Islamic groups and parties.

BNP founder General Ziaur Rahman had put the 1979 amendments in place during his 1975- 1981 regime. The party, now led by his widow, Khaleda Zia, appealed against the courts first ruling on the amendments in January. #

First published in The Mail Today, page 9, July 31, 2010

Saleem Samad is a Bangladesh- based journalist

Copyright © 2008 MAIL TODAY

Monday, July 19, 2010

Bangladeshi born Canadian extremist Salman Hossain charged with promoting genocide


A CANADIAN extremist who has allegedly called for the “extermination” of Jews has been charged with promoting genocide, marking the first time such a case filed in Canada.

Salman Hossain was charged by Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) following an investigation into Internet posts that advocate the mass killing of Jews in Canada and other Western countries.

At a press conference, out-going OPP Commissioner Julian Fantino and Deputy Commissioner Vince Hawkes announced the unprecedented charge against the Bangladeshi-Canadian, who left Mississauga for South Asia before the five-month police investigation was finished.
The charges were welcomed by the Canadian Jewish Congress, which has long pressed the Ministry of the Attorney General — which must approve hate crimes charges — to streamline the process, and move forward with the case against the 25-year-old.

“Auschwitz did not begin with gas chambers, but with words,” said Bernie Farber, CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress. “Mr. Hossain’s words and actions speak for themselves, and he must be held accountable under the law.”

“I think it is the beginning of the end of political correctness,” said Tarek Fatah, founder of the Muslim Canadian Congress. “I’m glad that more people are waking up to the realization that if you want to fight malaria, you have to drain the swamps — you can’t just shoot down mosquitos.”

Police first took an interest in Mr. Hossain after he allegedly posted messages on the Internet about the arrests of suspects accused of plotting terrorist attacks at a German military base and at Frankfurt International Airport.
“Kill as many western soldiers as well so that they think twice before entering foreign countries on behalf of their Jew masters,” he allegedly wrote in late 2007.

Over the past three years, Salman Hossain has openly called for terrorist attacks in Canada, cheered the killing of Canadian troops in Afghanistan and urged fellow Muslims to "exterminate" Canada's Jewish population.

When police started showing up at his suburban home in Mississauga in 2007, he was not chastened. He wrote that he "honestly got a kick out of pissing off the RCMP.... HAHAHA.... You can't charge me for possessing a thought."

The announcement comes nine months after Ontario Attorney-General Chris Bentley told the Jewish community the Crown had decided not to proceed with charges against Mr. Hossain because he was in a rehabilitation program to correct his behaviour.

Far from being rehabilitated, however, Mr. Hossain has only become more outspoken since then. He now openly urges Muslims to organize an invasion of Canada to overthrow the "Jewish run Canadian government" and begin the "mass extermination" of Canada's Jews.

While Mr. Hossain will face criminal charges, arresting him will be more complicated. He left the country before the OPP investigation was completed and is now in South Asia, where he continues to advocate racist violence on his U.S.-based website.
"Yes, I am a fanatic," he wrote in one of his recent posts from abroad. "I am ready to kill millions." Recently he wrote, "We must never cease in our efforts to eliminate the Jewish people from the face of the earth. Their permanent liquidation and destruction is the only solution."

Under Canada's hate propaganda law, it is illegal to advocate or promote genocide against an identifiable group. Offenders face up to five years imprisonment for each count. The law has been on the books for decades, but it has never been used.

Canada's only genocide trials to date have involved suspects accused of mass atrocities abroad, in countries such as Rwanda. The government has also deported suspected war criminals on the grounds they were complicit in genocides.

But Mr. Hossain's repeated calls for the mass killings of Jews may have prompted the authorities to put the genocide law to its first test. All charges under the hate propaganda section of the Criminal Code require the approval of the provincial Attorney-General.
In addition to filing charges, the OPP could use the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty to ask its law enforcement partners in the United States to shut down the website that posts Mr. Hossain's alleged hate materials.

Mr. Hossain did not respond to an email asking whether he would return voluntarily to Canada to face charges, but his "official spokesman" told a Post reporter on May 21: "You need to stop your harassment of Mr. Hossin, because he's not the only one calling for your execution you rat faced scumbag ... Every last Jew on planet earth needs [sic] executed IMMEDIATELY ..."

Born in Bangladesh, Mr. Hossain immigrated to Canada with his parents, who once told a reporter her son was "stupid, an idiot and immature." Online, he has described himself as "a regular Muslim supporting the jihad overseas" and a friend of the Toronto 18 terrorists who have pleaded guilty to plotting attacks in southern Ontario.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) started investigating Mr. Hossain at least three years ago, when he began calling for terrorist attacks in Canada. In response, students at the University of Toronto Mississauga launched a campaign to have him expelled.

Shortly after Mr. Bentley's announcement, Mr. Hossain resurfaced on Filthy Jewish Terrorists, a conspiracy theory website, with headlines such as "The Jews and the West must be nuked" and "The destruction of the West is the only way to exterminate the Jews."

He also do not spare other non-Muslim groups, he writes harshly about Christians and moderate Canadian Muslims, whom he dubs them as "traitors."

On the website, Mr. Hossain uses terminology reminiscent of the far right and neo-Nazis, writing that "a genocide should be perpetrated against the Jewish populations of North America and Europe." Another post on the site reads, "we need to start carrying out genocide against the Jewish people ... Their permanent extermination is the only solution."
York University suspended Mr. Hossain after the National Post reported he was under investigation. "I do not believe in 'Canadian' values whatever they mean," he responded on his website. "I forfeit my Canadian citizenship and will not literally participate in their fabricated judicial system."

If he has revoked his Canadian citizenship, it is likely that he has switched to citizenship of Bangladesh.

“Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms includes the right to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly,” said Commissioner Fantino. “But we must not stand idly by when these rights are used as a shield to promote hatred against in a community.”

The National Post first reported in January 2008 that police were investigating Mr. Hossain after he allegedly posted messages online saying he enjoyed “watching the blood flow from the western troops” and allegedly said “the Jews are literally the most treacherous nation on the face of the Earth.”
He is now facing charges of wilfully promoting hatred and advocating or promoting genocide against an identifiable group.

Although Mr. Hossain is no longer living in Canada, Deputy Commissioner Hawkes said the OPP is “doing everything in our power to bring him to justice.”

Editors Note: Well it is not clear where he is presently living. Canadian security agencies believe he has either hiding in Bangladesh or sneaked into Pakistan. Canadian authority hopefully will contact Bangladesh to help deport the anti-Jew hate-offender.

Canada does not have an extradition treaty with Bangladesh, but Ottawa is likely to request Dhaka to arrest and return him to stand trial. At the very least, the approval of charges means he will be immediately arrested if he sets foot in Canada again.
Bangladesh may detain fugitive Salman Hossain, but it is likely that he will not be deported, as Canada has earlier refused to extradite renegade military officer Nur Chowdhury, accused of assassination of Bangladesh founder Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in August 1975 military putsch. #

First published in the National Post, Canada, July 8, 2010


Sunday, July 18, 2010

Bangladesh, With Low Pay, Moves In on China


Bangladesh — The eight-lane highway leading from the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, narrows repeatedly as it approaches this town about 30 miles north, eventually depositing cars onto a muddy, potholed lane bordered by mangroves and small shops.

But this is no mere rural backwater. It is the sort of place to which foreign manufacturers may increasingly turn, if the rising wage demands of factory workers in China prompt companies to seek new pools of cheap labor elsewhere.

Already, in factories behind steel gates and tall concrete walls, tens of thousands of workers, most of them women, spend their days stitching T-shirts, pants and sweaters for Wal-Mart, H & M, Zara and other Western retailers and brands.

One of the Bangladeshi companies here, the DBL Group, employs 9,000 people making T-shirts and other knitwear. Business has been so good that the company is finishing a new 10-story building with open floors the size of soccer fields, planted with row after row of sewing machines.
“Our family needed the money, so we came here,” said Maasuda Akthar, a 21-year-old sewing machine operator for DBL.

As costs have risen in China, long the world’s shop floor, it is slowly losing work to countries like Bangladesh, Vietnam and Cambodia — at least for cheaper, labor-intensive goods like casual clothes, toys and simple electronics that do not necessarily require literate workers and can tolerate unreliable transportation systems and electrical grids.

Li & Fung, a Hong Kong company that handles sourcing and apparel manufacturing for companies like Wal-Mart and Liz Claiborne, reported that its production in Bangladesh jumped 20 percent last year, while China, its biggest supplier, slid 5 percent.

“Bangladesh is getting very competitive,” William Fung, Li & Fung’s group managing director, told analysts in March.

The flow of jobs to poorer countries like Bangladesh started even before recent labor unrest in China led to big pay raises for many factory workers there — and before changes in Beijing’s currency policy that could also raise the costs of Chinese exports. Now, though, economists expect the migration of China’s low-paying jobs to accelerate.

And while workers in Bangladesh and other developing countries are demanding higher pay, too — leading to a clash between police and protesters earlier this week in a garment hub outside Dhaka — they still earn much less than Chinese factory workers.

Bangladesh, for instance, has the lowest garment wages in the world, according to labor rights advocates. Ms. Akthar, who is relatively well paid by local standards, earns about $64 a month. That compares to minimum wages in China’s coastal industrial provinces ranging from $117 to $147 a month.

“The Chinese firms that are beginning to get into trouble are producing textiles, rubber footwear and things like that,” said Barry Eichengreen, a professor of economics and political science at the University of California. “And there are lots of countries in South Asia and East Asia and in Central America that would like to fill this space.”
But Bangladesh has its own challenges to overcome.

China’s combination of a vast population of migrant workers, many with at least elementary school educations, along with modern roads, railways and power grids in its industrial provinces, has bestowed it with manufacturing capabilities that countries like Bangladesh cannot offer.Beijing also provides low-cost loans and other incentives to its industries that other countries have trouble matching for theirs.

Most of Bangladesh, meanwhile, suffers blackouts six to seven hours a day because it has not invested enough in power plants and natural gas fields — deficiencies that the government is working on but that will not be eliminated quickly.

The country has a literacy rate of only 55 percent — compared with more than 92 percent in China. As a result, workers in this country are only one-fourth as productive as the Chinese in making shirts, jackets and other woven clothes, according to a report by the Center for Policy Dialogue, an independent research organization based in Dhaka.

Despite its handicaps, Bangladesh nearly doubled garment exports from 2004 to 2009. And the industry now employs about three million people, more than any other industrial segment in this largely agrarian country of 160 million. From June through November last year, garment exports accounted for more than 80 percent of the country’s total exports of $7.1 billion.
Among developing countries, Bangladesh is the third-biggest exporter of clothing after mainland China, which exported $120 billion in 2008, and Turkey, a distant No. 2, according to the World Trade Organization.

And with nearly 70 million people of working age, Bangladesh could probably absorb many more of China’s 20 million garment industry jobs.

Still, some of the changes in China could prove to be mixed blessings for Bangladesh. If China allows its currency, the renminbi, to trade more freely, Bangladeshi exports would become more competitive.

But a stronger renminbi could also hurt Bangladesh by raising the price of machinery and fabric imported from China, its biggest supplier, said Ahmed Mushfiq Mobarak, an assistant professor of economics at the Yale School of Management. Over time, Bangladesh could buy more from other countries, like India, but those countries first would need to build up significant production capacity.

And as in China, workers in Bangladesh have started demanding higher pay. In recent weeks, labor protests have periodically shut down garment factories as thousands of workers battled police in Dhaka and other garment hubs like Gazipur. Late last month, police clashed with about 15,000 protesters on a busy Dhaka street lined with garment factories. In one exchange, a clutch of protesters lobbed bricks at police officers from an alley opposite the Outright Fashion factory, before fleeing as the officers charged at them with batons, tear gas canisters and the hot, colored water used to both disperse protesters and mark them for later identification.
Garment workers are demanding a 200 percent increase in the minimum wage, to 5,000 taka (about $71) a month — which is how much workers with several years of experience now earn. The government, which plans to announce a new minimum wage soon, last increased it in 2006, to 1,662.50 taka (about $24). Since then, inflation has been as high as 9.9 percent a year.

“Most garment workers live in slum areas where one room costs 2,000 to 3,000 taka,” said Mushrefa Mishu, president of the Garment Workers’ Unity Forum, an association that claims to represent more than 60,000 members.

Labor leaders want the government to make it easier for workers to form unions — very few factories are unionized today — and to require higher safety standards and better working conditions.

In January, H&M, Wal-Mart, Gap, Tesco and other Western clothing buyers asked the Bangladeshi government to raise the minimum wage and reset it every year, although the group did not specify what the wage should be. A spokeswoman for H&M, Malin Bjorne, said the company was willing to pay more for clothing to help support higher wages. It is unclear whether other companies would do the same.
But factory owners here argue that a big increase in wages would make them uncompetitive against Vietnam and other big producers, which have higher labor costs but also have better infrastructure and are more efficient producers. If that happened, Bangladesh’s China opportunity could prove all too fleeting, they say.

“If it’s 5,000 taka, I would close all my factories,” said Anisul Huq, a former head of the Bangladeshi garment industry’s trade group and a factory owner whose customers include H&M and Wal-Mart. “Even if it’s 3,000 taka, lots of factories will close within three or four months.” #

First published in New York Times, USA, July 16, 2010

Vikas Bajaj is a correspondent for The New York Times in Mumbai, India, where he writes primarily about economic and business issues. He graduated from Michigan State University in 1998 and joined the Times in 2005, having previously worked at The Dallas Morning News. He was born in Mumbai and returned to India in the spring of 2009

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Hidden shame of ship-breaking industry

Green Pioneer: Rizwana Hasan
Each year hundreds of ships are taken to Chittagong, Bangladesh, to be broken up...Men armed with hammers and cutters strip the ships for scrap metal…Rizwana Hasan works to expose risks to workers, the environment…Critics accuse her of wanting to shut down an important source of jobs

RIZWANA HASAN is a divisive figure in Bangladesh. Heralded by some as an eco-pioneer, a labor rights campaigner and a "take no prisoners" lawyer, she also is characterized as being on a mission to destroy an industry that employs thousands.

Her works focuses on the effects of the ship-breaking industry in Chittagong. Each year hundreds of massive tankers, ferries and cargo ships from around the world are driven onto the mud flats in Chittagong, and then literally attacked by hundreds of men armed with little more than hammers, cutters and brute-force.

They strip the ships for their scrap metal, salvaging what they can, discarding what they can't. Rizwana is the executive director of Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA) and has been fighting the industry for decades. BELA has launched numerous legal challenges against the shipyards, which it claims don't care about the environment or the safety of their employees.

"All these ships contain very hazardous materials like asbestos, PCBs, and they are in-built in the system, so in a country like Bangladesh we do not have technologies to deal with this sort of hazardous substance," Rizwana Hasan told CNN.

"There is a huge amount of waste oil and water that are eventually released into our coastal environments. In the process our soil gets contaminated, the fishery gets contaminated, the air gets polluted. And we are all inhaling it without knowing the effect of it," she said.

The issue of worker safety also is a concern.

The casualties of the trade are easy to find -- Mohammed Murad worked in ship-breaking for 10 years until a 20-ton slab of metal fell on his leg last year. He says that, with Rizwana's help, he got some compensation, but the company had originally refused to pay anything after he lost his leg.

"It's too dangerous, too dangerous. The company doesn't give us any security," Murad said. "They tell us to do it quickly, to cut quickly, If you die in the field, no problem, but you have to work quickly."

There are 78 ship-breaking yards scattered along the Chittagong coast. As we found out when we traveled there, most are hidden from the road, often unmarked at the end of small lanes from the highway. The staff was unwilling to let us film inside or talk to the owners.

Last year, Rizwana says some 160 ships were dismantled in the yards -- a process described as ship recycling by the International Maritime Organization, a U.N. agency responsible for maritime safety and preventing pollution from ships. Rizwana calls it an "old boys club" for the industry.

Rizwana grew up in a politically active family and after completing her masters at age 24 she joined BELA, rising to become one of the country's leading lawyers and the association's director. In 2009 she was awarded the prestigious Goldman Environmental prize.

Rebuffing accusations from critics, she insists she does not want the ship-breaking industry to shut down. She realizes its importance as a source of employment, money and its potential as a good recycling initiative.

But she is determined that it should operate responsibly and within the law. She says ships containing hazardous material, such as asbestos, need to have these substances removed before they arrive in Bangladesh. She says the country simply doesn't have the facilities to deal with them. In March 2009 Bangladesh's Supreme Court ruled that ships entering the country for decommissioning must be "pre-cleaned" in line with The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal, known more simply as the Basel Convention.

The international treaty was designed to reduce the movements of hazardous waste between nations. Under the treaty, a country must not allow the export of a ship containing hazardous materials if it suspects that the waste will not be properly dealt with by the ship-breaking country.

Dr. Nikos Mikelis from the International Maritime Organization agrees that the ship-breaking industry needs better regulation but says it performs a vital role in Bangladesh, providing valuable jobs.

"It's a benefit to the country, all that is missing is order and order can brought by suitable regulation and enforcement. I believe it can be done. You don't close down the industry because it's not doing correctly now, you adjust it," Mikelis said.

According to Rizwana, the problem is that in countries like Bangladesh, rules such as the Basel Convention are not always observed and not applied to the ships themselves, only to their cargo. She maintains that ships often are re-registered in "flag of convenience" countries before being sent to Chittagong, with few checks about what hazardous substances are contained within the equipment and superstructure of the vessel.

While Rizwana has won a number of key legal battles, she says many of the shipyards' bad practices continue, with new yards opening each year. Her opponents at the yards themselves remain acutely angry with her -- so much so that she feels it would be unsafe for her to even travel to Chittagong. But Rizwana says simply shining a spotlight on the industry is an achievement in itself.

"We have been able to give a bad name to the industry, and the industry deserves a bad name," she said. #

First published in CNN International, July 12, 2010
Dan Rivers is an award-winning correspondent for CNN International, based in the network’s Bangkok bureau. He covers news and business stories from across South East Asia

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Bangladesh: Re-open Shuttered Newspaper Amar Desh; Free Editor

Investigate Serious Allegations of Torture in Detention

THE BANGLADESH authorities’ forced closing of a daily newspaper linked to the political opposition and the detention of its editor appear to have violated both freedom of expression and due process, Human Rights Watch said today. The government should immediately ensure that an impartial investigation is conducted into allegations by the editor, Mahmudur Rahman, that he was beaten and abused in custody, Human Rights Watch said.

Human Rights Watch called on the government to reinstate the printing license of the newspaper, Amar Desh, and to allow it to re-open immediately and operate without hindrance. The government also should ensure that Rahman is either immediately released or immediately given a free and fair trial in accordance with international standards. Rahman told the magistrate that he was severely beaten in police custody and that the Rapid Action Battalion, the anti-crime and anti-terrorism elite force of the Bangladesh police, later blindfolded him and handcuffed him to the window bars in a cell, forcing him to stand there for a long period of time without food or water.

“Shutting down a newspaper and jailing its editor shows the Bangladesh government apparently fears a free and unencumbered press,” said Tej Thapa, South Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Intimidation and violence against the media betray the principles of a robust democracy, which is what the ruling Awami League said it was striving for when it campaigned for office.”

More than 100 police in riot gear stormed the offices of Amar Desh in the middle of the night of June 2, 2010, and arrested Rahman. At least 34 charges have been lodged against him, including 28 involving defamation. The police shut down the printing press, said the paper’s license to print had been revoked, and took away all copies of the newspaper that had been printed for that morning’s distribution. Police officers attacked and wounded several journalists working the late night shift.

Rahman and his staff had been under pressure from the government for critical reporting about the Bangladesh government. The paper has remained shut ever since, with the government trying to justify its actions by accusing Rahman of fraud. In multiple rulings on freedom of expression, the European Court of Human Rights has held that suspension of newspapers will be a human rights violation unless the authorities demonstrate very strong justifications, including that less stringent restrictions were not possible.

“Questioning government actions and highlighting corruption and abuses of power are critically important media functions in any democracy,” Thapa said. “Rather than send in police with batons and padlocks, the government should respond to legitimate criticisms by addressing them. Unsubstantiated allegations of fraud against an editor are no justification for shutting down a newspaper.”

Human Rights Watch called on the judicial authorities in Bangladesh to act swiftly either to release Rahman, or if they have lawfully obtained evidence to bring him to trial, to ensure that he receives a free and fair trial.

The authorities should also fully examine the credibility and legitimacy of any evidence they have gathered. The publisher of Amar Desh, Mohammad Hasmat Ali, told Rahman that members of National Security Intelligence took him to their headquarters and forced him to sign two blank sheets of paper. The authorities subsequently claimed that Ali had signed two statements, and that they had decided to take legal action against Rahman on the basis of those statements.

Bangladesh is a state party to both the Convention Against Torture and Other Forms of Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), and to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Under CAT, the Bangladesh government must ensure that any person who alleges he has been subject to torture has the right “to complain to and to have his case promptly and impartially examined by competent authorities.” Under article 14 of the ICCPR, the Bangladesh government must ensure a fair and public trial for anyone charged with a criminal offense, and such a trial must take place “without undue delay.” Article 19 of the ICCPR requires Bangladesh to protect freedom of expression, which can only be restricted if clearly set out by law for a handful of permitted reasons (including national security) and only when strictly necessary.

“The government of Bangladesh should ensure a fair and independent investigation into all the charges against Rahman as well as his serious allegations of torture,” Thapa said. “The government needs to make clear to government security forces that the era of torture with impunity is over.” #

Global release from New York, July 8, 2010

To read the May 2009 report, “Ignoring Executions and Torture: Impunity for Bangladesh’s Security Forces,” please visit:

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on Bangladesh, please visit:

Monday, July 05, 2010

Bangladesh and war crimes: Blighted at birth

The odds are still stacked against an effective tribunal
NEARLY 40 years after perhaps 3m people died in Bangladesh’s war of secession from Pakistan, the government insists retribution is looming for those guilty of war crimes. Three months ago the government, led by the Awami League, of Sheikh Hasina, the prime minister, set up a war-crimes tribunal to try alleged perpetrators. This was one of the League’s main promises in the campaign for the election that it won in a landslide in December 2008. Many Bangladeshis, however, still doubt that the promise will be kept.

Bangladesh, formerly East Pakistan, became independent in December 1971 after a nine-month war against West Pakistan. The West’s army had the support of many of East Pakistan’s Islamist parties. They included Jamaat-e-Islami, still Bangladesh’s largest Islamist party, which has a student wing that manned a pro-army paramilitary body, called Al Badr. It is these collaborators the government wants to try, not the main culprits in the former West Pakistan army.

As far as the League and many citizens are concerned, this is a simple matter of validating the historical truth, which included appalling massacres and a concerted drive to wipe out the new nation’s intelligentsia. In 1995 a self-appointed panel of eminent citizens, co-ordinated by the current law minister, Shafique Ahmed, compiled “evidence” on individuals they accused of war crimes. The list includes many of the most senior figures in Jamaat-e-Islami. So far, no one has been charged, but the government has banned roughly 50 suspects from leaving the country. This week three senior Jamaat leaders were arrested on unrelated charges. To the opposition this smacked of petty harassment.

The United Nations and Western governments are wary of lending support to a tribunal unless it conforms to international standards of due process. But without foreign funds and technical support, those standards are unlikely to be met. Technical disputes over the process, however, mask a more fundamental worry: that in hunting those with four-decade-old blood on their hands, Sheikh Hasina is conveniently hounding her enemies. If the trials confirm the conclusions of the 1995 inquiry, the outcome might conceivably be the execution of nearly all of Jamaat’s leaders.

Posing perhaps an even bigger obstacle than Western scruples is Saudi Arabia, which sells its oil to Bangladesh at subsidised prices and employs more than 2m of its citizens. It is concerned about plans to reinstate the country’s 1972 constitution, with four “pillars” that include secularism (the others are nationalism, socialism and democracy). Saudi Arabia recognised Bangladesh as an independent country a few months after the assassination in 1975 of the country’s first prime minister, Sheikh Hasina’s father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. That paved the way for a return of religion-based parties, banned by the 1972 constitution. So reinstating and enforcing that original constitution might amount to an outright ban on Jamaat, the standard-bearer in Bangladesh for a conservative strain of Islam, and a staunch Saudi ally.

As for war-crimes trials, Mr Ahmed says Saudi Arabia has given the “green light”. Indeed, it has denied allegations that it opposes them. But the number of Bangladeshis taking up jobs in Saudi Arabia has dropped to under 800 a month, down from an average of 11,000 in 2008 and 17,000 in 2007. Not everyone blames the economic downturn. #

First published in The Economist, July 1st 2010

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Press Freedom and Prime Minister Shiekh Hasina

File Photo: Assassinated journalist Manik Saha, Khulna


THE PRIME minister, Sheikh Hasina, on Wednesday told the parliament that a total of 14 journalists were murdered by the criminals during the five-year rule of Bangladesh Nationalist Party-led alliance government between 2001 and 2006. However she did not mention the number of the death journalists during her earlier and current term. She also didn't mention how many TV Channels and newspapers were closed in Bangladesh during the ruling of her party Bangladesh Awami League.

She also mentioned that apart from these deaths, some 384 journalists were repressed by police and RAB and the then ruling party or arrested during that period, replying to a question from Meher Afroz of Gazipur-5.

The Prime Minister named the killed were : Harun-Al-Rashid of the Daily Purbaanchhal in Khulna, Sukur Hossain of Dainik Anirban in Khulna, Syed Faruk Ahmed of Pubali Barta in Srimangal, Manik Saha of BBC in Khulna, Humayun Kabir Balu of Janmabhumi in Khulna, Kamal Hossain of Ajker Kagoj in Manikchhari in Khagrachhari, Sheikh Belal Uddin of Dainik Sangram in Khulna, Enamul Islam Ena in Kushtia, Golam Mahfuz of Muktakantha in Comilla, Gautam Das of Dainik Samakal in Faridpur, Navil Abdul Latif of New Age in Dhaka, Chancal Kumar Singh of Janmabhumi in Satkhira, Dipankar Chakravarti of Dainik Durjoy in Bogra.

The actual figure says, 30 Journalist have been killed since last 17 years in Bangladesh. The killed journalists and writer are 1) Manik Saha (Khulna), 15 January, 2004, 2) Humayun Kabir Balu(Khulna), 27 June, 2005, 3) Shamsur Rahman Cable (Jessore), 16 July, 2000, 4) Harun-ur-Rashid Khokon (Khulna), April, 2003, 5) Saiful Alam Mukul (Jessore), 30 August, 1998, 6) Dipankar Chakrabarty (Bogura), 20 October, 2004, 7) Goutam Das (Faridpur), 8)Sheikh Belaluddin (Khulna), 2005, 9) S.M. Alauddin (Satkhira), 19 June, 1996, 10) Golam Mazed (Jessore), 11) Mir Ilias Hossen Dileep (Jhenidha), 15 January, 2000, 12) Shukur Ali alias Shukur Hossen (Dumuria-Khulna), 5 July, 2002, 13) Nahar Ali (Dumuria-Khulna), 18 April, 2001, 14) Ahsan Ali (Rupgonj-Narayangonj), 20 July, 2001, 15) Kazi Md. Kamruzzaman (Nilfhamari),1996, 16) Syed Faruk Ahamed (Shrimongol-Moulobhi Bazar), May, 2002, 17) Bazlur Rahman (Chuadanga), 18) Kamal Hossen (Khagrachari), 21 August, 2004, 19) Anwar Apolo, 20) Abdul Latif Nabil, 21) Zamaluddin (Rangamati), 5 March, 2007, 22) Nurul Islam Rana (2009, Uttara-Dhaka), 3 July, 2009, 23) M.M.Ahsan Bari (2009, Gagipur-Dhaka), 26 August, 2009, 24) popular writer Dr. Humayun Azad (Dhaka University), 27 February, 2004, 25) Sarwarul Alam Noman (Mymensing), 1995, 26) Faruk Hossen (Jessore), 27) Abdul Gaffar Chowdhury (Jessore), 1994, 28) Rezaul Karim Reza and 29) Abdul Hannan(2009, Demra, Dhaka). 30) Foteh Osmani 29th April 2010 (Sylhet).

A large number of newsmen have reportedly come under attacks by lawmen and influential quarters, which has hampered press freedom and harmed the people’s right to know even during the elected government of Sheikh Hasina that assumed office on January 6, 2009 after a two-year rule of the military-controlled interim government of Fakhruddin Ahmed. It has been reported that journalists of both the print and the electronic media are facing the wrath of the ruling party activists apparently for reporting on incidents of tender manipulation, extortion, land grab and other irregularities. Many journalists in different areas have gone into hiding for fear of life.

Two hundred and thirty journalists were attacked or harassed — three of them were killed, 71 wounded, 36 assaulted and 68 threatened — while they discharging their duties after the Awami League-led government had assumed office, said a recent report by human rights watchdog Odhikar.

‘Persecution and intimidation of journalists will be stopped. All false cases filed against them will be withdrawn,’ said the Awami League’s manifesto for the 2008 elections which led the party to power with an overwhelming majority.

The information minister, Abul Kalam Azad, during the question-answer session in the parliament early October, admitted that the government had failed to bring the killers of journalists to justice. But the government is trying to bring them to book, he said. ‘We have also asked the local administration to take appropriate measures to stop the recurrence of unfortunate incidents such as killing of journalists and attack on them anywhere in the country,’ the minister said in October 2009. Till today, first day of July 2010, nothing has happened.
We remember the violent attack and torture on Tasneem Khail, Daily Star, Ahmed Nur, Editor Sylhet, FM Masum New Age and Jahangir Alam Akash, Songbad, Rajshahi by the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB and DGFI). We remember the closure of Facebook, Closure of TV channels Jamuna TV and Channel 1. We have seen how government closed the national daily newspaper the daily Amar Desh. And finally the torture on its editor Mahmudur Rahman, still is in jail.

Free flow of information is the basic for a sustainable democracy. With an overwhelming majority in the parliament, if the government led political party Bangladesh Awami League try to forget its election manifestos, will be unable to build a sustainable democracy. #

Anwar Hossain is media activist and edits a blog Long Live Press Freedom. He with Journalism Media and Communication, Stockholm University, Sweden

First published in a blog Long Live Press Freedom!, July 01, 2010