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Monday, December 16, 2019

Bangladesh declared war against India on Dec 3

Photo: Courtesy Anwar Hossain Foundation
And how a dream became reality
After nearly nine months of a brutal war of independence was coming to an end in early December, the foot soldiers of Mukti Bahini liberated large swathes of occupied Bangladesh backed by the mighty Indian Army, while the ragtag Pakistan soldiers were on the backfoot, converging to the nearest military garrisons.
Pakistan, in desperation, declared “Operation Chengiz Khan” and Pakistan Air Force (PAF) bombers began bombardment of six Indian military bases on December 3, 1971. The strike caused little damage.
The Indian armed forces in anticipation of air-strikes had kept their planes in bunkers.
A day before the Pakistan attack on Indian airfields, Indira Gandhi addressed her last public meeting in Kolkata after visiting the refugee camps in the city. Moments after the air-strikes in India’s western war theatre, few top military brasses briefed Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi regarding the PAF attacks on India.
Lieutenant General Sam Manekshaw, chief of the Army Staff of the Indian Army, paused for a moment in silence and advised her (Indira) to delay the declaration of war against Pakistan.
She was told that a surprise was waiting at the eastern theatre. Soon, Indira informed her senior aides that India would not declare war against Pakistan. Instead, Bangladesh would strike Pakistan targets in the east. 
She explained to her aides that the imminent declaration of war would jeopardize the diplomatic efforts mustered around the Bangladesh cause -- the genocide and millions of refugee issues. On the eve of a formal war between India and Pakistan, telephones started to ring at the Mukti Bahini headquarters on December 2. The two-month-old Bangladesh Air Force was entrusted to strike targets deep inside occupied Bangladesh.
Earlier on September 28, 1971, Bangladesh Air Force was formed with three fighter pilots defected from PAF and six civil pilots from Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), and another 60 strong ground technical crew also from PAF.
The formation of the Bangladesh Air Force, dubbed “Kilo Flight,” began its journey with three vintage aircraft on October 8, 1971.
Indian civilian authorities and the Indian Air Force gave one American-made stubborn DC-3 Dakota (donated by the Maharaja of Jodhpur), one Canadian-built DHC-3 Otter plane, and one French Alouette III helicopter for the newborn “Kilo Flight.”
The pilots and ground crew gathered for a special mission on September 28 at Dimapur in Nagaland, where they took advantage of the lack of night-fighting capability of the PAF to launch hit-and-run attacks on sensitive targets inside occupied Bangladesh.
After months of intensive training, the formation was activated for combat.
The first sortie was scheduled to take place on November 28 but was postponed by Indian high commands to December 2, which invited frustration among the “Kilo Flight” crews, eagerly waiting to strike inside Bangladesh. Meanwhile, the three civilian aircraft were renovated, suitable for guerrilla warfare operations.
The Otter boasted seven rockets under each of its wings and could deliver 10 of the 25-pound bombs manually through a makeshift door in the bottom of the plane. The helicopter was rigged to fire 14 rockets from pylons attached to its side and had .303 Browning machine guns installed.
It was fitted with a one-inch (25mm) steel plate welded to its floor for extra strength.
The Dakota was also modified, but for technical reasons, it was used to ferry exiled government officials and supplies only.
The Otter took off from Kailashsahar with a two-member crew -- Flight Lt Shamsul Alam and co-pilot Akram Ahmed -- for a mission against targets in Chittagong, the vital seaport, to disrupt logistics and supplies of Pakistani troops.
The second unit -- a helicopter sortie from Teliamura base in adjoining Tripura state -- was piloted by Flight Lt Sultan Mahmood and Flight Lt Badrul Alam and made a deadly strike at Godnail fuel depot, Narayanganj. The smoke from the flames was seen from the capital Dhaka for days.
Two sorties on crucial targets on December 3 completely demoralized the Pakistan military.
Well, the Indians commenced air-strikes from December 4 in the eastern theatre and, by December 7, the lone airfield at Tejgaon airport was disabled and knocked out of operation.
The 13 days was the shortest war in military history, followed by a historic surrender ceremony, and in fact, the second surrender after WWII.
On December 16 in 1971, a dramatic push led to the fall of Dhaka. The jubilant Mukti Bahini chanting “Joy Bangla” and Indian troops riding battle tanks marched into the capital. Indira Gandhi at Ramlila Grounds in New Delhi. on December 12, 1971. said: “The Bangladesh of their dream has today become a reality.” 

First Published in the Dhaka Tribune 16 December 2019

Saleem Samad, is an independent journalist, media rights defender, also recipient of Ashoka Fellow and Hellman-Hammett Award.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

The nation seeks official list of martyred intellectuals

Postal stamp in memory of martyred intellectuals. (From top left) Dr Harinath Dey, Dr Lt Col A F Z Rahman, Mamum Mahmud, Mohsin Ali Dewan; (from bottom left) Dr Lt Col N A M Jahangir, Shah Abdul Majid, Muhammad Akhter and Meherunnesa. PHOTO: COURTESY


To this day the nation does not have a list of intellectuals abducted and murdered by the marauding Pakistan army and their local henchmen who joined in the plunder, genocide, and rape during the brutal birth of Bangladesh in 1971.

Last week Faruq Faisel, son of martyred journalist Mohsin Ali Dewan approached Mohammad Jahangir Hossain, director general of Jatiya Muktijuddho Council (Jamuka) under the Ministry of Liberation War Affairs.

He described that his father was abducted by the Pakistan army accompanied by armed militia, the Razakars, from his home in Bogura on June 3, 1971. He was the editor of weekly Uttar Bongo Bulletin, published from Bogura and was first elected president of Bogura Press Club. He was also principal of Sherpur Degree College and also established Bogura Law College, Shah Sultan College, and Joypurhat College. His body was never found.

Faruq sought the Jamuka chief’s advice regarding formalities to enlist Mohsin Ali Dewan’s name in the official document of martyred intellectuals. He was surprised to hear that the government does not have any policy to list murdered intellectuals.

Faruq Faisel, presently the regional director for Bangladesh and South Asia of international media rights organisation Article 19, was shocked to learn this from the DG of Jamuka. The government has not published a gazette notification regarding the documentation and compilation of a list of intellectuals who were singled out by the Pakistan army and killed.

Earlier, in a statement in the parliament on February 6, 2014, Liberation War Affairs Minister AKM Mozammel Huq informed that a complete list would be published by June 2014. The list has not seen the light of the day.

The intellectuals were abducted, tortured and killed by Pakistan army and their henchmen Al Badr, the secret death squad who were recruited from among the hardcore members of Islami Chhatra Sangha. The student outfit was rechristened as Islami Chhatra Shibir in 1977, with a similar ideology of Islami Chhatra Sangha.

Most of the senior level Al Badr commanders were indicted for crimes against humanity and tried at the International Crimes Tribunal. The tribunal handed down the death penalty to the leaders of Islami Chhatra Sangha held responsible for the death of intellectuals.

Thousands of intellectuals mostly university, college and school teachers, academics, politicians, filmmakers, physicians, poets, writers, journalists, engineers, sportsmen, lawyers, lyricists, singers, eminent personalities who had been deemed threats by the Pakistan army were abducted, tortured and executed.

The Bangladesh Post Office has issued dozens of commemorative stamps valued at Taka 2 in the memory of the martyred intellectuals.

It is widely speculated that the killings of intellectuals were orchestrated by Major General Rao Farman Ali. After the liberation of Bangladesh, a list of Bengali intellectuals (most of whom were executed on December 14) were found in pages of his diary, left behind at the Governor’s House (now Bangabhaban).

Various names of martyrs often appear in the media quoting different sources including Banglapedia, which listed 1,111 martyred intellectuals. Filmmaker Zahir Raihan, after going through General Ali’s diary, documents, and daily newspapers, claimed to have found 20,000 names. Unfortunately, he was abducted and went missing without a trace since January 1972.

The killing of the intellectuals virtually began following the army crackdown in Dhaka on the night of March 25. The Pakistan army during Operation Searchlight targeted victims and killed them systematically.

An initiative was undertaken by the Ministry of Liberation War Affairs to prepare a countrywide list of the Razakars, Al Badrs, Al Shams and other henchmen of Pakistan military, which we highly appreciate.

Besides preparing a complete list of the collaborators of the Pakistan army for crimes against humanity during the birth of Bangladesh, the concerned authorities should have also taken the initiative to document the names of our martyred intellectuals as a national priority.

First published in The Daily Star, 14 December 2019

Saleem Samad is an independent journalist, media rights defender, recipient of Ashoka Fellow (USA) and Hellman-Hammett Award. He could reached at <>; Twitter @saleemsamad

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

India Citizenship Bill challenges Bangladesh secular polity

Why did the Indian defense minister so grossly mischaracterize Bangladesh?

Bangladesh’s government was assured time and again that the controversial Indian National Register of Citizens (NRC), specially made for identification of illegal Muslims from Bangladesh residing in Assam state, would not jeopardize bilateral relations between the two neighboring countries.
The race to table and pass the Non-Muslim Citizenship Bill or Citizenship Amendment Bill by the Indian parliament, allegedly to make a demographic shift, seems to migration experts to be an issue for Bangladesh to be embarrassed about.
The bill seeks to grant Indian citizenship to non-Muslim refugees -- Hindus, Jains, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, and Parsis -- from Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan if they have fled their respective country due to religious persecution.
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in New Delhi pioneered this bill as one of its priorities upon assuming power in 2014.
In an interview broadcast on India Today TV and Aajtak TV, Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh stated that the three countries (Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh) are “theocratic Islamic states” and “minorities are facing harassment.” Their “state religion is Islam.”
Rajnath Singh told Rahul Kanwal, news director, India Today and Aajtak on December 9, that the bill is for the people of Indian origin living in Bangladesh, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, where Muslims are not persecuted.
TV interviewer Rahul Kanwal argued with Rajnath Singh that the Baloch and the Ahmadiyya Muslims are also persecuted in Pakistan, why are they left out? 
He nonchalantly responded that they (Baloch and Ahmadiyya) are Muslims and India has no role to play.
The TV journalist did not hesitate to snap that the ruling party is following the footsteps of Jinnah’s infamous two-nation theory dividing united India into Hindu and Muslim states, which plunged the nation in chaos and crisis.
The influential BJP leader contradicted himself and said: “BJP respects the Indian constitution. It doesn’t discriminate on the basis of religion.”
“There is no contradiction in this bill, India is a secular state. We are not looking at it through a religious lens.” He reiterated that the bill is for the people who are of Indian origin, living in Bangladesh, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, and are facing persecution.
The shocking remark was made in December when the nation finally established a secular, democratic, and pluralist society after the brutal birth of Bangladesh in 1971.
Such an outrageous remark was unexpected from a senior leader like Rajnath Singh who had made an official visit to Bangladesh on July 14, 2018, and had an audience with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in Dhaka.
The top official of the Indian government must have understood that the state constitution is still secular.
Since 2009, Sheikh Hasina’s ruling Awami League and her government strictly believes in a secular polity.
Therefore, it should have been difficult for Rajnath Singh to misread Sheikh Hasina’s government’s pluralist polity.
We are not denying that the Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, Adivasis (indigenous people), and also Ahmadiyya Muslims are sporadically attacked by religious zealots, who often slam the minorities for blasphemy. 
The AL government promptly took action against the perpetrators. The law enforcement agencies, local leaders, and civil society remained vigilant against such religious bigots to resist the vandalism of religious minorities’ properties and desecration of temples.
Simultaneously interfaith, secularism, and conflict resolving dialogues are held in vulnerable regions of the country. 
Also, PM Hasina has urged the imams and religious leaders to carry the message of tolerance and peace enshrined in the religion of Islam.
Still, now there is no official reaction to the statement of India’s top official. Such a prompt reaction is not expected from the political leaders of Bangladesh, nor the authorities.

First published in the Dhaka Tribune, 11 December 2019

Saleem Samad, is an independent journalist, media rights defender, recipient of Ashoka Fellow (USA) and Hellman-Hammett Award. Email:

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Facebook helped fuel hate-campaign against Rohingyas

Bangladesh now host over 1.1 million Rohingyas after 700,000 fled Myanmar since August, 2018 when insurgents’ attack triggered a military crackdown, which the UN say constituted to ethnic cleansing. File Photo/Reuters
Here is how Facebook which dominates social media has failed the vulnerable communities, especially concerning the hate campaign and fake news against the Rohingyas and so-called illegal Muslim Bangalees in Assam.
The Facebook admin team has miserably failed to delete 93 percent of posts containing speech violating its own “Community Standards” home rules, a study claimed.
The biggest allegation comes from India, describing how Facebook failed to delete hundreds of memes, images, and posts targeting caste, LGBT, and religious minorities.
The posts demonized Rohingya Muslims, the minority group that had been targeted for persecution in Myanmar. The Bangla-speaking Muslims in the neighboring state of Assam, India were also victims of the wrath of ruling party henchmen.
Social media research unit Equality Labs found that 93 percent of the posts reported to Facebook that contained speech violating the organization's own rules remained on the platform.
Facebook has failed to halt the persecution of Rohingyas fleeing Myanmar to Bangladesh. Analysis by BuzzFeed News sheds new light on Facebook's failures on the Rohingya issue.
The United Nations calls Myanmar’s treatment of the Muslim Rohingya minority a genocide and says Facebook has done little to tackle hate speech.
Lawmakers from the Arakan state of Myanmar’s persecuted Rohingya minority regularly posted hateful anti-Rohingya content on Facebook. In some cases, these explicitly called for violence preceding the atrocities since the military campaign of ethnic cleansing began in August 2017.
Posts by members of Rakhine state’s parliament compared Rohingya to dogs, adding that Muslim women were too ugly to rape, falsely stated that Rohingyas torched their own houses for a payout from NGOs and accused Muslims of seeking to become the dominant group in the state by having too many children.
As the Rohingya crisis worsened in Arakan, the analysis showed that Facebook took no action for months and years. The platform finally removed many posts after BuzzFeed News sent links to the concerned person on Facebook.
UN investigators in a damning report also took Facebook to task, describing it as a “useful instrument for those seeking to spread hate,” adding that the company’s response to concerns about its role had been “slow and ineffective.”
In Myanmar, Facebook admitted shortcomings — as elsewhere — after its policies were cited for exacerbating ethnic cleansing, and promised to reform its processes, by hiring more content moderators.
Hate campaign also targeted Bangla-speaking Muslims in the Indian state of Assam which went viral on Facebook, even as the country’s government launched a controversial program to crack down on people immigrating illegally from Bangladesh.
The report, titled “Megaphone for Hate,” released by Avaaz, a nonprofit social media activist network found serious failures of the popular social media platform Facebook.
Comments and posts that called Bangalee Muslims “pigs,” “terrorists,” “dogs,” “rapists,” and “criminals,” — seemingly in violation of Facebook’s standards on hate speech, showed the Avaaz review.
Facebook once prided itself as a largely neutral platform for content. But the company has devalued its status amid calls from the UN and other groups to take greater responsibility for what users post — especially involving calls for violence.
In response to Buzzfeed, a spokesperson for Facebook said: “The company respects and seeks to protect the rights of marginalized communities in India and elsewhere, and pointed to its rules against hate speech.”
Facebook said that it proactively deleted almost all problematic content on its platform before it’s reported, but hate speech is tougher to recognize because of linguistic and cultural context. But many fear it is too little, too late.
Equality Labs also says Facebook’s staff lacks the diversity that would enable it to moderate hate speech targeting minority groups.
Meanwhile, the Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has publicly stated he hopes to move toward automating a substantial part of its content management process using artificial intelligence tools, a statement echoed by company officials in interviews with BuzzFeed News.
NGOs and free speech defenders say it’s tough to imagine that intelligent machines will produce the kind of linguistic and cultural understanding it will take to combat these forms of speech.

First published in the Bangla Tribune online on 27 November 2019

Saleem Samad is an independent journalist, media rights defender, also a recipient of Ashoka Fellow (USA) and Hellman-Hammett Award. He can be reached at

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Islamists Challenges Secularism in Bangladesh

People have no jurisdiction to judge others on their religious views
Is this tolerance? Photo Credit: SYED ZAKIR HOSSAIN
A series of low-intensity violence on the issue of blasphemy was recently raised by radicalized Muslims against Hindus, Buddhists, and others, which is nothing new in Bangladesh.
If the violent behavior by the “lords of hate” is analyzed, it could be determined that these occurrences have an identical pattern of violence, as if those are woven in one string of hate against humanity.
In the fairly recent incident in Bhola in the coastal district, the acts of violence were instigated by rumormongers citing fake Facebook exchanges, which were deemed blasphemous only by the Islamic zealots.
Despite the distances from one occurrence to another, the typical pattern of violence has been observed in Barisal, Brahmanbaria, Chittagong, Cox’s Bazar, Gaibandha, Gopalganj, Ramu, Rangpur, Santhia (Pabna), Satkhira, Sunamganj -- and the list appears to keep growing.
All the incidents falsely accused person(s) insulting Islam, the Qur’an, or Prophet Muhammad -- soon after, Hindu and Buddhist households were looted, vandalized, and set ablaze, while temples were desecrated.
Hate speech by zealots is widely available on YouTube and Facebook, with tens of thousands of views on social media. The videos do not hesitate to despise the defenders of human rights and advocates of secularism, especially the mainstream media.
The hate speech by the clergies indoctrinate madrasa students, and millions of disciples of Islamic evangelists paradoxically have a similar message of hate against secular Muslims and Muslim sects.
Of late, their demands to the authorities are coincidentally the same, as if the storyboard is prepared under one roof, by one person, and written with one pen.
Closely analyzing their statements, the Islamists are no more a religious group -- they have a clear political agenda. The bigots with a political agenda, means they are bidding for the return of political Islam. This will severely dent our almost five-decade-long traditional culture of tolerance, democracy, and secularism.
The zealots demand that the government should enact a blasphemy law, with a provision of a maximum penalty for criticizing the Prophet and the Qur’an.
In fact, the Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami in 1993 had proposed in the parliament a draft blasphemy law, which was strikingly very similar to what Pakistan enacted in 1986. The draft was shredded by both the ruling and opposition lawmakers of that time.
Islamic scholars passionately debate that the Holy Qur’an has not sanctioned blasphemy. Nor is there any mentionable edict in the Hadith to punish a blasphemer in this living world.
The non-believers and blasphemers will be condemned to hell on the Day of Judgment.
They also do not hesitate to demand that the Qur’an and Sunnah replace the state constitution, which was earned from the Liberation War by millions of martyrs.
Unfortunately, the zealots were never accused of sedition or provoking a law and order situation.
Their interpretation of Wahhabi Islam has gradually penetrated into the minds of majoritarian Muslims in the country. The Wahhabi doctrine advocates strict Sharia laws that have been implemented in many conservative Muslim countries.
The bigots also harbor inner contradictions regarding the war crimes trial. The Islamists tacitly agree that henchmen of the marauding Pakistan army were responsible for crimes against humanity and should be brought to justice. Equally, they hate to see Islamists being punished for crimes perpetrated in 1971.
In a naive statement, the mullahs believe that the International Crimes Tribunal deliberately targeted Islamists because of pro-India secularists, the country which has immensely contributed to the birth of Bangladesh.
Intimidation by the Islamists is pushing a pluralistic society into a tight corner. Understanding that the state religion Islam will never be deleted from the constitution, their hate speech has multiplied.
The Islamists have dared to destabilize a secular fabric of the society and challenge the spirit of the Liberation War.

First published in the Dhaka Tribune newspaper on 26 November 2019
Saleem Samad, is an independent journalist, media rights defender, also recipient of Ashoka Fellow (USA) and Hellman-Hammett Award. Twitter @saleemsamad; He can be reached at

Saturday, November 09, 2019

Impunity: Bangladesh's Scorecard Grows Longer

Bangladesh has an appalling record of press freedom and freedom of expression since the country switched to Parliamentary Democracy in 1991 after a decade and half of military dictatorship.
According to impunity scorecard, 35 journalists, bloggers, freelancers have been killed in Bangladesh since 1992 to 2019, according to a draft Impunity Scorecard 2019 prepared by Freedom of Expression, Bangladesh (FExB).
The highest numbers of journalists, bloggers, freelancers, and media practitioners were killed, at least 5 persons each in 2004 and 2015.
However, there were zero casualties for seven consecutive years in 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2019. The zero casualty phenomenons are difficult to determine. A conclusive statement could only be made after extensive anthropological research.
Unfortunately, most of the deaths are caused by non-state actors. Their mission was to "shoot the messenger", to stop exposing the underworld crimes, smuggling, left extremists and radicalized Islamists. The predators of journalists remain mysterious, nameless and unidentified non-state actors, which is the biggest threat to journalists in Bangladesh. Bangladesh law enforcing agencies and the judiciary have equally failed to deliver justice for crimes against journalists and bloggers.
Police authorities investigating the murder cases says that the motives behind all these killings could not be confirmed, therefore the prime suspect, the predators could not be nabbed.

First published in The New Nation, November 09, 2019

Saleem Samad, Bangladesh Correspondent, Reporters Without Borders (RSF)

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Bangladesh speaks no evil about illegal immigrants

Bangladesh authorities do not have any data on immigrants or migrants who have illegally entered or are staying after their stay permit or tourist visa has expired.
The illegal immigrant issue was never a concern for the government, politicians, research outfits, nor the media. No wonder, the issue of illegal migration was never on the political agenda of the ruling party or the opposition.
Most critics do not want to understand that there are illegal and legal migrants in Bangladesh. The illegal migrant is not unusual when the migrant's countries such as India and Myanmar share porous borders, despite having barbed wire fences and stringent border management and border guards along both sides of the international border it is still not easy to seal the difficult terrain.
Countries in this region for more than seven decades are prone to the smuggling of contraband goods, human trafficking, and cross-border terrorism ----- activities which make the border and adjacent regions sensitive.
On both sides, there are many people whose livelihoods are dependent on the non-formal trade along the border.
Indian authorities in the last ten years have raised the issue of illegal immigration from Bangladesh at bilateral talks. Meanwhile, the Indian National Register of Citizens (NRC) has made an outcry in both India and Bangladesh media, among political parties and government.
Bangladeshi media debates the issue of illegal immigrants, who have allegedly settled in Assam from Bangladesh.
Nearly one million expats are legally and illegally working in garments, composite textile mills, knitwear, sweater, buying houses, merchandiser companies, fashion houses, food processing and marketing, poultry, tannery, and research organisations, according to a security agencies report.
A recent report in Obhijatra, a Bangladeshi news portal, argues that illegal immigrants are a huge burden for Bangladesh’s economy. The report identifies Afghanistan, Algeria, China, Congo, Ghana, India, Iraq, Libya, Myanmar, Nepal, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Philippines, Russia, Somalia, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Tanzania, Uganda, United Kingdom, United States, are major countries from where illegal immigrants come into Bangladesh.
According to a study by Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), Indians in Bangladesh sent more than $126 million back home in 2017, while Bangladesh got $4,033 million in remittances from India the same year.
The national census and other surveys carried out by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) do not indicate any illegal migration.
Neither India nor Bangladesh has any specific official data on illegal immigrants. The Indian government has time and again reiterated that the country lacks an official database of illegal immigrants.
Researchers argue that migration takes place for either economic reasons or due to compulsions arising from persecutions. It appears that Bangladesh has crossed the economic threshold, and if anything, people from poorer countries are migrating there in large numbers.

First published in Bangla Tribune online edition, 31 October 2019

Saleem Samad is an independent journalist, media rights defender, also a recipient of Ashoka Fellow (USA) and Hellman-Hammett Award.
He can be reached at

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Condemn Criminalizing Freedom Of Expression

Media Statement

Media rights defenders of Bangladesh in strong words deplore the culture of impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators of free media.
[Dhaka, 13 October 2019]
We, the media rights defenders are worried about criminalizing freedom of expression, shrinking space for freedom of thought and impunity enjoyed by perpetrators.
We, are shocked that recently Abrar Fahad, a 21-year-old second-year student of a premier educational institution in the country, the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) became a victim of freedom of expression, intolerance to opinion and culture of impunity from punishment.
We, lost words to describe that he was brutally tortured to death by fellow students of BUET, for his Facebook post in the small hours of October 7, which was found offensive by the perpetrators, mostly members of the ruling student organization, the Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL).
We, stated that the gruesome murder is yet another glaring example of an attack on free speech, media freedom, freedom of thought, human rights and the rule of law in Bangladesh.
We, understand that the police in their preliminary investigation found that Abrar was tortured to death after the suspects (BCL members) were annoyed for his Facebook post, which was deemed critical of recently concluded Bangladesh deals with India.
We, are appalled that the BCL leaders allegedly seized his mobile phone and laptop and checked his Facebook account and found the status posted at 5:32 pm on October 5 was offensive, which was deemed offensive.
We, are unequivocal to state that the perpetrators of gruesome murders of Facebook users, bloggers, writers and journalists have escaped justice were due to the culture of impunity.
We, have documented that scores of journalists, human rights defenders, writers, and bloggers who mostly apolitical were slammed for unlawful online expression under the draconian cybercrime laws which criminalize online dissent and critiquing public affairs in Bangladesh.
We, deplore that Section 57 of the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act, later overshadowed with a new draconian law Digital Security Act 2018, has been widely criticized, because the law dares to curb freedom of expression and incite self-censorship.
We, recorded that soon after the notorious ICT law was enacted, many Facebook users were harassed by henchmen of the ruling political party and later arrested by police. The number of cases related to cybercrimes and filed under the Digital Security Act is on the rise.
We, reiterate our demand that the Government of Bangladesh must repeal the Digital Security Act, and squash all cases against people arbitrarily arrested under the act.
We, condemn the harassment of free speech practitioners under cyber-crime laws, which have created a culture of fear among citizens and self-censorship in mainstream media.
We, believe that in the absence of freedom of expression, the space for free speech is shrinking.
Endorsed and signed by members of Freedom of Expression Network of Bangladesh:
1.    Faruq Faisel, Article 19, Bangladesh
2.    Ahmed Swapan Mahmud, VOICE
3.    Saleem Samad, Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
4.   Khairuzzaman Kamal, International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)
5.   Dr. Aireen Jaman, Pen International, Bangladesh
6.   Sayeed Ahmad, Centre for Social Activism
7.    Pulack Ghatak, Media Rights Journalist
8.    Mainul Islam Khan, Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
9.   Ahamed Ullah, Bangladesh Manabadhikar Sangbadik Forum (BMSF)

For more information, please contact Ahmed Swapan: +88-01711-881919; Saleem Samad: +88-01711-530207; Faruq Faisel: +88-01730-710267, or send emails:;;

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

ASEAN Plus formula unlikely to resolve Rohingya crisis

Photo: Rohingyas hold placards prior to the arrival of UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres and World Bank president Jim Yong Kim at the Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, July 2, 2018. REUTERS
Saleem Samad
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina tabled a four-point proposal at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) to solve the Rohingya crisis.
“The crisis is now lingering into the third year; yet not a single Rohingya could return to Myanmar due to [the] absence of safety and security, freedom of movement and overall conducive environment in the Rakhine State of Myanmar,” Hasina lamented at New York.
Bangladesh Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen was eager to hold parleys with his counterparts in China and Myanmar, Wang Yi and Kyaw Tint Swe respectively, at the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York, for safe and voluntary repatriation of Rohingya refugees languishing in sprawling camps in Cox’s Bazar.
Prospects of a diplomatic breakthrough in tripartite talks with China and Myanmar were marred after Myanmar rejected a Chinese proposal to have a group of Rohingya genocide survivors visit the Arakan state to STUDY whether the situation was favorable for repatriation.
Aung Ko, Director General of the Political Affairs Department at Myanmar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs categorically stated that they “will stick to the bilateral agreement to accept returning refugees after they are assessed.”
Two years ago on August 25, Myanmar security forces began a fresh military campaign of ethnic cleansing that drove an estimated one million Rohingyas to neighbor Bangladesh.
Despite Myanmar’s agreement on the proposal for the repatriation and reintegration of Rohingya survivors, official efforts to implement it ran into hurdles. The Rohingyas' return was stalled several times in a decade.
There is indeed a trust deficiency in engaging with Myanmar, said Dr Momen in an exclusive interview with this journalist. He felt that the confidence and cooperation level should improve significantly to remove misunderstandings and suspicions among the two South Asian neighbors.
Dr Momen explained the present situation to the reporters on the eve of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to India, adding, “India is a good friend of both Bangladesh and Myanmar. It has investments in both countries. But if the Rohingya crisis prolongs, there may be pockets of radicalization.”
Myanmar in a bilateral agreement agreed to issue National Verification Card (NVC) after the return of Rohingyas to Arakan State but Bangladesh demanded that there should not be any restrictions on mobility for the Rohingyas returnees.
An estimated 500,000 Rohingyas who still remained in Arakan State are confined in several hamlets and guarded by Myanmar para-military forces and their freedom of movement is severely restricted.
Bangladesh was not surprised that the proposal for a non-military group of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations – ASEAN, plus the inclusion of China and India to oversee the repatriation of refugees, supervise integration and rehabilitation was rejected by Myanmar.
Myanmar is a member of the ASEAN bloc and has friendly ties with its members including nine states ― Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.
ASEAN countries are willing to cooperate to mitigate the Rohingya crisis. Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia are vocal about the genocide survivors and had extended help for the refugees living in Bangladesh.
Bangladesh proposed to Myanmar with a time limit of two years to complete the repatriation in cooperation with ASEAN Plus countries.
This was mooted at the tripartite dialogue in New York after Myanmar refused to agree to a “safe zone” concept similar to the “peace corridor” for two million refugees from war-torn Syria.
The “safe zone” idea for Syrian refugees was proposed by Turkey with the leaders at the UN meeting and backed by Russia and Iran.
Dr Momen reaffirmed that the Myanmar government had a moral responsibility to be proactive in their political commitment to ensure A voluntary, safe, and dignified repartition of Rohingyas languishing in the world's largest refugee camps in Cox's Bazar.

First published in Bangla Tribune online on 09 October 2019

Saleem Samad, is an independent journalist, media rights defender, also a recipient of Ashoka Fellow (USA) and Hellman-Hammett Award. He can be reached at

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

Militants in Myanmar: Endangered Lives Of Ordinary Rohingyas

Two years ago on August 24, Reuters news agency reported that Muslim militants in Myanmar staged a coordinated attack on 30 police posts and an army base in Rakhine State, and at least 59 of the insurgents and 12 members of the security forces were killed.
The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), a group previously known as Harakah al-Yaqin, which instigated the October attacks, claimed responsibility for the early morning offensive and warned of more.
Nonetheless, the attack caught the Myanmar government by surprise. Its military, known as the Tatmadaw, responded with full-blown pogroms, including attacks on Rohingya villages and acts of arson.
State violence conducted in Rakhine State, what the United Nations has described as "a textbook case of ethnic cleansing" against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar's Rakhine State.
The atrocities ignited fresh exodus of another 700,000 Rohingya civilians to flee to Bangladesh since August 25, killing an estimated 3,000 people and burning 288 Rohingya villages, according to rights groups and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and Human Rights Watch.
However, Myanmar does not hesitate to argue that its actions were counter-terrorism operations, but its response to the threat posed by Rohingya militants is disproportionate and is likely to fuel militancy for years to come, predicts writes Prof Zachary Abuza at the National War College where he focuses on Southeast Asian security issues.
The Rohingya Solidarity Organization (RSO) was active in the mid-1980s to 1990s. The RSO achieves very little militarily, but its ties to the Jamaat-e-Islami and Harkat-ul-Jihad-al Islami (HuJI) in Bangladesh and Pakistan caused concern to regional security. By the mid-2000s, the RSO was defunct.
The Rohingyas literally hoped that the country's democratic transition would address their legal rights. While democratic freedoms also unleashed extreme Buddhist nationalism.
In 2015, Attullah Abu Amar Jununi, also known as Hafiz Tohar, founded Harakah al-Yaqin, the Faith Movement, to "defend, save, and protect [the] Rohingya community … in line with the principles of self-defense".
Attullah was born in Karachi, Pakistan to Rohingya parents, and raised in Saudi Arabia, where he was a cleric in a mosque. He moved to Bangladesh, crossing into Rakhine State in late 2015 or early 2016 via Pakistan.
Attullah led Harakah al-Yaqin was an offshoot of Aqa Mul Mujahideen (Faith Movement of Arakan), which itself emerged from another organization, Harakat ul-Jihad Islami-Arakan, headed by Abdus Qadoos Burmi, a Rohingya from Pakistan.
Disgruntled members of RSO, defected to Harakah al-Yaqin. By 2015, Attullah's group was actively recruiting youths from the refugee camps.
In early 2017 Harakah al-Yaqin rebranded to ARSA and was initially engaged in hit-and-run tactics in a bid to stockpile armory from Myanmar security forces.
The rebranding as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army was apparently to soundless Islamist and more as a legitimate ethno-nationalist group fighting in self-defense.
But ARSA continued to recruit through its network of clerics and mosques, and there is a far more religious basis to the movement than they publicly admit.
On August 18, 2017, Attullah released a video statement justifying ARSA's actions, stating that his group was established only in response to government and paramilitary abuses against the Rohingya community. "Our primary objective under ARSA is to liberate our people from dehumanized oppression perpetrated by all successive Burmese regimes," he said.
Possibly ARSA leaders hastily decided the attacks on border police check posts only two days after UN Special Representative Kofi Annan submitted his report stating several pragmatic recommendations, and Myanmar tacitly agreed on some issues towards a conflict resolution but disputed with most recommendations on the status of Rohingya Muslims citizenship.
ARSA knew very well that the Myanmar military's response would be heavy-handed. Despite understanding their limitation, the ragtag foot soldiers are poorly funded and possess only limited light weapons and dare not confront the Myanmar military, currently the 11th largest in the world, with its long track record of repression against ethnic minorities.
The duffers in ARSA leadership had no understanding of the consequences of hit-and-run tactics that will endanger the lives of more than a million Rohingyas in Rakhine State.
The two-month long campaign of ethnic cleansing, with even senior officials in the government of de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi justifying the military's attacks on civilians, seems to have caught ARSA off guard, writes Prof Zachary Abuza at the National War College.
Possibly the ARSA did not benefit from Rohingyas languishing in sprawling refugee camps - as UNHCR claimed to the largest refugee camps in the world.

First published The New Nation, 1 October 2019

Saleem Samad is an independent journalist, media rights defender, recipient of Ashoka Fellow (USA) and Hellman-Hammett Award. Twitter @ saleemsamad; Email: saleemsamad @

Islamist threat challenges LGBT, Gay and Lesbian in Bangladesh

Saleem Samad
Tourist’s most popular guidebook Lonely Planet, advises gay travellers to be discreet in Bangladesh, and warns that homosexuality is illegal in Bangladesh, and homosexual acts are punishable under Bangladesh law with deportation, fines and/or prison.
In December 2008, Bangladesh was one of 59 countries that signed a statement opposing lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights at the United Nations General Assembly.
Unfortunately, Bangladesh is one of 75 countries that currently have laws criminalizing homosexuality and the highest punishment for “unnatural intercourses” is life imprisonment, but lesser jail terms of up to 10 years in prison and fines might also be handed out under the existing law, writes Dhaka Tribune.
Primarily the country is a Sunni Muslim majoritarian nation, a major challenge for the LGBT, gay and lesbian communities facing in Bangladesh.
Despite Bangladesh being a conservative country, the government in July 2016 has recognized the ‘trans-gender’ community as ‘third gender’ with a single-sentence: “The Government of Bangladesh has recognized the Hijra community of Bangladesh as a Hijra sex.”
This circular represented a significant step toward securing a range of rights for Bangladesh’s ‘hijras’ — people who, assigned “male” at birth, identify as feminine later in life and prefer to be recognized as ‘hijra’ or a third gender.
According to Section 377, the country’s British colonial-era penal code, voluntary carnal intercourse against “the order of nature with any man, woman or animal” is punishable with imprisonment for life or with imprisonment which may extend to ten years and fines.
The Dhaka Tribune in an editorial writes against section 377 of the criminal code stating their belief that while most people in Bangladesh were against homosexuality, they did not want to see people put in jail for it or for the government to waste resources treating it as a crime.
Same-sex romantics or sexual activities are not accepted in society, with LGBT people facing discrimination, verbal and physical abuse, and unique legal and social challenges. Same-sex sexual activity, whether in public or private, is illegal and punishable with fines and up to life imprisonment, though this law is rarely enforced. However Bangladeshi societies view it as a negative activity. Consequently, Bangladesh does not recognise the relationship between same gender.
The New York based rights defender, Human Rights Watch (HRW) states that “Discrimination against LGBT people is pervasive in Bangladesh”.
Homosexual relations are criminalized in Bangladesh and many LGBT activists have been forced into exile.
According to NBC, those who have fled the country are slowly reconnecting and trying to organize a meeting to assess the situation. The attacks have driven local LGBT activists underground, French news agency AFP reported.
On March 30, Labannya Hijra, a third gender activist became a Bangladeshi hero. Witnessing the murder by Islamist militants of the secular blogger Washiqur Rahman Babuon a street in capital Dhaka, she grabbed the fleeing assailants. Her courageous intervention led to the arrest of two men, who later confessed to the killing.
Days after Xulhaz Mannan and Tonoy Mahbub hacked to death in a Dhaka apartment on the evening of April 25, 2016, HRW urged the Bangladesh authority to immediately probe the killings of two LGBT human rights activists.
Ansar-al Islam, the Bangladeshi branch of dreaded Al Qaeda on the Indian subcontinent, claimed responsibility for the attacks.
The groups said “the two were killed because they were ‘pioneers of practicing and promoting homosexuality in Bangladesh’ and were ‘working day and night to promote homosexuality … with the help of their masters, the U.S. crusaders and its Indian allies,’” CTV reported.
Mannan was an editor of Roopban, Bangladesh’s first LGBT specialised magazine, which began publishing in 2014. He was a visible and openly gay human rights activist who supported and protected LGBT people even in the face of threats against the community.
The assassination of two LGBT rights activists follow a spate of 30 killings since early 2015, targeted attacks on writers, educators, bloggers, and editors who advocated liberal and secular democracy, that radical groups believe are against Islamic ideology.
In the face of police and civil authorities’ reluctance to provide security to those who sought help in the wake of death threats by the Muslim bigots has caused shiver and fear among them.
“This one incident broke the sense of security. More than 15 people left the country. More than 10 want to leave. People in Bangladesh don’t want to talk to us. The whole community is so scattered and scared,” an activist told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on the sidelines of an international LGBT conference in Bangkok, Thailand in end of 2016.
In 2013, the country’s National Human Rights Commission called on the government to protect sexual and gender minorities from discrimination.
To add fuel into fire, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina advised bloggers and social media activists to use restraint in their exercise of free speech or leave the country for their safety.
In recent years, LGBT people in Bangladesh have also been targeted with extremist rhetoric. For example, in November 2015, when activists began publishing a cartoon series featuring a lesbian character, religious groups issued hateful anti-LGBT statements, calling on the government to prosecute LGBT people under section 377 and Sharia (Islamic Law).
Even though a small number of gay rights organisations and activists in Bangladesh were raising their voice to establish rights for the LGBT community, none of them has so far engaged in a legal fight to recognise the status of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in the country, said Supreme Court lawyer Jyotirmoy Barua.

First published in Shuddhashar online magazine, October 2019

Saleem Samad, is an Ashoka Fellow (USA), recipient of Hellman-Hammett Award and also Bangladesh correspondent of Paris based international media rights organization, Reporters Without Borders (RSF). Email:; Twitter @saleemsamad

Monday, September 30, 2019

Bangladesh worry thaws on NRC

A protest against the Citizenship Amendment Bill in Assam in January 2019. Photo: AFP
Saleem Samad
The good news over which many heaved a sigh of relief came when Indian prime minister Narendra Modi assured his Bangladesh counterpart, Sheikh Hasina, that Assam’s National Registration of Citizens (NRC) in India would have no impact on Bangladesh and urged her not to be worried about it.
In the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) at New York, Modi gave his assurance after Hasina raised the NRC issue saying that it was a matter of great concern for Bangladesh.
This conclusive statement came at the time when the Indian leadership was in deep embarrassment after a series of hiccups experienced by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government after the publication of the NRC list.
During the parliamentary (Lok Sabha) elections in May, the BJP extended political support to the upgrading of Assam’s National Register of Citizens, a Supreme Court-monitored process to identify undocumented migrants from Bangladesh living in the state.
It was a disaster as most of the illegal migrants according to the list published were Hindus, nearly three-fourths and very few Muslims allegedly from Bangladesh. Even Kargil war veterans and others were unfortunately de-listed as Indian nationals.
Shoaib Daniyal in his in-depth story published in reveals several blunders in the de-listing of Indian nationals which have caused displeasure within the ruling BJP.
Weeks before the release of the final list in August, the BJP expressed severe displeasure with the NRC. BJP-run state and central governments even tried to delay publication. The BJP realized that the bill was not a solution for Bangali Hindus left out of the NRC.
Only recently, the BJP went so far as to declare that it was rejecting the NRC entirely. The Citizenship Amendment Bill is on a head-on collision course with the NRC, which will instead hinder Bangladeshi Hindus become Indian citizens, writes Daniyal.
The Citizenship Amendment Bill shows the actual process of making claims under the Bill is so complicated and riddled with contradictions that it would have no real impact on the citizenship prospects of Bangali Hindus left out of the NRC.
Large-scale exclusion of Hindus will cause collateral damage politically to the BJP, a party that has a Hindu identity. For damage control, the BJP has renewed its push to amend India’s citizenship law in order to explicitly favor non-Muslim migrants from neighboring countries, writes
Most of the criticism of the Citizenship Amendment Bill introduced by the Modi government has centered around the question of religious discrimination.
The Citizenship Amendment Bill introduced in 2016 would violate India’s secular character since it expressly identifies Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians coming from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan as being eligible for citizenship even if they entered the country illegally. Obviously, this list leaves out Muslims.
Critics from Indian civil society as well as the political opposition have opposed the Bill on the ground that it would violate India’s secular character.

First published in the Bangla Tribune online edition, 30 September 2019

Saleem Samad, is a journalist, media rights defender, also recipient of Ashoka Fellow (USA) and Hellman-Hammett Award. Twitter @saleemsamad; Email:

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

ARSA Episode: Jeopardizing Safety, Security Of Rohingya Refugees

ARSA leader Ataullah Abu Ammar Jununi flanked by militants (Source: Al-Jazeera)
International rights groups have dubbed Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) as a rogue Islamic militant group, and responsible for series of crime against humanity in restive Rakhine State, Myanmar.
The ragtag radicalized militant's recruits from among Rohingyas under the leadership who were born and raised in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia is creating law and order situation in the refugee camps in Bangladesh.
For decades, the Rohingya have experienced ethnic and religious persecution in Myanmar. The majority have escaped to Bangladesh. Tens of thousands have fled to other countries in Southeast Asia, including Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines.
ARSA remains a poorly equipped and trained force, able to do little in the way of waging a sustained campaign against Myanmar's security forces. Presently their primary goal is to consolidate power within the camps in Bangladesh, also in Malaysia and Indonesia.
The International Crisis Group (ICG) reported on 14 December 2016 that in interviews, the leaders of ARSA claimed to have links to private individuals in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. The ICG also claimed in an unconfirmed report that Rohingya villagers had been "secretly trained" by Afghan and Pakistani fighters.
In 2017, ARSA leader Ataullah Abu Ammar Jununi stated in a video posted online that "our primary objective under ARSA is to liberate our people from dehumanizing oppression perpetrated by all successive Burmese (also known as Myanmar) regimes".
The group claims to be an ethnic-nationalist insurgent group and has denied allegations that they are Islamists, claiming they are secular and "have no links to terrorist groups or foreign Islamists".
However, ARSA follows many traditional Islamic practices such as having recruits swear an oath on the Quran, referring to their leader as an emir (head of state) and asking for fatwas (Islamic religious decrees or edicts) from foreign Muslim clerics.
London based Amnesty International after conducting interviews with refugees in Bangladesh and in Rakhine State confirmed that mass killings carried out by ARSA took place in a cluster of villages in northern Maungdaw Township at the time of its attacks on police posts in late August 2017. The findings also show ARSA was responsible for low-intensity violence against civilians.
Security experts believe that the plight of the Rohingyas in Rakhine State will further deteriorate with the continued activities of ARSA in the region. This will surely endanger the good intention of the Rohingya refugees repatriation to Myanmar.
There are real dangers associated with allowing the alleged oppression against the Rohingya to continue. Several experts have already predicted that if elements of threats are left unattended the region will come face to face with a very serious security crisis.
In the void have stepped Islamist civil society organizations that are now providing education, medical assistance, and food for the refugees. Bangladeshi Islamist groups, including hardline militant groups like Hefazat-e-Islam that have engaged in violence, has established over 1000 madrasas in the camps in Cox's Bazar and Bandarban.
ARSA is striving to consolidate its authority in the world's largest refugee camps in Bangladesh. Similarly, efforts are visible in Malaysia and Indonesia. The militant outfit controls over the refugee camps not only gives them power and control over resources there but also gives them additional pressure when they "fundraise" amongst diaspora communities.
The militant outfit should be contained based on intelligence gatherings by security agencies. Their active involvement in madrasas teaching and reciting Quran is responsible for jeopardizing the safety and security of the Rohingyas in the camps. The threat perception of the refugees comes from non-combatant members of ARSA outfit.

The article was first published in The New Nation, 24 September 2019

Saleem Samad, is an independent journalist, recipient of Ashoka Fellow (USA) and Hellman-Hammett Award. Twitter @saleemsamad; Email: