Monthly Coupon

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