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Monday, February 24, 2020

ARSA: A Threat To Bangladesh or Myanmar?

The terror outfit Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) has roots in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, and there is not much evidence to prove that ARSA has any ties to the transnational jihadist network.ARSA's leadership was born and brought up in Karachi, Pakistan and moved to Saudi Arabia. They raised funds mostly from Rohingya's living in Pakistan and Middle-East.
Now it is come to surface, that the terror organisation with the poor fund was unable to launch any large scale skirmishes with Myanmar troops. Long ago they were able to make quite a number of hit-and-run operations, that activities have been significantly neutralised after Myanmar troop's crackdown on Rohingya Muslims.
Well, the Myanmar government officially labelled ARSA as "extremist Bengali [Bangalee] terrorists," warning that its goal is to establish an Islamic state in the region.
The exodus of one million Rohingyas from restive Rakhine State has also brought the ARSA members into Bangladesh territory living in squalid refugee camps.
In the camps, violent gangs who are members of ARSA, prey on people. There is an incentive to join militants because it accords them and their families a degree of security and additional resources.
In a rare interview given to international media, Ataullah abu Ammar Jununi, commonly known simply as Ataullah, said that ARSA would be "open war" and "continued [armed] resistance" until "citizenship rights were reinstated."
Ataullah denied any links to the ISIS in his 18 August 2017 video. He is reported to have turned his back on support from Pakistani-based militants.
Security experts in Bangladesh and abroad explains that ARSA has ideological differences and has reason to distance itself from transnational jihadist network, which would compel Bangladeshi security forces to move against them.
The plight of the Rohingya has been referenced by international jihadists in the past. Abdullah Azzam, the preacher who inspired Osama Bin Laden, raised the Rohingya issue in the 1980s. Al-Qaeda showed cursory interest in the 1990s.
In the July 2014 speech in which he declared the establishment of a caliphate, Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi referenced the Rohingya as among "oppressed" Muslim populations worldwide that ISIS was looking to defend.
In 2016, the alleged chief of Islamic State in Bangladesh, Sheikh Abu Ibrahim al-Hanif (killed by Bangladesh counter-terrorism unit), in Dabiq interview that IS sought to turn Bangladesh into a launching pad for attacks in India and Myanmar.
Harkatul Jihad al-Islam (HuJI) and Arakan leaders have been photographed on the stage with Lashkar e-Taiba (LeT) leaders, including Hafiz Saeed. The LET's charitable arms, Jamat-ud Dawa and Falah-i-Insaniat Foundation support the Rohingya refugees in Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Bangladesh and Indian security forces believe that the Aqa Mul Mujahidin (AMM) received funding and support from Pakistan's ISI via the LET.
Indian authorities are investigating whether a little-known Rohingya militant group with links to Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB).
For obvious reasons, none of the global terror networks did set foot in the region. The territory is too hot to handle, as some experts explain.
The recruiters from sleeping-cells disseminated a message that joining ARSA was a Farj (a religious obligation).
However, ARSA remains focused on recruitment and indoctrination, followed by establishing small units and engaging in rudimentary military training.
Often news breaks-out from Rohingya refugee camps in Cox's Bazar and Bandarban of robbers, dacoits, and armed gangs were killed in an encounter by elite anti-crime forces. Most of the slain victims are radicalised Rohingya militants.
Finally, ARSA's military capabilities remain poor, their ragtag foot soldiers are more engaged in extortion, loot and plunder in the refugee camps. The smugglers, drug traders, and gunrunners employ the armed groups for escort services in the region.
There has been no militancy activity for quite some time, and it is unlikely there will be any in the immediate future.
Thus ARSA becomes a toothless tiger in the western frontier.

First published in The New Nation, on 24 February 2020

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

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Harassment, Arrest, Intimidation of Bauls threatens Freedom of Expression


[18 February 2020]
We, the media rights defenders of international and national freedom of expression organizations are concerned regarding the recent harassment, detention, and intimidation of the traditional Bauls, the mystic singers of Bangladesh.
In the month of January 2020, Sufi folk singer Baul Shariat Sarkar was arrested under the draconian Digital Security Act, 2018 when an Islamic cleric filed a blasphemy case against Sarkar for "stating that music is not forbidden in the Quran."
Similarly, two cases were filed against Baul Rita Dewan for “hurting religious sentiments” of the Muslims for her Pala-Gaan (logical debate through folk songs) performance. In fear of retaliation and personal harm, she long with her two young daughters made a public apology.
In both cases, a vested group is misusing the Digital Security Act, 2018, as a weapon to punish minorities of other faiths, folk singers and social media users too. If convicted, the Cyber Tribunal (Bangladesh) can give a verdict of a hefty fine and jail-term for up to seven years.
Notwithstanding, the media rights defenders had been warning the authorities about the misuse of the draconian Digital Security Act, 2018 which criminalizes freedom of expression and has been applied to detain several journalists, writers, poets, publishers, and bloggers.
Surely, the Islamists are a serious threat to the Baul community as they often preach hate against the women, people of other faiths and of course music and cultural events. They intimidate the Baul singers to silence the traditional cultural heritage.
The question and answer session in Pala-Gaan used mystical and esoteric language, which may be misunderstood by the audience which focuses on external, literal interpretations of Sufi interpretation of the society.
Conventionally the mystic song is an icon of rich folklore tradition, which is imbibed into Bangla heritage and must be protected as a cultural tradition.
To engage in Pala-Gaan, the mystic Sufi singers must have deep knowledge of different faiths, spiritualism, philosophy and contemporary issues.
The Bauls are essential in strengthening democracy, freedom of expression, philosophical debate, as well as tolerance in diversity.
Instead of protecting the folklore heritage, the draconian laws challenge the century-old tradition of freedom of belief and freedom of expression.
The nation-state was founded on the principles of secularism, pluralism, and equality for all to promote harmony among the diverse communities and cultural traditions of the land.
We are deeply disturbed that the intimidation on the Bauls violates the basic freedom of expression and freedom of faith.
We urge the Government of Bangladesh to protect its citizens from the radicalized religious groups.
We expect that the Government must act in upholding the unique traditions of secularism, freedom of faith, and tolerance in a bid to strengthen the visions of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the architect of Bangladesh.

Endorsed and signed by Media Rights Defenders:
1. Dr. Aireen Jaman, General Secretary, PEN International, Bangladesh, London;
2. Faruq Faisel, South Asia Regional Director, Article 19, London;
3. Saleem Samad, Correspondent, Reporter Without Borders (RSF), Paris;
4. Ahmed Swapan Mahmud, CEO, VOICE, Dhaka
5. Khairuzzaman Kamal, Representative International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), Brussels;
6. Mainul Islam Khan, Representative, Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), New York;
7. Biplob Mostafiz, Member, Mukto Prakash (FExB), Media Rights Defender;
8. Sayeed Ahmad, Representative, Front Line Defenders, Dublin, Ireland;
9. Ahamad Ullah, Member, Bangladesh Manabadhikar Sangbadik Forum (BMSF), Dhaka;
10.GM Mourtaza, CEO, CCD Bangladesh; Rajshahi.
11.Jana Syeda Gulshan Ferdous,

For more information, please contact Saleem Samad: +88-01711-530207; email: OR, Faruq Faisel: +88-01730-710267, emails:

Monday, February 17, 2020

How likely is Myanmar to make policy changes after the ICJ ruling?

Myanmar’s denial of organized human rights abuses hold little water Photo: REUTERS
Does Myanmar have any obligation to take the world court -- the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague – seriously?
The second question is whether Myanmar’s quasi-military ruler has the political will to implement the landmark judgment of January 23. Myanmar has officially rejected the International Court of Justice’s historic ruling and accused international rights groups of making exaggerated statements about the prevailing situation. It also rejected the UN fact-finding mission’s report on the basis of being “one-sided.”
It is well understood that the ICJ has no legal jurisdiction over Myanmar or any individual nation.
The ICJ ordered Myanmar to implement vital measures to protect its Rohingya population from facing any further atrocities. This ruling has been hailed as an “accomplishment of international justice.” The court further ordered Myanmar to ensure protection from the destruction of any evidence of “possible” genocide.
The ruling means that a global body, for the first time, has officially recognized the threat of abuse against the Rohingya, and ordered Myanmar to protect the community.
The verdict was indeed a significant triumph for the forcefully displaced Rohingya currently in refuge in Bangladesh. This ruling was also hailed by the government of Bangladesh, as the country is host to more than 1 million displaced Rohingya presently languishing in camps.
A lawsuit was brought to the ICJ by the Gambia, an impoverished Muslim state in Africa. The legal process was backed by the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in November at the highest body -- the United Nations -- for dispute resolution between states.
The OIC accused Myanmar of genocide against the Rohingya, in violation of a 1948 Genocide Convention. The Islamic body, as well as the United Nations, has condemned Myanmar’s refusal to repatriate the Rohingya as citizens of the country. Both bodies have raised concerns over the appalling human rights violations.
The challenges that remain the most significant impediments to the ICJ are that it has no power to execute its decisions and that it is voluntary in nature.
In 1993, the ICJ issued similar measures against Serbia after Bosnia had accused it of genocide. Just two years later, Serb forces killed thousands of Bosnian Muslim men and boys in what has become known as the Srebrenica massacre.
The ruling could not stop a second genocide in Europe after World War II.
Myanmar established an Independent Commission of Enquiry (ICOE) which acknowledges committing war crimes but not genocide during the military campaign.
The Myanmar government, headed by Nobel laureate for Peace Aung San Suu Kyi, has strongly denied organized human rights abuses. The regime systematically said that the military action, which followed militant attacks on Myanmar security forces in August 2017,  was “a legitimate counter-insurgency operation.”
The ICOE inquiry report mentions that nearly 900 people were killed. The commission failed to find assertions of gang-rape, or evidence to presume any intent of genocide. No one was surprised at the discrepancy between Myanmar and the international community over committing genocide.
The head of a UN fact-finding mission in Myanmar warned that there was a serious risk of genocide, and the mission did not hesitate to state in its final report, submitted in September 2019, that Myanmar should be held responsible in international legal forums for alleged genocide against the Rohingya.
Myanmar has questioned the legitimacy of the world court but is obliged under international law to comply with the ICJ ruling to provide regular reports to the ICJ, starting next May, to say what steps it has taken to prevent further abuse against the Rohingya.
It is highly unlikely that Myanmar will make any major policy changes to combat the discrimination against the Rohingya community, or provide support for international justice efforts. The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has been paralyzed over the Rohingya crisis so far, with China shielding Myanmar from censure, which makes enforcement more difficult.
In this regard, an effective measure could be exerting diplomatic pressure by the international community, which has political and economic clout within the UN Security Council and can bring Myanmar to justice. The Convention against Genocide imposes a duty on states that are signatories to “prevent and to punish” genocide, as seen by Gambia’s ability to bring the case to the ICJ.
Until then, Myanmar will have an excuse to not take any measures for the repatriation, as well as the rehabilitation, of the displaced Rohingya. This difficultly will continue with a possible veto from China.
Whether Myanmar abides by the ICJ rulings remains to be seen. 

First published in Dhaka Tribune, 17 February 2020

Saleem Samad is an independent journalist, media rights defender, and is a recipient of the Ashoka Fellow and Hellman-Hammett Award. He can be followed on Twitter @saleemsamad

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Impeachment is over, but despair remains

United States President Donald J. Trump's impeachment inquiry has divided American society into thin and thick lines, which could be ascertained from several assessments published during the pre and post-impeachment period.
In this winter, the super-power was at a sombre moment in history, but it's also a pivotal one. What the impeachment process cannot escape from is politics.
According to a survey published on the University of Monmouth website on October 1, 52 percent of respondents opposed the removal of the current leader from his post, while 44 percent supported the initiative of the Democratic Party.
Meanwhile, the Hill-HarrisX study conducted on September 26-27 showed that 47 percent of respondents endorsed the idea of Donald Trump's opponents and 42 percent condemned it.
However framed, be it legal or judicial, the Senate Republicans had an obligation to make a choice - a tough choice for some - to check Trump's abuses of power as president. Regardless of the political implications for their own re-elections, they had a constitutional duty to do what's right.
But they failed to do their jobs - and their votes to cover up Trump's lawlessness didn't just excuse interference in our elections, they serve as an endorsement for him to do it again. But as we grapple with the consequences, we must not fall into despair.
Trump did admit to asking a foreign country (Ukraine) to interfere in US elections - which was indeed a direct threat to democracy. And since the impeachment trial began, advocates have continued to impress upon Congress its constitutional duty to hold Trump accountable to the law.
Several features stand out in the impeachment quest against President Trump.
There is constitutional discourse as mythology and fetish. There is an outrage that the executive office could have been used to actually investigate political opponents through foreign agents. There is cattiness over whether the conduct of the president veered into the territory of criminality, or fell somewhat short in his incessant obstruction.
The US President in rebuttal on the actions of his opponents said that this was the 'greatest scam in the history of American politics' and later even called democrats' impeachment inquiry a coup.
Analyzing the events unfolding in the US, Graham Dodds, Department of Political Science, Concordia University, reminded that a similar situation related to the beginning of the impeachment procedure occurs in US history for the fourth time.
There's just too much at stake right now to keep fighting to protect our democracy. That means fighting to protect US citizenry's access to the ballot box and for the right to have every vote count.
It means participating in the census, a critical tool that determines whether we are fairly represented in our voting districts and how much money is invested in our children's schools and in our families' health care, Diallo Brooks is Senior Director of Outreach and Public Engagement.
It means standing against Trump's narrow-minded, discriminatory judicial nominees whose decisions are rolling back our rights at every turn. It means fighting for our future and for our children's futures, says Brooks.
"Impeachment could help Trump, by energizing his core supporters and feeding into his claims that he is constantly treated unfairly and that everyone is out to get him. On the other hand, maybe this will give Republicans a way to finally stop blindly defending Trump and to distance themselves from him," Graham Dodds said. Trump the symptom remains, his voting base not necessarily convinced or persuaded.

First published in The Asian Age15 February 2020

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

Wednesday, February 05, 2020

Iran Abuse Of Human Rights

There is no quick-fix for the Islamic Republic of Iran, one of the few countries which are governed by strictest Sharia laws, which other Muslim leaders cautiously debate.
Nevertheless, the protests in Iran are continuing after nearly two months of street protests in major cities. The uprising was sparked in mid-November last year when the regime announced that fuel prices would be increased. The move angered the Iranians who have faced so much economic crisis in the past.
For many months, society has been simmering with discontent and there have been sporadic protests, strikes, and anti-government demonstrations calling for the overthrow of the government in Iran and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Also, hundreds of young women in Iran had been many silently and some overtly protesting forced to wear Hijab, a mark of thumbs down to say no to Iran's Islamic dictates.
Widespread protests erupted across Iran because of the fuel price hike. The protests which first started because of the price-hike soon turned to become a widespread uprising targeting Ayatollahs and demanding the overthrow of the Islamic Iran regime.
The ground reality is such that the people are explicitly angered with the leadership of the Mullahs (clergies) that has brutally suppressed their choice for freedom for decades, plundered the country's wealth and led some horrific policies that have plunged parts of the Middle-East into crisis at the expense of pubic exchequer of Iran.
"There is no doubt these protests are serious, in terms of their scale and scope," said Ali Vaez, director of the Iran programme at the International Crisis Group.
The people's anger is obvious. After a few weeks of street protests, the people were embracing the risk of arrest, imprisonment, injury and even death to make their voice heard - loud and clear.
Hundreds of people have been killed by the violent suppressive forces and anti-riot police, many of them shot in the head or chest, sometimes at point-blank range and from behind. Many were attacked by goons of the Ayatollahs who reigned the regime illegally for more than four decades.
The Iranian regime has made all attempts to downplay the gravity of the situation, with some officials saying that the protests have not had wide participation.
However, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) one of the other Iran-Protest campaigns is determined to continue the movement to a level of no-confidence against the clerics in Tehran.
Furthermore, thousands of people wounded and thousands more arrested, coupled with internet services blocked by the regime to hide under the carpet the state-led crimes in Iran.
The regime's decision to block the people's access to the internet demonstrates that the regime is terrified of the world finding out about its appalling human rights abuses under wraps for the regime.
Not denying that the regime is under fire from the United States and several Middle-East countries and are starting to realise that the US might have a genuine reason for keeping Iran under pressure.
Several other banned opposition groups are behind the pro-democracy Iran-Protest. The Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MeK) has many "Resistance Units" spread across the country. They are in contact with the Resistance located outside Iran and it has never been too difficult for information to be shared, no matter how hard the regime tries.
Iran's protests have managed to continue in spite of the most brutal government repression throughout the country. Not only have the protests continued, but activities of the MeK resistance units in major cities have escalated the Iran-Protest movement.
The outcome of this uprising depends largely on the reaction of the international community. The world leaders are slow to react to dreadful human rights abuses taking place in Iran.
The international community has a responsibility to ensure that the Iranian regime should be held accountable for flouting human rights and denial of democracy.

First published in the New Nation, 5 February 2020

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