Monthly Coupon

Monday, August 31, 2020

Getting away with enforced disappearances

When will this stop in Bangladesh?


On August 30 - the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances - hundreds of families in Bangladesh must have been heart-broken for their loved ones. 

A son cries for his father, a mother cries for her son. The wife grieves for her husband and the heart of a sister aches for her abducted brother.

“Enforced disappearances are grave violations of international law and are crimes against humanity,” explains constitutional lawyer Dr Shahdeen Malik. He laments that the state lacks the initiative to rescue abducted persons as police stations refuse to register complaints of their families.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), quoting the rights groups in Bangladesh, said that in the last 18 months from January 1, 2019, to July 31, 2020, at least 572 people have been reported to have been forcibly disappeared by security forces and law enforcement agencies.

While some were eventually released, shown arrested, or discovered killed by law enforcement agencies in so-called “crossfires,” the whereabouts of many of them remain unknown.

We all know that enforced disappearance has frequently been exercised as a tool to spread terror among critics. In a political void, both the state and non-state actors regularly fish in murky waters to settle their scores. Most of the acts of disappearances could be clustered into three groups. First in the line of fire are the political opponents and antagonists of the state. Second, are security threats to the state and non-state actors, and third is obviously for extortion. The latter two are never freed. Mostly they are executed.

The sensational abduction in recent times is the case of journalist Shafiqul Islam Kajol. The journalist was “found” blindfolded, with his legs and arms bound at the no-man’s-land of the Bangladesh-India international border 53 days after he disappeared.

Also, rights defenders have not forgotten the mysterious abduction of indigenous rights activist Kalpana Chakma 22 years ago from a village in Rangamati in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. 

She was taken away hours after midnight, on the eve of the 1996 general election. No one has been tried for her disappearance. She is presumed to have been killed after her abduction to cover up the incident.

The day before Kajol’s suspicious disappearance on March 10, the journalist was one of 32 individuals booked for criminal defamation complaints by a member of parliament of the ruling Awami League.

Kajol was accused under the controversial Digital Security Act, 2018 of publishing defamatory posts on the lawmaker on Facebook. His disappearance, and suspected torture, appear to be heavily connected to the trumped-up charges. 

After 203 days since Kajol had disappeared, he had been “found” and then taken into custody. The ailing journalist is now languishing in prison and is refused proper health care despite a court order.

On the other hand, the families in grief squarely blame the authorities for not responding to the repeated appeals from the victims’ families for investigations into the enforced disappearance of their loved ones.

The UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, the UN Committee against Torture, and the UN Human Rights Committee have all expressed their concern over the Bangladesh government’s failure to disclose information regarding arbitrary arrests, unacknowledged detention, and enforced disappearances.

However, the government persistently denies that enforced disappearances occur in Bangladesh and refuse to credibly investigate the fates and whereabouts of disappeared persons, according to HRW.

The government has yet to sign or ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. The end of impunity of state actors will not cease unless accountability and transparency of a democratic government are assured. Safety and security are enshrined in the constitution.

First published in the Dhaka Tribune on 31 August 2020

Saleem Samad is an independent journalist, media rights defender, and recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He can be reached at Twitter @saleemsamad

Monday, August 24, 2020

Pakistan’s desperate attempt to come closer to Bangladesh

WEB_ Prime-Minister-Sheikh-Hasina-Imran-Khan
File photo: Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina (left), and her counterpart Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan


"Bilateral synergy between Bangladesh and Pakistan remains a work in progress"

For most journalists, columnists, and academicians in Pakistan, when they write or speak on Bangladesh affairs, it could be understood that they are bashing India and trying to appease Bangladesh by stating or using the term “brotherly Muslim” country.

The Bangladesh Ministry of Foreign Affairs has stated about the delinquent Indian press in undermining the relations of the two neighbours. The government could have warned equally about the Pakistan media writing provocative articles and commentaries that Bangladesh has realized after almost 50 years that India is no friend of Bangladesh, and is instead tilting towards China.

A Pakistani columnist Inam Ul Haque in The Express Tribune has written: “Taking a leaf from post-war European history would do well for both brotherly Muslim countries.”

Bangladesh, even after almost half-a-century, has not forgotten the marauding Pakistan Army launched a “jihad war” against the people. 

Thus, the broadcast of Radio Pakistan aptly said that the people of Bangladesh are “kafirs” and “gaddhars” (traitors) and have joined hands with their arch enemy, the Hindu-India.

Pakistan must backtrack their statement of officially declaring the people of Bangladesh as “kafirs” and traitors which gave them the moral legitimacy to commit genocide and rape as a weapon of war.

An estimated 10 million refugees fled Bangladesh and trekked into neighbouring states of India. They fled when their villages and towns were raided. Their relatives and neighbours were slaughtered by the Pakistan Army and their Islamic henchmen.

The plunders and arson of villages and bazaars and desecrating places of worship, and the genocide by Islamist militia -- these narratives are documented in the history of the Liberation War.

The Pakistan media put up stories on the first page regarding Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s telephone tete-a-tete with his Bangladesh counterpart Sheikh Hasina.

Both Bangladesh and Pakistan’s official statements did not mention that Imran Khan wanted to convince Bangladesh to support Pakistan on the Kashmir issue. PM Hasina in three words silenced Khan when she stated that Kashmir is “India’s internal affair.” Full stop.

What Pakistan media will not publish was that Bangladesh reiterated that Pakistan should provide a public apology to the war crimes committed during the Liberation War.

Barrister Tania Amir says that Bangladesh should muster support from friendly countries to hold Islamabad responsible for flouting the historic 1974 Tripartite Agreement signed in New Delhi which released 93,000 prisoners of war (POW).

In Clause 13 of the agreement jointly signed by the foreign ministers of Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan regarding the governments for reconciliation, peace, and friendship in the sub-continent, “the 195 Pakistani prisoners of war should be held to account and subjected to the due process of law.”

However, the Pakistan minister of defense and foreign affairs in the agreement said that “his government condemned and deeply regretted any crimes that may have been committed.”

Former Foreign Minister Dr Kamal Hossain, a signatory of the agreement in Clause 13, stated that the manifold crimes committed by POWs constituted, according to the relevant provisions of the UN General Assembly Resolutions and International Law, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide, and that there was universal consensus that persons charged with such crimes as the 195 Pakistani POWs should be held to account and subject to the due process of law.

The Tripartite Agreement stated that the 195 listed as war criminals will face court-martial under the Manual of Pakistan Military Laws (MPML), 1957.

In the home front, during a live discussion over a TV channel on the relationship between India and Bangladesh and the recent developments in regards to Pakistan, Foreign Minister Abdul Momen said the recent tensions between India and China were impacting ties with Bangladesh of both the nations, and he asserted that both India and China were its “neighbours” and that both the nations always had a big heart for Bangladesh.

Pakistan and Bangladesh need to realize that bilateral synergy can bring tremendous good to their people, wrote columnist Inam Ul Haque in The Express Tribune. Political observers merely scoffed at such wild ideas. 

First published in the Dhaka Tribune on 24 August 2020

Saleem Samad is an independent journalist, media rights defender, and recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He can be reached at  Twitter @saleemsamad

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Remembering the August bloodbath


On this day in 2004, Sheikh Hasina survived a brutal attack on the Awami League leadership

As dusk fell on August 21, 2004, I received a desperate phone call from a diplomat (his identity cannot be disclosed). His voice was very urgent and he said his head of mission demanded to know whether Sheikh Hasina was safe.

Hasina was an opposition leader of the Awami League and was intermittently boycotting the parliament sessions to protest against the stubbornness of the ruling alliance of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami in refusing the opposition adequate participation in the parliamentary debate.

Why, what’s the news of Sheikh Hasina, I asked the diplomat? He disclosed that several hand bombs were lobbed at the rally, dozens of senior AL leaders were wounded, and many more were dead and nearly 200 rally participants were grievously injured at Bangabandhu Avenue. Please call back to confirm her status, whether she is injured and where she is now.

The call came 20 minutes after the brutal attack, which is believed to have had an objective to eliminate Sheikh Hasina, neutralize the Awami League party by killing senior leaders, and thus, the opposition would be paralyzed.

It was an evil dream of Hawa Bhaban, the de facto power out of Prime Minister’s Office. He manned a separate office in the posh Banani area by Prime Minister Khaleda Zia’s eldest son -- an obtrusive politician Tarique Rahman (a fugitive in exile in London); I could not digest the breaking news.

I began to call the press photographers, including Pavel Rahman of Associated Press, Rafiqur Rahman of Reuters, Shambunath Nandi of Bangladesh Observer, and few others. Unfortunately, none of them responded to my phone calls.

Out of the blue, my colleague in the Bangladesh Observer, Khandaker Mohitul Islam Ranju, called me. He was listening to the rally near Dhaka Stadium, a stone’s throw distance from the scene of the occurrence, and a stark witness of the carnage.

Quickly, I asked him about Hasina, whether he has had any knowledge of her status. He said he couldn’t confirm her status.

Still not getting information about Hasina, I called a field officer of National Security Intelligence (NSI). After several anxious calls on his mobile phone, finally he responded in a stress-free mood as if nothing had happened.

I asked whether he had any information about Hasina. Promptly he said that the rally had ended more than an hour ago and Hasina must have left the place.

My second quick question was, where was he? He replied that he was at a music store at Topkhana Road (not far from the venue) and was listening to Rabindra Sangeet with a headphone. The third question was, did you not listen from other field officers of what happened at Bangabandhu Avenue over walkie-talkie? He said his walkie-talkie was switched off.

I repeated what I heard from the diplomat and my journalist friend. He laughed at the information I shared with him. I earnestly requested him to switch on his walkie-talkie.

Once he switched on the two-way radio, I could hear clattering noises from his radio. Before I could request him to call back on any news of Hasina, he hung up and did not respond to my calls throughout the night.

Three hours after the incident, still no news of the fate of Hasina. Ranju called back and confirmed that Hasina’s private security had dashed her to Dhanmondi. I asked him which hospital in Dhanmondi. He said no, she has reached her Shuda Shadan residence. The following day, while walking to the place of occurrence from Press Club, I met the NSI officer (his name has been suppressed for security reasons) walking towards the Secretariat Building.

While walking and talking, I asked him why he had abandoned his position in the rally and was listening to music. He replied that his superior officer had asked all the Field Officers to leave the venue after Hasina arrived at Bangabandhu Avenue. So, he moved away, ad as nothing else was expected otherwise, he switched off the radio.

By the way, who was his superior? He did not hesitate to indicate that it was none other than the director-general of NSI, Major General Rezaqul Haider Chowdhury (a notorious officer presently languishing in prison pending appeal verdict of the infamous 10-truck arms haul in Chittagong).

To my surprise, he voluntarily gave me additional information that the NSI chief was at Holy Family Hospital at Eskaton instead of Combined Military Hospital on the fateful evening. “Now you understand who is responsible for the incident,” the NSI officer said and walked away, requesting me not to quote him ever.

Describing the incident, lawmaker Saber Hossain Chowdhury and former junior minister in previous Awami League cabinet said the driver of the vehicle intelligently outwitted the assassins and bombers and saved Hasina from the attack.

The customized bullet-proof vehicle Range Rover, a gift of Chowdhury, was shot several times. The snipers continued to target the grieving Hasina seated on the front passenger side to accomplish their killing mission. The windshield, window, and door bore marks of bullets.

The assassin team had deployed sharp-shooters in strategic points on rooftops. On an ominous day, armed police were deliberately not positioned on the rooftops on duty.

As soon as the vehicle managed to manoeuvre out of the massacre site, the nervous Special Branch officer onboard the escape vehicle sought clearance over his walkie-talkie for a secured route. An unnamed officer in the control room barked at him to wait for the police escort vehicle, but the driver refused to listen.

The vehicle zigzagged through the Dhaka University campus and reached home safely in 15 minutes and, thus, Sheikh Hasina cheated death.

First published in The Dhaka Tribune, 20 August 2020

Saleem Samad is an independent journalist, media rights defender, and recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He can be reached at Twitter @saleemsamad

Saturday, August 15, 2020

The legacy of Sheikh Kamal

Sheikh Kamal, blue pole-star in the sports arena!


At PAF Shaheen School (now BAF Shaheen College), Dhaka, in 1967, everybody took a glimpse of a tall, well-built student with a light moustache, unkempt hair, wearing thick, black-framed spectacles in khaki trousers and a blue school uniform shirt.

Every time I saw the senior student, he was practicing cricket, a game not played by many Bangalees in the 1960s.

He was none but Sheikh Kamal, the eldest son of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who was in prison accused of treason by the military dictator General Ayub Khan for conspiring to bifurcate the eastern province of Pakistan into an independent state, Bangladesh. In fact, the dream came into reality in less than five years.

Kamal was an avid promoter of Bangla-speaking students to join regular sports, especially cricket. Shaheen School fared very well in inter-school competitions in basketball, football, cricket, and other sporting events for his active involvement.

The sports in Shaheen School were dominated by Urdu-speaking students, whose parents and guardians had migrated from India after the 1947 partition, or their parents were serving in the Pakistan Air Force, PIA, and civil bureaucracy.

Kamal used to visit junior classes to recruit students who had a flair for music, dance, and drama.

Many others -- liberation war historian Afsan Chowdhury, acclaimed photographer Dr Shahidul Alam (Drik), Mohammad Ismail (of Rahimafrooz), heritage archive specialist Waqar Khan, Captain Sheikh Naseer Ahmed who was briefly managing director of Bangladesh Biman, Flight Engineer Faizul Islam, Tarique Islam (bagged the gold medal in the All Pakistan School Science Fair) -- did not join any games and sport.

Instead, they were more engaged in school addas during tiffin break, reading books, and watching English movies in Naz, Modhumita, and Balaka cinema halls.

He appeared for the SSC exam in 1967 and left the school. He continued his studies in Dhaka College and then joined Dhaka University, also organizing the East Pakistan Chhatra League.

The de facto student leader of the Bangla-speaking school students organized cultural programs in state-run Pakistan Television (now BTV) through his rightful connections.

PTV Dhaka Centre used to broadcast dance, music, and drama which was participated in by Shaheen School. Titumir’s “Basherkella” drama, directed by Sheikh Kamal, was also broadcast on BTV in 1967.

The school under his encouragement got the best singer and dance choreographers. Singer Munni Begum and Alamgir Haq, who shot into fame in Pakistan, were born in Bangladesh and studied in Shaheen School. Similarly, Afroze Jilany made her debut in the dance program in PTV and is now a choreographer in the United States.

Fortunately, Sheikh Kamal’s pro-active initiative had yielded a positive result. Nearly a dozen footballers and cricketers who studied in Shaheen School joined the national team. Amongst them was Kazi Salauddin, who is presently president of the Bangladesh Football Federation.

Most exciting were Tanveer Mazhar Islam Tanna (SSC 1967) and Jahangir Shah Badshah (SSC 1969) who played cricket in the national team after the independence of Bangladesh.

Days after the birth of Bangladesh, Sheikh Kamal with other friends and footballer Salauddin founded Abahani Krira Chakra in 1972.

Well, the sports enthusiast Kamal played football, cricket, basketball, and hockey. He also excelled in athletics. He was a brilliant organizer indeed. He was good “addabaz” and sang songs.

Before he was recruited in War Course to become a Mukti Bahini officer, he was a member of the Shadhin Bangla Football Team, which held football matches across India to raise funds for the 10 million refugees during the Liberation War in 1971.

At least 16 students joined the Mukti Bahini from the 1967 to 1972 batches. Sarkar Kamal Sayed, a Liberation War veteran, led Shaheen School in 1969 to grab the basketball championship in the Inter-School Sports Competition. He earned the Sword of Honour in the 2nd BMA (December 1975) in Bhatiari, Chittagong.

Ishtiaq Aziz Ulfat also joined the “Crack Platoon,” the guerrillas which made a shiver run through the spines of marauding Pakistan troops in Dhaka during the war. Similarly, Salim Akbar (1971 batch) received the gallantry award Bir Protik for his contribution.

Unfortunately, after 10 days of his 26th birthday and a month after his marriage with Sultana Kamal Khuki, they were brutally murdered by rogue military officers of the armoured corps when they assaulted the private residence of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on August 15.

Bangabandhu’s family members were murdered in cold blood on a fateful morning.

May they rest in peace!

First published in The Dhaka Tribune, 15 August 2020

Saleem Samad is an independent journalist, media rights defender, recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He can be reached at and on Twitter @saleemsamad

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Should China apologize to Bangladesh?


Chinese wolf-warrior diplomacy was on the lookout for ‘friends’ in South Asia to create political pressure on India. China brought together their all-weather friend Pakistan, new ally Nepal, debt-trap Sri Lanka under its folds, except Bangladesh, Afghanistan, and Bhutan.

China seems desperate to take diplomatic and economic ties with Bangladesh to a new height.

Since 1991 after a democratic government took power the China-Bangladesh relationship was intertwined for the partnership for economic development.

The new pro-Islamist regime of Khaleda Zia reached out to China to shrug off Indian influence which was an extended strategic gain for both countries.

China and Pakistan was the major military hardware supplier to Bangladesh military forces, which was also needed for United Nations Peacekeeping operations. The weighing scale plummeted under the growing influence of the China-Pakistan axis and penetrated deep into politics, bureaucracy, and economic development of the country.

In subsequent years, China emerged as the major economic partner in mega infrastructure development in Bangladesh and the cheering politicians began to beat their chest like King Kong.

Sheikh Hasina, a woman prime minister for successive fourth term has told her government officials that Bangladesh will give second-thought regarding multi-billion dollar development projects with China.

The world media reports have caught the attention of the Bangladesh leaders regarding several third-world countries were caught in debt-trap in South Asia, Africa, and the Pacific Ocean Islands. What happened was the country’s national exchequer failed to repay the huge loan invested in mega projects. China in a bid to salvage the debt-trap government took a 99-years lease of maritime ports and other facilities. End of the story!

Not very long Sheikh Hasina, the daughter of assassinated Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founder of Bangladesh has reassured the Indian journalists that India is an ‘organic’ friend of Bangladesh and have jointly shed blood during the brutal independence in 1971.

She also said that China is a development partner and there is no conflict of interest. In 1971, the marauding Pakistan troops in eastern war theatre in desperate attempted to keep the two wings of Pakistan united. Pakistan troops and their Islamic militia continued to commit genocide and rape as a weapon of war.

Pakistan troops were in a quagmire. In the monsoon rain in floodplain delta coupled with Mukti Bahini guerilla’s hit and run operations gave the soldiers a hard time. Fortunately, Pakistan an ally of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) received unlimited military supply and political support for the war to suppress the people.

Like the Pakistan media, Chinese media were tight-lipped of the genocide committed by marauding soldiers. China should admit the responsibility for the genocide perpetrated by Pakistan’s military hawks in Bangladesh.

For each victim of genocide, China delivered gifts via the Rawalpindi hawks which were “Made in China” bullets in brass that were pumped into the martyrs who wanted an independent Bangladesh.

China ignored world opinion on the Bangladesh liberation war in 1971. CCP closed their ears not to hear the cries and agonies of 10 million refugees who fled to neighboring India. Many countries in the world do not have 10 million populations!

On the other hand, on request of the Bangladesh government in exile, Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani, chairman of the pro-China left-leaning National Awami Party’s appeal to the CCP for political support for Bangladesh went unanswered. Instead, China increased the supply of arms and ammunition.

After independence, China continued to politically and diplomatically harass the newly emerged independent nation.

The architect of Bangladesh’s independence, Sheikh Mujib after three weeks of the historic surrender of 93,000 Pakistan armed forces and para-military forces in Dhaka, had returned from the prison of Pakistan.

He took charge of a war-ravaged nation with a promise to feed the hungry people and task to rehabilitate the millions of refugees slowly trickled back home from camps in India. This phenomenon created a challenge for the new government. By April 1972, one after another, including the United States, Canada, Great Britain, European countries, allies of the Soviet Union, Japan, Australia, and scores of countries recognized the war-torn nation of 75 million. The trouble started when Bangladesh applied for membership to the United Nations in 1972. China spontaneously twice vetoed Bangladesh membership in the United Nations as the country desperately needed international food aid and budget for rehabilitation of the returnees from Indian refugee camps. China deliberately vetoed the application because two United Nations resolutions regarding the repatriation of Pakistani prisoners of war (POWs) and civilians held in India had not yet been implemented. Chinese move was certainly to keep Pakistan in good humor.

To withstand Asian-giant China, Sheikh Mujib to add diplomatic clouts joined the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), The Commonwealth, and the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC), which indeed strengthened Bangladesh foothold in the global arena.

However, Pakistan recognized Bangladesh in 1974 under duress of the leaders of Islamic nations weeks before the OIC conference.

Even after diplomatic recognition by Pakistan, China continued to intimidate the government of Sheikh Mujib.

Overtly the pro-Beijing communist parties in the country received political blessings from CCP. The left parties despite divided into several factions opposed the liberation war, rejected independent Bangladesh, and expressed dissent on the government of Sheikh Mujib, blaming him a stooge of India.

The pro-Chinese extremist groups remained underground and their parties deliberately had prefix “East Pakistan (Purbo Pakistan)” or” East Bengal (Purbo Bangla)”.

Not to anybody’s surprise, the left extremist raised their heads above the ground and made the unconditional suspension of armed struggle during the military junta on the behest of the CCP’s.

Mujib in his book ‘Amar Dekha Nayachin’ (New China As I Saw) had visited China twice. First in 1952 and second in 1957. During his visit, he met both Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai, and other CCP’s key leaders. He was confident that the Chinese leaders would listen to his request to recognize Bangladesh.

Stubborn Mujib opened diplomatic channels to win the heart of CCP. Pakistan’s veteran envoy to Beijing (1969-1972), Ambassador Khwaja Mohammad Kaiser, a member of Nawab clan in old Dhaka after his tenure in Beijing opted to return home.

Chinese Prime Minister Zhou Enlai confided to Ambassador Kaiser that he understood his difficulties. Well, Kaiser returned to Beijing, as Bangladesh Ambassador in 1984 for two years.

Mujib had also despatched a journalist and poet Faiz Ahmed to China. Faiz had friends in high places among CCP leadership when he was working in Radio Peking (now Beijing) Bangla Service in the 1960s. Faiz was Mujib’s play card game partner in Dhaka prison during 1966-1969. There he heard of Faiz’s relationship with the Chinese political leaders.

He traveled to Beijing via Hong Kong and met the CCP senior leaders. Unfortunately, he returned home with an empty hand. Despite the missions reached a dead end, Mujib did not lose hope.

Finally, China recognized Bangladesh, but not an elected government of Sheikh Mujib, but after his brutal assassination on 15 August 1975. China recognized the regime governed by coup leaders.

China was among the last countries to recognize independent Bangladesh on 31 August 1975.

The ‘dirty dozen’ army officers, mostly liberation war veterans who spearheaded the mutiny remained in power for 84 days. Expect for few fugitives most of the leaders were captured and rewarded the death penalty.

CCP’s anti-people policy during the bloody birth of Bangladesh, overtly providing military aid to Pakistan which augmented genocide with Chinese bullets should apologize. CCP should also apologize for harassing Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

First published in The South Asian Digest, Montreal, Canada on 12 August 2020

Author is an independent journalist, media rights defender in Bangladesh. Recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He could be reached at; Twitter: @saleemsamad

Thursday, August 06, 2020

Can Bangladesh shun political Islam?


For millions of people in an impoverished Bangladesh, it seems to have ushered a political blessing. The nation which fought a bloody war of independence in 1971 against Pakistan to establish secularism and democracy was obliterated by subsequent military juntas and pro-Islamic governments.

The first constitution has enshrined secularism, democracy, socialism, and nationalism as the key political philosophy of the independence of Bangladesh, which reflects the spirit of the independence war when the eastern province severed from Pakistan in 1971.

After the assassination of the architect of Bangladesh independence Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in a military putsch in 1975, the military-backed government of General Ziaur Rahman, a former Mukti Bahini commander, with a swagger stick doctored the constitution’s guiding principle and scribbled “Bismillah’ir Rahman’ir Rahim (Faith in Allah)” in 1979 to establish legitimacy of his military government.

After Mujib’s daughter Sheikh Hasina, leader of the Awami League swept to power in 2008 pledged to restoration of secularism and the trial of war criminals.

The Supreme Court in its landmark verdict forbids political parties that advocate political Islam. The apex court also asked to reinstate the four key principles in the constitution.

In separate voluminous judgements in July and August of 2010, the apex court pulled down the Fifth Amendment of 1979 and Seventh Amendment of 1986, including provisions that allowed religious-based politics, which was legitimized by tyrannical rules from 15 August 1975 to 9 April 1979 and 24 March 1982, and 10 November 1986 respectively.

The court in a ruling said the Seventh Amendment retroactively legitimized the very acts that successfully engineered the coups by former Chief of Army Staff Lt. Gen. Husain Muhammad Ershad unseated an elected government of President Justice Abdus Sattar in March 1982.

General Ershad in a bid to woo moral support of majoritarian Sunni Muslims had rewritten the constitution which determines “Islam as state religion” of a once secular nation.

The higher court judges noted, “The proclamation of martial law and its regulations and orders and all actions under this law shall remain illegal until Qayamat (the Last Day of Judgment). “The martial law was beyond the mandate of the constitution and will be invalid for eternity,” and said, “a usurper is a usurper.” It is deemed that the judgement squarely blamed both the military leaders have acted as a usurper to grab the state power.

The apex court’s verdict on the Fifth Amendment said, “The perpetrators of such illegalities should also be suitably punished and condemned so that in future no adventurist, no usurper, would dare to defy the people, their constitution, their government, established by them with their consent.”

The court dubs the “extra-constitutional adventurers” as predators of democracy who ushered military regimes.

General Zia was assassinated in a military coup d’état in 1982 and General Ershad was ousted in 1990, after a bloody pro-democracy revolution. He served a prison sentence for corruption but is a key ally coalition of the ruling party and died last year of old age complications.

Excited by hearing the superior court verdict Shahriar Kabir, a secularist, researcher and staunch advocate for the trial of the war criminals said the people’s mandate in the last general election for the restoration of secularism and trial of perpetrators responsible for the crime against humanity in 1971.

“Religious based politics was prohibited after brutal birth of Bangladesh. We have seen youths belonging to Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) were engaged as henchmen of marauding Pakistan military. They raised Al-Badr, a death squad to kidnap and murder hundreds of intellectuals who could not escape for their safety and security,” he explained.

All the JeI leaders of the secret militia group Al-Badr were handed down maximum punishment for war crimes and crimes against humanity by the International Crimes Tribunal.

The journalist and film-maker Kabir said General Zia, after the assassination of Sheikh Mujib in a bid to gain political support, withdrew the ban on religious politics and allowed Islamic parties to regain grounds.

The Bangladesh Nationalist Party founded by assassinated General Rahman, presently led by his widow, Begum Khaleda Zia appealed the apex court’s first ruling on the Fifth Amendment last January and lost her in a crucial legal battle which was detrimental to her party.

Notwithstanding, Bangladesh is a Sunni Muslim-majority nation, most people practice a moderate version of Sunni Islam. In the long run, the country’s politicians want the country to transform into a secular democracy rather than “Islam as State Religion”.

Pending a verdict from the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court, the Bangladesh Election Commission has struck off the name of Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) as a political party. Officially the Islamist party was unable to participate in the 2014 and 2018 general election. Unfortunately, the Islamist party failed to satisfy the Election Commission that it is a Bangladesh origin party, upholds the Bangladesh constitution, and expresses solidarity with the independence of Bangladesh.

JeI handbook and various published documents, the party did not accept the state constitution and demanded to override it with Quran and Sharia Law upon 164 million secular and moderate Muslim majority nation. Unfortunately, the party failed to muster moral support of the majority.

Besides, the party didn’t recognise Bangladesh independence. JeI was politically, morally, and physically supported by the marauding Pakistan military.

Regarding banning of Islamic parties, Sheikh Hasina told the Jatiya Sangsad (parliament) said the Islamic parties will not be banned, while “Bismillah’ir Rahman’ir Rahim” and state religion Islam will remain in the constitution.

Social justice activist Kabir is visibly disturbed regarding the delay in banning of religious-based political parties, especially JeI which opposed the independence of Bangladesh.

He said the prime minister’s statement in parliament has confused the nation and contradicts the verdict of the superior court. The Islamic parties would continue to function and overtly campaign against the war crimes trial.

First published in The South Asian Digest on 6 August 2020

Author is an independent journalist, media rights defender in Bangladesh. Recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award

Wednesday, August 05, 2020

From Khuda Hafez to Allah Hafez

The rise of radicalism has made a dent in the secular fabric of society
The Muslim festival celebrated on the occasion of Hajj is Eid-ul-Azha, with the customary sacrifice of cattle all over the Islamic countries, as well in hundreds of other countries where there are followers of Islam.
While tens of thousands on social media and writings in print, the nation seems to have awakened to find that the traditional words heard for centuries in Bengal -- “Eid-ul-Azha” -- have been renamed “Eid-ul-Adha.”
Earlier, our grandfather taught children to say “Roza” and the conventional social salutation was “Ramzan Mubarak.” What they want us to hear now is “Ramadan Kareem.”
wwaBengal, the land of Sufis and Bauls, a unique place in ancient India where Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Christians -- the ethnic and cultural minorities -- lived in harmony along with nature.
When we were in the Pakistan era, the existence of orthodox or radicalized Muslims was not visible. There was a significant rise of progressive Muslim writers, poets, lyricists, and musicians.
In post-1947 -- liberal spaces encouraged cinema, theatre, folk music, and traditional Jatra. Cultural activities thrived with the resurgence of a new generation of creative people in society.
Suddenly the Jatra and folk music were attacked by Islamists, coupled with civil administration refusing to give permits to hold folk festivals in rural areas.
The rise of radicalism is a new phenomenon, which has made a dent in the secular fabric of society. Such peculiar development has been noticeable in Bangladesh for more than three decades.
Presently, the bauls, cartoonists, writers, and sculpture artists are unable to exercise their profession. Firstly, they are physically attacked and secondly, they are slapped with the controversial Digital Security Act.
Nowadays, the bigots scoff if somebody says namaaz and corrects it to salaat. They have changed “Milad-un-Nabi” into “Siratun-Nabi” and gradually everything which is Persian is being changed.
Most importantly, our goodbye greeting -- “Khuda Hafez” -- has been forcibly converted to “Allah Hafez.” Most Islamic practitioners in the country do not realize that long ago, Khuda Hafez arose at the authoritative Islamic learning centre at the Al-Azhar, Cairo.
Everybody knows “Allah” is Arabic and “Khuda” is Persian. The great blind scholar of the Qur’an, Taha Hussain said: “A child calls his mother by so many names and also ‘coins’ new words and she invariably responds. Does she ever say why haven’t you called me mother?”
“Allah Hafez” was first imported from Pakistan during Khaleda Zia’s pro-Islamist regime in 1991. Well, in Pakistan, liberal and secular intellectuals, academics, and mainstream media have squarely rejected “Allah Hafez."
In Pakistan, experimenting with neo-Islamic culture has become a national activity of the military regime in converting whatever was Persian to Arabic.
Of course, the first step in the Islamization of the country had taken deep root when General Ziaur Rahman, through a military proclamation, amended the 1972 constitution and inserted “Bismillah-Ar-Rahman-Ar-Rahim” (In the name of Allah, the beneficent, the merciful) in the preamble of the constitution.
The principle of secularism was removed from the constitution in 1977 by the Fifth Amendment. Furthermore, another military dictator in 1988 declared: “Islam as the state religion” to appease the conservative Sunni Muslim majority.
In public events, the political speakers begin with the salutation Bismillah-Ar-Rahman-Ar-Rahim and end it with Allah Hafez.
Writer and researcher in war crimes Shahriar Kabir debated that the Charter of Medina signed by Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) did not write “Bismillah-Ar-Rahman-Ar-Rahim."
He asked the Islamic zealots why they deleted Khuda Hafez and coined Allah Hafez? Well, goodbye in Arabic is Fee Amanillah.
The followers of the Wahhabi sect, which advocate strict Sharia laws, were hailed by the Taliban and IS; the orthodox groups consciously deleted Persian words from Muslims in Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan.
This geopolitical shift occurred after the so-called Islamic Revolution in Iran. The Arab states felt threatened that regime change would jeopardize the Islamic ummah.
The pro-Wahhabi Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami first introduced the endnote slogan Allah Hafez which was adopted from Pakistan Islamist conglomerates.
The Islamist party was able to influence leaders of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party to adopt Allah Hafez, while the Awami League leaders in the 1990s were still saying, Khuda Hafez.
In a major shift after 2009, gradually, Awami League leaders, MPs, and bureaucrats picked up the end salutation Allah Hafez and it is now established as Muslim etiquette.

First published in the Dhaka Tribune, 4 August 2020

Saleem Samad is an independent journalist, media rights defender, and recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He can be reached at Twitter @saleemsamad