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Tuesday, December 29, 2020

'Pandemic' word of the year 2020


The word ‘pandemic’ has become a part of all our lives now

The task to decide a single word or words in the year 2020, roiled by a public health crisis, an economic downturn, racial injustice, climate disaster, political division, and rampant disinformation -- was a challenge.

For the editors at, the choice was overwhelmingly focused. From our perspective as documenters of the English language, one word kept running through the profound and manifold ways our lives have been upended -- and our language so rapidly transformed -- in this unprecedented year.

The editors, based on online searches, concluded that the “2020 Word Of The Year” was “pandemic” and defined it as “a disease prevalent throughout an entire country, continent, or the whole world.” The year 2020 was indeed painful. And yet, the loss of life and livelihood caused by Covid-19 pandemic defies definition.

Nearly 80 million confirmed cases, the pandemic has claimed over 1.75 million lives across the globe and is still rising to new peaks with the fresh outbreak dubbed as Covid-20.

No doubt the pandemic has severely dented social and economic life on a historic scale and scope, globally impacting every sector of society -- not to mention its emotional and psychological toll.

All other events for most of 2020, from the protests for racial justice to a heated US presidential election, were shaped by the pandemic. Despite the hardships, the pandemic also inspired the best of humanity: Resilience and resourcefulness in the face of struggle.

Languages evolve and adapt to new realities and circumstances. This deadly coronavirus outbreak has been reflected in our language, notably in the word pandemic itself. As the world was shaken from the pandemic, the searches for the word “pandemic” skyrocketed 13,575% on compared to 2019.

It appeared to have jumped out of history textbooks, and joined a cluster of other terms that users searched for in massive numbers, whether to learn an unfamiliar word used during a government briefing or to process the swirl of media headlines: Asymptomatic, CDC, coronavirus, furlough, nonessential, quarantine, and sanitizer, to name a few.

"The pandemic, despite causing havoc, agony, and trauma among millions worldwide, surprisingly has united the world of vocabulary into one global village, eagerly waiting for the vaccine and an eventual solution for the pandemic."

As the pandemic upended life in 2020, it also dramatically reshaped our language, requiring a whole new vocabulary for talking about our new reality.

Among all searches, the volume for pandemic sustained the highest levels on-site over the course of 2020, averaging a 1000% increase, month over month, relative to previous years. Because of its ubiquity as the defining context of 2020, it remained in the top 10% of all lookups for much of the year.

Glossary and vocabulary researchers, based on a prediction by epidemiologists to virologists agree that the pandemic defined in 2020 will dominate the years to come. It is a consequential word for a consequential year.

In the spring, the pandemic introduced a host of new and newly prominent words that, normally, only public health professionals knew and used.

Expanding the glossary for daily life included: Air bubble; antibody tests; antigen test; antimalarial drugs; asymptomatic; conspiracy theory; contact tracing; corona-cure; Covid-dedicated hospitals; Covid-19; Covidiot; debunk fake news; diagnostic tests; disinformation; distance learning; endemic; epidemic; epidemiologist; face masks; fake health remedies; fake health tips; flatten the curve; frontliner; hand sanitizer; handwashing; health facilities; healthcare; herd immunity; hydroxychloroquine; infodemic; isolation; lockdown; mutation; N95; novel coronavirus; PCR test; PPE; public health; quaranteam; quarantine; second wave; social distancing; strain; superspreader; take-out; vaccine; ventilator; virologist; virtual court; webinar; work remotely; Zoom; so on and so forth.

The resilience and resourcefulness people confronted the pandemic with also manifested itself in tremendous linguistic creativity. Throughout 2020, the editorial teams of various dictionaries have been tracking a growing body of so-called “corona coinages” that have given expression -- and have offered some relief from tragedy, some connection in isolation -- to the lived experience of a surreal year.

First published in the Dhaka Tribune on 29 December 2020

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

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

"How long can Pakistan hold out in the east (Bangladesh)”


A conversation between Henry Kissinger and General Westmoreland about the birth of Bangladesh

Three days after a full-scale war between India and Pakistan in the eastern frontier and Bangladesh-India jointly against Pakistan in the eastern theatre, Henry Kissinger asked how long could the Pakistan troops hold in Bangladesh.

The meeting held in Washington DC, in the morning of December 6, 1971, was attended by senior officials of departments of state, defence, joint chief of staffs, CIA, USAID, and others.

US Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, at the onset of the meeting asked Gen Westmoreland: “What is your military assessment? How long can Pakistan hold out in the east” (Bangladesh war zone)?

Gen Westmoreland candidly said up to three weeks. Once the Pakistan Army runs out of supplies, all the troops in East Pakistan [Bangladesh] will become hostage. The officials discussed whether there were any possibilities of Pakistan troop's evacuation. Gen Westmoreland responded in negative.

A senior official of the State Department asked Gen Westmoreland that assuming the Indians took over Bangladesh, how did he think it would happen?

Gen Westmoreland replied, “I think their primary thrust will be to cut off the seaport of Chittagong. This will virtually cut off any possibility of resupply. Then they will move to destroy the Pakistan regular forces, in cooperation with the Mukti Bahini. They will then be faced with the major job of restoring some order to the country. I think there will be a revenge massacre — possibly the greatest in the twentieth century.”

Kissinger asked whether the Indians would withdraw their army once the Pakistan forces were disarmed.

Gen Westmoreland replied that he thought they [Indian] would leave three or four divisions to work with the Mukti Bahini, and pull the remainder back to the West.

The officials expected that the Indians would pull out as quickly as they could. Once the Pakistan forces were disarmed, the Indians would have a friendly population. They could afford to move back to the border areas quickly.

Another official predicted that after the Indian Army had been in Bangladesh for two or three weeks, they would be accepted as a “Hindu army of occupation.”

Kissinger asked: “What will India do with Bangladesh? Will they see it as an independent state or have them negotiate with Islamabad?”

An official responded that India had already recognized Bangladesh as an independent country. Kissinger said then that there was no hope for Pakistan to negotiate with Bangladesh. The objective of the Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s government was to force a surrender of the Pakistani troops in Bangladesh within 10 days.

In a telegram from New Delhi on December 6, US Ambassador Kenneth Barnard Keating reported that Indian Foreign Secretary Triloki Nath Kaul had expressed “disappointment, shock and surprise” that the United States had tabled the resolution it did in the UNSC.

On December 5, the Soviet representative on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) vetoed an eight-power draft resolution that called for a ceasefire and mutual withdrawal of forces, as well as intensified efforts to create the conditions necessary for the return of refugees to their homes.

The United States sriously wanted to stick with withdrawal and ceasefire, not a surrender of Pakistan troops. Kissinger assured the Pakistan regime that they were doing the best they could do diplomatically.

The resolution, which was tabled by Argentina, Belgium, Burundi, Italy, Japan, Nicaragua, Sierra-Leone, and Somalia, garnered a vote of 11 to 2 with 2 abstentions but was not adopted because of the negative vote of the Soviet Union (USSR). However, the UN Security Council accepted on December 6 that an impasse had been reached in its deliberations on the conflict in South Asia, and referred the issue to the General Assembly.

An estimated 93,000 Pakistan troops and civilians made an unconditional public surrender in Dhaka on December 16, 1971, which is observed as Victory Day each year.

First published in the Dhaka Tribune, 22 December 2020

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

Friday, December 18, 2020

Thaw in Bangladesh, Pakistan, relations?


The Pakistani press deliberately avoided the exchange between the Pakistan High Commissioner to Bangladesh Imran Ahmed Siddique and the Bangladesh PM.

There was lots of enthusiasm in the national press in Pakistan and among the Hawks in Islamabad, regarding the ‘quiet diplomacy’ of a rare meeting of Pakistan’s envoy with Bangladesh prime minister Sheikh Hasina.

The Hawks in Islamabad failed to realise why Hasina cleverly gave an appointment in December at her official residence Gonobhaban.

Bangladesh observes 16 December as ‘Victory Day’ when 93,000 marauding Pakistan armed forces and civilians surrendered at Dhaka in 1971, and Bangladesh was liberated.

The Pakistani press deliberately avoided the exchange between the Pakistan High Commissioner to Bangladesh Imran Ahmed Siddique and the Bangladesh PM.

Hasina during the parley maintaining social distancing in the wake of coronavirus pandemic, did not hesitate to state that “The incidents of 1971 can’t be forgotten. The pain will remain there forever,” says official news agency BSS.

She also referred to the volumes of a book titled “Secret Documents of Intelligence Branch on Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman”, the prime minister said people can learn historical incidents that occurred during 1948-1971. The documents describe how Pakistan junta interpreted his political activities and intermittently put him behind bars years after years.

She said both the English and Urdu version of the book “Unfinished Memoirs” by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman is one of the bestsellers in Pakistan. “It’s also well-read in Pakistan apart from other countries.”

When the diplomat raised that different bilateral and regional forums have remained inactive for some time and sought Dhaka’s initiative to reactivate the Foreign Office consultations (FCO) between the two countries, Hasina responded that as she believes in regional cooperation and there is no problem in the functioning of the forums.

Hasina, daughter of the architect of Bangladesh independence, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman reiterated Bangladesh’s foreign policy “friendship to all malice towards none”, and said she believes in continuing relationships with other countries too.

Well, the daily newspapers Dawn, Express Tribune, and other online newspapers published spoon-fed news tailored by the Press Information Department in Islamabad –what the citizens of Pakistan would love to hear.

Both Urdu and English press welcomed Hasina’s meeting with the Pakistan diplomat. Whereas she refused to meet the outgoing Indian envoy during the coronavirus lockdown.

The parley was interpreted as yet another sign suggesting warming up of nearly a decade old tensions between the two countries since Bangladesh bifurcated from Pakistan after a bloody war of independence in 1971.

Kamran Yousaf writes in the Express Tribune that the meeting of the Pakistani envoy with the Bangladeshi PM was the result of a ‘quiet diplomacy’.

The ice melted first in July when the Pakistani High Commissioner held a meeting with the Bangladeshi Foreign Minister during the coronavirus outbreak at its peak. The meeting that raised eyebrows in India, the wise-man writes.

A similar circus occurred when Imran Khan and his Bangladeshi counterpart spoke by phone.

What the press in Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad censored was that Hasina, confidently told the Naya Pakistan leader Khan, that his country must express apology for war crimes committed by the Pakistan military during the brutal birth of Bangladesh in 1971.

The diplomatic relationship between the two countries was experiencing hiccups after Pakistan repeatedly condemned the verdicts of the International Crimes Tribunal against the war criminals who are Bangladesh born and possess the nationality of Bangladesh.

Hasina was furious after recurring outlandish statements by Islamabad on war crimes trials were issued. In 2016, Pakistan’s parliament passed a unanimous resolution condemning the “politically motivated” trials.

Bangladesh protested to Pakistan’s condemnation, and diplomatic relations began to deteriorate. The ties sank in a quagmire.

She decided to call back the Bangladesh High Commissioner from Islamabad and lower the diplomatic status of the mission.

Her anger could be understood when she wanted to close down the Bangladesh mission in Islamabad and severe diplomatic relations with Pakistan.

Hastily at the request of India, Saudi Arabia, and the United States, Hasina changed her mind and instead kept the status low by withdrawing High Commissioner, Deputy High Commissioner, and other senior diplomatic officials.

The final blow comes when an official announcement that no tourist visa would be issued except for official visits and business visas. Pakistan also reciprocated the visa regime no visa is issued from Dhaka. Thus the only air connectivity by PIA had to cancel the flights for lack of passengers.

Despite Pakistan’s academia in Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad, intellectuals, rights groups, and mainstream Urdu and English language media often write about Pakistan debacles in Bangladesh war theatre, war crimes trial, and advocates for a thaw in the estranged relationship between two countries. Still, some reactionary elements, mostly Islamist groups, remained negative about the Bangladesh war crimes trial.

The Pakistan media admits that the strained relationship occurred after Bangladesh went ahead with the trial of the war criminals in 2009.

However, the politicians and Islamist parties argue that Sheikh Hasina is settling scores against her opponents and Islamic evangelist and key leaders of the Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami.

The politicians do not say that political leaders of the ruling Awami League, Jatiya Party, and Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) were also indicted and given maximum punishment.

Not surprised that the nationalist movements in Balochistan and Sind eagerly urge Bangladesh to raise the crime against humanity in their provinces at the international forum. Especially the enforced disappearances, torture, and atrocities against the Baloch and Sindhi nationals.

Recently the human rights abuses against Pashtun nationalists and human rights activists have sharply risen.

Well, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is a dangerous country for religious minorities, especially the Ahmadiyya, Christian, Sikh, and worst are the Hindus. The Hindu teenage and minor girls are victims of abduction, forced conversion, and married to elderly polygamist husbands, happening mostly in Sindh.

Finally, Kamran Yousaf writes that the statement issued by the Bangladeshi Prime Minister’s Office said the incidents of 1971 cannot be forgotten and forgiven. This shows that the Bangladesh government is still adamant that Pakistan must formally apologise over the events of 1971.

To bury the past and thaw the relationship among two South Asian countries, Islamabad must seek a public apology for committing war crimes and thus open a new chapter with Bangladesh.

First published in news portal Shuddhashar, published from Norway on 18 December 2020

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

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

An unsung martyr missing since 1971

Col Ziaur Rahman with wife Ferdousi Chowdhury and Shahreen Rahman Lubna (centre)


An unsung martyr missing since 1971Col AF Ziaur Rahman, principal of Sylhet Medical College was abducted by the Pakistan army and never was seen again.

Possibly thousands of unsung martyrs have not been properly documented. Their names are not mentioned in speeches of a politician, nor are they mentioned in textbooks, and not even documented in liberation war history.

Lieutenant Colonel Abul Fazal Ziaur Rahman, of Pakistan Army Medical Corps (AMC), is one unsung hero, missing since 1971.

Col Zia was posted as Principal and Superintendent of Sylhet Medical College (now Sylhet MAG Osmani Medical College) in 1968.

Despite being cautioned by his well-wishers and family, he ignored official protocol and wearing military uniform joined the countrywide anti-Ayub student protests in 1969. Incidentally, one of Ayub Khan's favorite playing card partners was a young army doctor Zia in Rawalpindi.

He was often visited by Col Osmani, senior Awami League leaders at his official residence in Sylhet for his outspoken support for independence from the shackles of the Pakistan junta.

Born in Araihazar Upazila, Narayanganj in 1926, and studied medicine at Campbell Medical College (now Nil Ratan Sircar Medical College), Kolkata. After graduation in 1947, he joined Pakistan Army Medical Corps in 1949.

He was visibly angered when General Yayha Khan, Chief Martial Law Administrator (CMLA) and President of Pakistan on March 1, 1971, cancelled the maiden parliament session scheduled to be held in Dhaka.

The cancellation sparked the nationwide street protest. The Sylhet Medical College was overwhelmed with wounded protesters and treated for bullet wounds and other injuries. Col Zia was an experienced surgeon and took care of the patients at the Operation Theatre himself.

One day in early March, Col Zia responding to a phone call from Col Sharfaraz of Sylhet Regional Martial Law Administrator, barked at him and said "It is simple, I will not treat [your soldiers]. You are shooting our innocent civilians [Bangalee] right and left and you are asking for treatment?"

He argued: "Your soldiers are CMH entitled, so take them to CMH," according to a short biography by his wife Prof Ferdousi Chowdhury, published in Shadhinata Juddhei Army Medical Corps (2010).

In another round of heated argument erupted with the Punjabi officer visited the medical college the same day. Troops accompanying Sarfaraz urged order to shoot Col Zia when he was defending Banglaee nationalism and demanded that Pakistan troops should withdraw from his motherland.

From somewhere he got a small flag of independent Bangladesh on March 3 and while driving Sylhet city the flag fluttered in his official car. Another flag was hoisted at his residence.

His wife Prof Ferdousi, believes that the display of the flag on his car and residence had invited him trouble. Similarly, another AMC officer Shaheed Lt. Col. Hye dared to display the flag in his car and was brutally killed.

His home radio was seized and was unable to hear the historic public speech of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on 7th March at Race Course Maidan. He heard the summary of the speech at the hospital.

He told his colleagues as well as the Pakistani soldiers that all directives have been given by Bangabandhu, now it's time to join the struggle for independence.

Five days after the "Operation Searchlight" crackdown by Pakistan troops to smash the rebellion, on 1 April, a fire-fight occurred at Punjab Regiment in Sylhet. An army vehicle dropped a grievously wounded Bangalee military officer and a doctor.

On April 9, Pakistan troops raided the hospital on information that officers who defected and joined Mukti Bahini were being treated and sheltered in the college.

The unwarranted death of his two colleagues made his blood boiling further heightened his anger and hatred towards the Pakistanis.

Col Zia was confined to his residential quarter and not allowed to buy essentials and daily groceries. His family along with his wife, their daughter, and son starved. The soldiers denied buying milk for his youngest son.

During his confinement, Col Zia often told his wife that "Bangabandhu can be compared with Mahatma Gandhi only."

They were rescued from confinement by a parent of a former student of Col Zia. After a few days, they felt that the shelter was not safe. They decided to return to the staff quarter of the medical college, where most of the residents have fled for safety. They broke open the door of a resident doctor and stayed from 7 April.

Shahreen Rahman Lubna, the only daughter of Col Zia was playing with dolls in front of the quarter. A Lieutenant arrived with few soldiers and asked the whereabouts of Col Zia.

She volunteered to take them upstairs where they were leaving as a refugee. On that day, Col Zia desired to eat 'bhuna-khichuri'. When Ferdousi was preparing his favourite menu, he went to take a shower.

The young officer said he has been asked to report to the military camp immediately. Zia was expecting this, so he quickly changed into a shirt and a pair of trousers. The 'khichuri' was lying on the dining table while he was escorted away.

Like thousands of victims of enforced disappearance by the Pakistani occupation force on 14 April, none have returned home.

At least 15 doctors and 122 healthcare staff of the Army Medical Corps were martyred. Ten members of AMC received gallantry recognition by the state.

A student's hostel at Osmani Medical College has been named after Shaheed Lt Col Zia, which heartens his family members.

Ferdousi Chowdhury retired as Head of Geography from Begum Badrunessa Government Women's College and also was a teacher of Geography at Eden Girls College. She died of old age complications in May 2017.

Lubna was five years old on a fateful day. Since then she never observed Pahela Baishak. The celebration of Bangla New Year's festivity does not arouse feelings in her life. She misses her father who loved her the most.

On that day she remains in solitude and silently weeps the whole day.

First published in The Asian Age, 16 December 2020

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

Tuesday, December 08, 2020

Austerity, economic recovery, and the debt trap


Why developing nations such as Bangladesh must be especially wary of how they seek to recover from the Covid-19 fallout

Development economists and civil society organizations (CSOs) argue that austerity measures adopted by the governments of third-world countries are not a solution during the coronavirus crisis.

They raise questions about austerity, gradually imposed after the Covid-19 crisis due to the massive debt contract. Immediate suspension of debt payments and better still, cancellation of debt, must take priority.

Instead, they advise governments to opt for economic recovery. The economic recovery will only be possible from “debt relief” and “debt justice.”

Bangladesh and other developing countries have given special attention in the wake of the coronavirus crisis and engaged in servicing external debts to international financial institutions.

The governments are deliberately diverting funds from education, human development, and infrastructure development sectors, whereas the health and safety net programs are implemented under a shoe-string budget.

According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the pandemic has pushed another 32 million people in poor countries into abject poverty.

Another report by the International Finance Institute highlights the $272 trillion global debt, a new high, in the third quarter of 2020 and warns us about the “attack of the debt tsunami.”

There are issues in which countries while seeking assistance from international financial institutions, are often imposed conditionalities that have not necessarily been negotiated with borrower states. These conditionalities are even seen in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The government deliberately does not involve the citizens to participate in consultations, discussions, or negotiations. Such conditionalities increase the country's chances of falling into a “debt-trap.”

Ultimately, it is the people that have to foot the debt repayment after authorities impose additional taxes and levies to recover from the vicious cycle of debt.

According to standards of international law, international financial institutions should be held responsible for complicity in the imposition of economic reforms that violate human rights, which is well documented.

Governments and major multilateral institutions like the World Bank, the IMF, and regional development banks have used repayment of public debt to generalize policies that have damaged public health systems.

This has meant job cuts in the health sector, job instability, reduced numbers of hospital beds, closing down neighbourhood health services, increased medical costs both for care and medicines, under-investment in infrastructure and equipment, and privatization of various sections of the health sector along with public under-investment in research and development for treatment, which is to the advantage of big private pharmaceutical groups and companies.

Even before the Covid-19 pandemic broke out, these policies had already led to an enormous loss of human lives, and all around the world, health personnel were organizing protests.

Neither the World Bank nor the IMF have cancelled any debts since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.

Although they have made endless calculated declarations to give the impression that they are taking very strong measures. This is completely false.

Worse still, since March 2020, the IMF has extended the loan agreements that entail continuing with the structural measures enumerated above. As for the World Bank, since March 2020 it has received more in debt repayments from developing countries than it has paid out to finance either donations or loans.

Eminent development economist, Dr Atiur Rahman states that “We want to fight the coronavirus and, beyond that, improve the health and living conditions of populations, [for which] emergency measures must be taken.”

Immediate suspension of debt payments and cancellation of debt must take priority, suggests former Bangladesh Bank’s governor Dr Rahman.

The austerity measures do not contribute to economic recovery, but instead have negative consequences in terms of economic growth, debt ratios, and equality, and routinely result in a series of negative human rights impacts.

First published in the Dhaka Tribune, 8 December 2020

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

Wednesday, December 02, 2020

A prisoner’s tale


Of fictitious cases, police brutality, and state-sanctioned intimidation

“Saleem Samad, a freelance reporter and local correspondent for the international press watchdog Reporters Sans Frontiers, was arrested earlier today (November 29, 2002) in connection with Channel 4,” writes The Guardian newspaper.

My arrest was made three days after British journalist Zaiba Malik and Italian cameraman Bruno Sorrentino who were commissioned by Channel 4 TV to produce a documentary on terrorism for its Unreported World, were also arrested along with their interpreter Priscilla Raj.

Journalist/film-maker Shahriar Kabir was also arrested under the sedition case. The rightist regime was enraged by his campaign for the trial of the war criminals of 1971.

The regime to harass critics also accused Advocate Rana Das Gupta (presently prosecutor of the International Crimes Tribunal) and former Dainik Janakantha’s Cox’s Bazar correspondent Tofael Ahmed.

During the repressive regime during 2002-2006 of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party’s (BNP) coalition with Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami, at least 80 journalists were arrested and tortured -- another 200 journalists were slapped with trumped-up charges.

Scores of journalists were brutally attacked and were hospitalized, mostly in the southern districts -- from Satkhira to Bhola. Many fled their district for their safety, either after being physically attacked or receiving death threats.

The infamous Hawa Bhaban was the mastermind of harassment and intimidation -- which led to numerous arrests, including war crimes historian Prof Muntassir Mamun, Enamul Hoque Chowdhury (present editor of the Daily Sun), and journalist Barun Bhaumik Nayan, among many others. Both the journalists were brutalized during interrogation to sign fictitious confessional statements.

In a shameful move, the pro-government journalist leaders of Bangladesh Federal Union of Journalists (BFUJ), Dhaka Union of Journalists (DUJ), and National Press Club refrained from protesting the arrests, torture, and intimidations of hundreds of journalists. Instead, the journalist leaders, spearheaded by Shaukat Mahmood, a journalist turned politician desired to “teach the journalists a lesson” with the blessing of Hawa Bhaban, the office of Tarique Rahman, and the rogue son of former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia.

It felt as if a thunderbolt struck me when Mozzem Hossain, a journalist of BBC Bangla in Bush House, London told me that the foreign journalists, Priscilla Raj, and the driver of a rented vehicle were arrested under a fictitious sedition case.

I quickly gave my first reaction to both BBC Bangla, BBC World Service, and numerous international media. The daily newspapers and private news channels had been agog with the sensational news of the detention of foreign journalists.

The news also splashed in major global media, as the regime’s “Operation Clean Heart” was squarely blamed for extra-judicial deaths and enforced disappearances of hundreds of opposition members deemed a threat to the ruling party. Janakantha newspaper reported that the FIR filed with Motijheel Police Station had only four names -- foreign journalists, an interpreter, and the name of a driver. 

Next to the driver’s name was the handwritten name “alias Saleem Samad.” My name was blue-pencilled by the Home Affairs Ministry, by the hybrid journalist leaders. 

My defense lawyers, Barrister Amirul Islam and Barrister Tania Amir, explained that I was neither aged 28, nor a driver by profession, and my parent’s name and address do not match the one mentioned in the police report. 

On the fourth day, the home of my parents in Pallabi, where I also lived with my family, was thoroughly searched for 28 (RPT 28) hours. 

My family was on the run, as security agencies wanted to retrieve the spare hard-disk from my son Atisha Rahbar. My parents were locked downstairs, while every inch of the two-storied house was thoroughly searched. All the books and documents were carefully scanned. 

On the fifth day, in the wee hours of Friday during the month of Ramadan, I was picked up by detectives from a flat in Uttara belonging to a Crack Platoon veteran, my school-mate Ishtiaq Aziz Ulfat. 

I was brought to the Detective Branch office at Mintoo Road. A delinquent police officer Kohinoor Miah attacked me with a baton and, also brandishing his service pistol on my forehead, accused me of betraying the country and slandering the image of the state. Well, it was Khaleda’s regime that smeared the country.

After 55 days, on the order of the High Court, I was freed on January 18, 2003.

First published in the Dhaka Tribune on 1 December 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