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Monday, October 23, 2023

Bangladesh likely to plunge into political violence


The two rival political parties, the governing Awami League and the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) are on a head-on collision course on 28 October.

In a major showdown of the BNP in mobilisation of supporters, members and sympathisers, the Awami League leaders and senior ministers are threatening that they will block roads and intersections in the capital Dhaka on 28 October and mobilise thousands of supporters.

Party general secretary Obaidul Quader and Minister for Roads and Highways warned the BNP that they would face a similar outcome in 10 December, last year.

After protracted negotiations, the BNP got permission for its last year’s December 10 rally at the fringe of the capital – a ground which was not its first choice of BNP.

The permission came at the cost of a life, injuries to around 100 people, and the arrest of dozens of party stalwarts.

Meanwhile, the Dhaka Metropolitan Police’s commissioner, Habibur Rahman warned of tough actions if the BNP caused harm to the lives and properties of 2.24 crore (nearly 22 million) residents of the metropolitan city while holding the political programme.

However, BNP’s general secretary Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir explained that their “loyalists won’t ‘occupy streets’ during the Dhaka rally” and has no plans to stage any sit-in protests during the party’s ‘mass rally’ in Dhaka. The party has taken adequate steps to ensure that the gathering ends peacefully, he added.

The threats against BNP were also made by Information and Broadcasting Minister Dr Hasan Mahmud, a family member of the Sunni cleric Shah Ahmed Shafi founder of the Islamist organisation Hefazat-e-Islam (Protector of Islam) that the governing Awami League members, supporters and henchmen will dominate the streets of Dhaka.

Literally, Dhaka will come to a standstill by warring parties, marching in the streets with bamboo sticks and batons to confront, one to obstruct holding the rally and another push through the Awami League and ‘golden boys’ barricades at all major intersections.

The ruling party would supplement the thousands of riot police and elite anti-crime police RAB, police detectives and security agencies mobilised to enforce the “law and order” situation.

Fearing police and ‘golden boys’ harassment, BNP leadership has called on their members and disciples to reach Dhaka two days early.

The government in the past on several occasions during BNP’s rallies blocked public transport, like buses, trains and ferryboats (launch) services. Several hotels and informal accommodations were raided and hundreds were arrested accused of sabotage and conspiring against the government. In most cases, the hotel owners are asked to vacate the rooms of their customers and close for 24 to 48 hours in the name of security issues posed by the opposition’s gathering.

BNP, the country’s largest opposition group demands that the next parliamentary polls, expected in early January, be overseen by a caretaker government to ensure a free and fair election, writes the Daily Star.

The party boycotted the election in 2014 and alleged vote rigging and intimidation during the 2018 polls, which were held under an Awami League government.

Of course, Awami League repeated its refusal to step down before the election, arguing that such an ‘unelected [caretaker] government’ would be unconstitutional, and would create a crisis from a political vacuum which would hinder the country’s politics and development.

Awami League launched a violent anti-government street protest demanding a caretaker government, which led to elections under a neutral government in 1996.

Sheikh Hasina, the current leader of the Awami League founded by her father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, an independence hero scraped the elections under a caretaker government when she swung to power in 2009 after the system was challenged in the higher court and declared unconstitutional.

Meanwhile, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group fears countrywide violence and conflicts in Bangladesh from October 2023 to March 2024. The assessment was recently published in the global conflict tracker, CrisisWatch, and qualitative assessments provided by Crisis Group’s analysts based in conflict areas.

The assessment identified several parameters of conflicts during the six months and said a potentially high-stakes violent election in January 2024 is a prime reason for hostilities. Violence could surge in the lead-up to or after voting in January, as envisaged by the European think tank.

The ruling Awami League is expected to ignore calls for it to step down and hand power to a neutral regime that would ensure holding a free, fair, inclusive and credible election, and instead continue crackdown on opposition BNP members, says the report.

Not very unfamiliar with political protests in the country, the rival supporters could clash in street battles or attack party offices or candidates, especially rebel candidates.

Amid the political tensions, the Islamist groups will also bake extra bread when the oven is still warm. The Islamists become more active in opposing the government, the report said.

The potential consequences would be a rigged or disputed election could trigger fierce anti-government protests. Facing the prospect of a rigged poll, the opposition will probably boycott the election and could become radicalised, adopting more violent tactics.

In the worst-case scenario, the military might intervene should the election’s aftermath become chaotic, says the Crisis Group report.

The International Crisis Group understands that conflicts, violence and political reprisals could also cause the government to increase its dependence on India and China, as the United States and its potential Western countries would probably respond with sanctions, such as collective visa bans on top officials by the West, especially the United States.

First published in the Northeast News, 23 October 2023

Saleem Samad is an award-winning independent journalist based in Bangladesh. A media rights defender with the Reporters Without Borders (@RSF_inter). Recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He could be reached at; Twitter: @saleemsamad

Saturday, October 14, 2023

China-Russia-America, who is the friend of Bangladesh?


As the much-talked-about general elections expected in early January 2024 approach, the global superpowers are zooming their hawkish eyes on Bangladesh.

Most concerned people in the West, of course, the Bangladeshi expatriates and especially the Indians frankly ask why the superpowers are interested in the political development in a country of 173 million people.

In one word – the “China card”. The West, neighbouring India and even Japan are feeling jittery over the growing Chinese influence in the Sheikh Hasina-led government and her party Awami League.

Once an Indian diplomat in a private gathering sought opinion on why China’s mega-projects get approval quickly, and India’s infrastructure development projects are delayed due to bureaucratic red tape. He was told that the Japanese had a similar experience of projects falling through the faultline of bureaucracy.

China’s inroad to Bangladesh and getting contracts for mega projects had irked India, Japan and the United States.

Indian media have written on the expansion and development project of the third largest airport at Sylhet, in northeast Bangladesh and the proposed Teesta River Comprehensive Management and Restoration Project. However, the later project was shelved showing errors in the loan proposal.

The Osmani International Airport in Sylhet is in close proximity to Assam and Arunachal state is further north, where India borders with Tibet in China. The airport is in a strategic location for eavesdropping into Indian northeast states, it is feared by Delhi. Recently China’s official map shows Arunachal as South Tibet, inviting fresh ruckus with Red Dragon.

What is China’s interest in the Teesta River, a transboundary river that flows through India and Bangladesh? The proposed project has raised eyebrows in the region. The river is a significant source of water for both India and Bangladesh.

Indeed, the river is crucial for the economic development of the region as it is a source of water for agriculture and hydroelectric power generation. The river water sharing has been a bone of contention between the two neighbours for decades.

China’s involvement in the Teesta River dispute has added a new dimension to the conflict. The Red Dragon’s interest in the Teesta River can be attributed to its strategic ambitions in the region. The river originates in the Himalayas and flows through the Indian states of Sikkim and West Bengal before entering Bangladesh, says a river morphologist.

Japan has undertaken to construct the largest deep-sea port on Maheskhali island, in the Bay of Bengal and has been able to bulldoze the Chinese proposal of a second deep-sea port in Sonadia, not far from the ongoing project of the Rising Sun.

Tokyo has been able to convince Delhi that the deep-sea port on the Bangladesh coast which serves adequately to export/import of northeast Indian states, will boost economic growth and immensely contribute to the country’s GDP.

Bangladesh, last week became the 33rd member of the nuclear club. The under-construction Russian project Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant will augment electric generation in energy-starved northern Bangladesh.

Other than the nuclear power plant, Russia does not have a second mega project in Bangladesh.

Bangladesh imports food grains from Russia and exports various garments items, jute, frozen foods, tea, leather, home textiles and ceramic products.

Bangladesh, however, has a historic relationship with Russia. The former Soviet Union took a proactive position in favour of Bangladesh’s independence war in 1971.

Delhi and Moscow signed a historic Indo–Soviet Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation which expedited the bloody independence of Bangladesh.

Meanwhile, the United States is being bombarded by cyber-warriors with anti-American rhetoric in social media after Washington announced visa restrictions on officials of the governing party, opposition, government officials, police administration, judiciary and media persons. This applies to those who undermine or cause hindrance to the democratic elections in Bangladesh, the axe will fall upon individuals and their immediate family members.

It is understood that the visa restriction by the USA triggers a chain reaction in Australia, Canada, France Germany, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the allies in the West in denial of entry to their countries.

The US Embassy in Dhaka to counter the rhetoric has launched the #DidYouKnow campaign for Bangladesh’s audience in social media.

For example: #DidYouKnow, the United States is the biggest foreign direct investor in #Bangladesh?

Bangladesh received USD 3.44 billion in foreign direct investment (FDI) during 2021-2022 for three broad sectors of FDI inflows: infrastructure, manufacturing, and services, according to Bangladesh Bank (the central bank).

The USA FDI stood at $575 million in 2022, while China seems the largest FDI source of Bangladesh climbed to $940 million for 2022, reported Dhaka Tribune.

Diverse sectors offer opportunities for U.S. companies, including natural gas exploration and production, power generation, financial services, infrastructure, agribusiness, information technology, consulting services, and civil aviation to name just a few.

The garment sector has been a key driver of economic growth for Bangladesh over the past few decades. The US-Bangladesh has a $14 billion trade relationship and it’s growing, tweets the US Embassy in Dhaka.

What irks Bangladesh is when America expresses concern on stellar human rights record, democratic election process, freedom of the press and freedom of expression.

The relations went cold in 2021 when the US imposed punitive measures, in support of US Global Magnitsky human rights sanctions, targeting six of the elite anti-crime Rapid Action Battalion’s (RAB’s) former officials, including current and immediate past heads of the Bangladesh police.

The sanction did make an impact. A study claimed that RAB’s extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances have dramatically reduced, which received accolades from human rights organisations.

Meanwhile, Abed Khan, Chief Editor of Dainik Kalbela warns that in a week several economic sanctions against individuals, business establishments and government entities are likely to be imposed citing corruption and money-laundering, which is now a transnational crime.

Journalist Chandan Nandy, based in New Delhi writes in the Northeast News portal (blocked by Bangladesh authorities) also claims that sanction is in the offing against money laundering and corruption.

Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen trashed rumours of fresh sanctions by the US, in response to media reports told journalists. “We were in the US…they (US) only want free and fair elections. Even the words – participatory or caretaker government – were not mentioned,” he remarked.

While the United States pressure on the current government on the upcoming general election is visible, China and Russia’s position contradicts the United States, quoting unnamed sources in Washington DC.

The polarisation of the rivals United States, China and Russia has been observed, writes a commentator for BBC Bangla Service.

Humayun Kabir, a former Bangladesh ambassador to Washington, opines that Bangladesh has become the new ‘field of polarisation’ of the United States, China and Russia.

He said that the US President Joe Biden administration’s foreign policy envisages ‘establishing democracy and human rights’ in different countries of the world and Bangladesh is in the bigger canvass to neutralise China’s hegemony in South and South East Asia.

Another reason is that America’s Indo-Pacific strategy has focused on actively implementing the United States domination in the Asia region, with new and old allies.

Kabir said, the European Union too also want Bangladesh to strengthen democracy and hold free and fair elections in upcoming polls. In exchange, Bangladesh will benefit equally, especially from the trade facility, which is believed to strengthen the democratic process in the country.

China is a development partner of Bangladesh, retorted Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, when she was confronted by overjealous Indian journalists.

Professor Imtiaz Ahmed of Dhaka University says Bangladesh is caught in a triangle of Russia, China and America, because of its geo-strategic position.

Bangladesh, positioned on the coast of the Bay of Bengal which merges with the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean comes under the fold of strategic partnership with America, Japan and India.

Political historian Mohiuddin Ahmad said the reason Bangladesh is a strategic partner in Asia because the country has made dramatic economic development and has been fairing on the parameters of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), which gives hope to the big powers rivals that the country is not a failed state like Pakistan or Somalia.

Therefore, the agenda of the United States, European Union, Japan and India to encourage Bangladesh to hold free, fair and credible elections and remain steadfast on the path to democracy will enable Sheikh Hasina to be the longest-serving prime minister to return to power for the fifth tenure.

First published in Northeast News, Guwahati, Assam, India, 14 October 2023

Saleem Samad is an award-winning independent journalist based in Bangladesh. A media rights defender with the Reporters Without Borders (@RSF_inter). Recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He could be reached at; Twitter: @saleemsamad

Thursday, October 12, 2023

Gazans left behind in conflict, while Hamas leaders live in luxury


There is no light at the end of the tunnel as the conflict escalates to new heights between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

There is no respite in al Qassem Brigades (Hamas military wing), shooting homemade Qassam rockets in Israel, when Israel Defence Force (IDF) in retaliation for Saturday mayhem and abduction, which sparked chaos in the region, thrusting the nationalist movement firmly into the global spotlight.

The Iran-backed militant Hezbollah in Lebanon, jihadist groups in Syria and of course, Hamas in Gaza, also militarily backed by Iran are pounding homemade rockets in Israel.

The Pentagon moved American aircraft carrier and warships closer to Israel in the Mediterranean Sea to send a harsh message to Hezbollah, the Asad regime in Syria and especially Islamic Iran not to provoke escalation in the Middle East.

The USS Gerald R Ford Carrier Strike Group includes the USS Gerald R Ford aircraft carrier, which is the largest warship in the world, in addition to the Ticonderoga – class guided missile cruiser USS Normandy and four Arleigh-Burke-class guided missile destroyers — USS Thomas Hudner, USS Ramage, USS Carney and USS Roosevelt.

Iran’s dreaded Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has long been involved in proxy wars in Gaza, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen. The clergy regime of the Islamic Republic of Iran wants to give a sign warning to Saudi Arabia and Israel of their hegemony in the Middle East.

Iran is one of Hamas’s biggest benefactors. Iran’s top official Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said that Tehran was not involved in Hamas’ attack over the weekend. He however praised, what he described as Israel’s “irreparable” military and intelligence defeat.

Nevertheless, recent Iranian diplomatic ties with Saudi Arabia have thawed relations with the Sheikhdom, but Riyadh is sceptical of Iran’s motives in waging proxy wars in the region. Iran Quds Force had trained and armed the Houthi rebels in Yemen, attacked military installations and fuel depots and refineries.

Iran has long been advocating crushing Israel found strong allies –Hezbollah and Hamas. The militant groups are funded and provided weapons and trained in military technology to build improvised rockets with precision targets and provided satellite images to Hezbollah and Hamas regarding IDF’s deployment and their military machines in the region.

Israel’s retaliatory strikes continue in Gaza by mobilising 360,000 reservists, regaining control over areas attacked by Hamas in the south and along the Gaza border.

Israel escalated its offensive entire districts in the region have been flattened, and houses razed. Hospitals and morgues were overwhelmed, reported an Indian TV journalist Palki Sharma from the Gaza border.

António Guterres, secretary general of the United Nations urged warring parties to allow access to deliver urgent humanitarian assistance to Palestinian civilians trapped and helpless in the Gaza Strip.

The UN boss aptly said that he “recognises the legitimate grievances of the Palestinian people. But nothing can justify acts of terror and the killing, maiming and abduction of civilians.”

Recognising Israel’s legitimate security concerns, the UN chief calls for an immediate cease to these attacks and the release of all hostages. “Civilians must be respected and protected at all times,” he stressed.

Reminds Israel, that its military operations must be conducted in strict accordance with international humanitarian law.

Responding to UN calls, Egypt and Qatar are reported to have been making moves to negotiate a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas to reduce the death and miseries of people in Gaza. The ceasefire will stop the destruction of Gaza City. Will the Hamas firing rockets and incursion against Israel stop?

On the other hand, Hamas supremo Ismail Haniyeh famously pledged to live on “zeit wa zaatar”— olive oil and dried herbs — after he led the Islamic militant faction to victory on a message of armed struggle and austerity during the 2006 Palestinian elections.

The election ousted a secular Al Fatah, a dominant group in the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) founded by Yasser Arafat. Hamas fighters forcibly seized Fatah’s headquarters and claimed control of the 41 km long, 6 to 12 km wide, a total area of 365 sq. km with a population of two million Palestinians.

The group has since maintained political control of the area as a de facto government, and implemented harsh Islamic laws, as defined in strict Shariah laws.

Hamas never recognised the Palestine Authority of PLO leader Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, West Bank and instead challenged its legitimacy to administer Gaza. Since then Gaza has been ruled by the militant Hamas, which also nurtured Palestine Islamic Jihad (PIJ), a fiercest militant outfit.

With Hamas in control of Gaza and Fatah in control of the West Bank, occupied by Israel, there were two de facto governments in the Palestinian territories, each claiming to be the legitimate government of the Palestinian Authority.

Hamas was founded by Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, a radical Palestinian cleric who became an activist of the Muslim Brotherhood after dedicating his early life to Islamic scholarship in Cairo.

In 1988, Hamas published its charter, calling for the destruction of Israel and the establishment of an Islamic society in historic Palestine.

Since Ismail Haniyeh left the impoverished Gaza in 2019 along with some Hamas leaders, is presently living in luxury as he splits his time between Turkey and Qatar, travelling with a Turkish passport. Haniyeh has yet to return.

The Hamas leaders live in hotels and travel in private jets and their sons are in top positions in sports, and real estate business in Gaza. One son is known as the “Father of Real Estate”.

Akram Atallah, a long-time columnist for the West Bank-based Al-Ayyam newspaper who moved from Gaza to London in 2019, said when faulted for not providing basic services, it claims to be a resistance group; when criticised for imposing taxes, it says it’s a legitimate government, he said.

While Gazans grumble privately, they dare to raise their voice against Hamas, which has a history of locking up critics to severely punish delinquents.

Hamas also represses the Gazan media, civilian activism on social media, the political opposition, and nongovernmental organisations (NGOs), reports Freedom House.

First published in the Northeast News, Guwahati, Assam, India on 12 October 2023

Saleem Samad is an award-winning independent journalist based in Bangladesh. A media rights defender with the Reporters Without Borders (@RSF_inter). Recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He could be reached at; Twitter: @saleemsamad

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Hamas surprise raid duped Israel’s “overconfident” intelligence


As the conflict escalates after Hamas militant’s surprise incursion in the South Israel settlements and Israel declares “war” against Hamas, the worrisome world leaders hurriedly make an effort to de-escalate to protect lives in the war zone.

United Arab Emirates (UAE) President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed had phone calls with the King of Jordan, Presidents of Egypt, Syria, and Israel and the Prime Ministers of Canada discussing the need to de-escalate and exercise maximum restraint to protect the lives of civilians.

Abu Dhabi has recently established diplomatic ties with Israel, has expressed sincere condolences to all the victims of the recent crisis and invoked an immediate ceasefire to avoid serious repercussions.

The Gulf nation UAE, as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, urges the international community to immediately reactivate the international Quartet to revive the path process of Arab-Israeli peace and increase all efforts to achieve a just and comprehensive peace and prevent the region from experiencing further violence, tension, and instability.

The deadly assault came on Simchat Torah, a normally joyous day when Jews complete the annual cycle of reading the Torah scroll. In addition, many people returned home to spend Shabbat with their families on Saturday, 7th October.

Hamas on a weekend launched a highly-coordinated surprise multiple attack on Israel from the Gaza Strip, land, air and sea. The blitzkrieg operation began with pounding barrage of home-made rockets and Jihadist combatants penetrated Israel at multiple locations infiltrating through the barrier separating the two, using para-gliders and motorboats to reach interior areas.

During the rampage by Hamas militants, the gunmen opened fire on a crowd of thousands of young people attending a dance and Sukot music festival in the southern Israeli Kibbutz near the Gaza Strip.

Simultaneously thousands of locally produced Quasem rockets were fired followed by militants bursting automatic weapons into the crowd as hundreds tried to flee, which turned into a scene of massacre.

Videos showed Israelis racing across vast open fields and taking cover in orchards. The number of fatalities and injuries from the massacre is unclear.

Hamas operation was named, “Al-Aqsa Storm” Hamas military commander Muhammad Al-Deif claimed that the group had “targeted the enemy positions, airports and military positions with 5,000 rockets” and that the assault was a response to attacks on women, the desecration of the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem and the ongoing siege of Gaza.

Israel has long prided itself on its ability to infiltrate and monitor Islamist groups. As a consequence, a crucial part of the plan of Hamas was to avoid leaks.

As the Jewish nation reels, it must be admitted that the radicalised Islamist group Hamas surprise attack was indeed a ‘historic failure’ for Israeli intelligence services.

Multiple failures occurred before Hamas’s unprecedented assault, Peter Lerner, a former Lieutenant Colonel, and former Israel Defence Force (IDF) spokesperson told Euronews.

This is not the first, the Yom Kippur war – when Israel was blindsided by a lack of intelligence ahead of a 1973 attack from Egyptian and Syrian-lead forces – was a psychologically significant date to launch another major salvo in this decades-long conflict.

IDF’s “overconfidence” in the military’s defence mechanisms like the barrier around Gaza, and the Iron Dome missile defence shield which was overwhelmed by thousands of Hamas rockets and proved fallible.

In IDF’s military training course, the officers are reminded of bloody Yom Kippur as a teaching point to take warnings seriously, underscoring how intelligence is supposed to influence actions on the ground.

Israel arguably has the most sophisticated human intelligence and electronic intelligence gathering networks in the region, but the IDF’s HQ in Kirya, Tel Aviv failed to see it coming.

The ‘storm’ campaign was meticulously designed to ensure Israel was caught off guard. Hamas has planned the lighting strike for less than a year without the knowledge of top Hamas officials.

With a thousand Hamas foot soldiers deployed in the assault had no inkling of the exact purpose of the exercises. The fighters in a mock Israeli settlement in Gaza where secretly practised a military landing and trained to storm it and they even made videos of the manoeuvres.

Israel intelligence hawks have seen the video but they were convinced that Hamas wasn’t keen on getting into a major conflict.

Hundreds of migrant labourers from Gaza crossed the border for work in construction, agriculture or service jobs which had lucrative paychecks.

Since the 11-day war in 2021 with Hamas, Israel has sought to provide a basic level of economic stability in Gaza by offering incentives including thousands of permits so Gazans can work in Israel or the West Bank.

Meanwhile, Hamas sought to convince Israel it cared more about ensuring that workers in Gaza, a narrow strip of land with more than two million residents, had access to jobs across the border and had no interest in starting a new war.

The workers for months carefully took photographs with mobile phones and drew maps with hands of the settlements along the border of Gaza and Israel.

As part of its subterfuge in the past two years, Hamas refrained from military operations against Israel, even as another Gaza-based Islamist armed group known as Islamic Jihad launched a series of its own assaults or rocket attacks, reports Reuters news agency.

When the day came, the operation was divided into four parts, the Hamas source said, describing the various elements.

The first move was a barrage of 3,000 rockets fired from Gaza that coincided with incursions by fighters who flew hang gliders, or motorised paragliders, over the border, several videos have confirmed the brazen attack.

Once the fighters on hang-gliders were on the ground, they secured the terrain so an elite commando unit could storm the fortified electronic and cement wall built by Israel to prevent infiltration.

The fighters used explosives to breach the barriers and then sped across on motorbikes. Bulldozers widened the gaps and more fighters entered in four-wheel drives, scenes that witnesses described.

The Islamist commandos attacked the Israeli border troops, and their jihadist commanders jammed the communications, preventing the beleaguered soldiers from calling IDF commanders.

The final part involved moving hostages to Gaza, mostly achieved early in the attack.

An unspecified number of hostages were abducted from Israel. Amid the elderly persons, young women and children’s presence in the crowded slums of Gaza is likely to be a deterrent to large-scale military action.

First published in Northeast News, Guwahati, India

Saleem Samad is an award-winning independent journalist based in Bangladesh. A media rights defender with the Reporters Without Borders (@RSF_inter). Recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He could be reached at; Twitter: @saleemsamad

Monday, October 02, 2023

A number that irks Bangladesh authorities


Bangladesh authorities were pissed off with Odhikar, a human rights organisation, its boss Adilur Rahman Khan and its Director Nasir Uddin Elan for the last several years.

The government was angry because Odhikar was frequently quoted by the United Nations, the United States and the European Union for its authoritative research, monitoring and documentation on extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances of opposition, critics, dissidents, human rights defenders and even journalists were victims.

Some of the victims have returned, but maintained dead silence over their captivity]. A significant number were found dead and the rest have disappeared forever.

Each year, the family members grieve in silence about the disappearances of their loved one, the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances is organised by Mayer Dak on 30 August each year.

Mayer Dak, a network of family members believed to have been forcibly disappeared by state and non-state actors. The Mayer Dak is taken from Argentina’s popular platform Mothers’ Call. Its defiant coordinator Sanjida Islam, is also harassed and intimidated by state security apparatus and law enforcement agencies.

The government officials, the governing Awami League have a scripted message, playing the same record again and again. The content of the message is a mix of denial. A conspiracy theory to overthrow the democratically elected regime of Sheikh Hasina and to undermine the massive development of the country.

The government is too sensitive to the use of “enforced disappearances” and instead likes to say “missing” persons. Then who is responsible for the “missing” persons? In this regard, the government again prefers to remain silent and dumb.

Many top ministers said most of the “missing” persons are due to the inability to repay loans from lenders, family disputes over properties, secret multiple marriages, and migrants missing on dangerous journeys in the sea.

The apologetic officials do not understand that such an explanation is shrugging responsibility for the disappeared persons. The sincerity of the government in international media and rights groups were questioned, as the authorities refused credible probes.

Such attitude of the government has encouraged the police stations to refuse to register cases of disappearances, missing or kidnapped persons by their immediate family members.

This has encouraged criminal gangs to kidnap victims for ransom, as they very well know the police will not accept complaints and will not launch a hunt for the missing persons.

The Centre for Governance Studies (CGS) published a study by Ali Riaz, a distinguished professor at Illinois State University, USA which stated that as many as 86 per cent of the Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) in small towns and grassroots are intermittently faced obstacles in their work from the state and governing party.

The CGS study “Who Defends the Defenders” said the obstacles the HRDs face come from law enforcement agencies, state intelligence agencies, and government officials have been identified by 42.3 per cent of the respondents. While 23.7 per cent of ruling party activists were identified as troublemakers.

Threats, harassment, intimidation or persecution forced 28.6 per cent of respondents to scale down their work and 10.7 per cent have relocated in fear of harassment, said Ali Riaz quoting the findings of the research.

After the publication of the HRD study, CGS is often harassed and intimidated.

The government has been harassing and intimidating the rights organisation Odhikar for the past 12 years. The two rights defenders were under surveillance, their phones were tapped and bank accounts were scrutinised.

The government cancelled Odhikar’s NGO registration and permission to receive foreign funds.

Rights organisations Ain O Shalish Kendra (ASK) and BLAST (Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust) were harassed by the NGO Affairs Bureau (under the Prime Minister’s Office) causing immense delays in approval of their projects and sometimes denied.

The government seems allergic to rights organisations and human rights defenders. What do the authorities want to hide?

In a glaring example of an orchestrated campaign against the HRD, on 14 December 2022, the American Ambassador Peter Haas visited the home of Sanjida Islam, coordinator of Mayer Dak to hear the agony and trauma of the family whose loved ones became victims of enforced disappearances.

Barely 30 minutes of the discussion. Due to security concerns, suddenly the meeting was cut short and security staff hurriedly escorted the ambassador to his vehicle. The crowd of pro-government ‘Mayer Kanna’ (Cry of Mothers) and local Awami League supporters was swelling in front of the residence of Islam making hue and cry.

The crowd mobbed the Ambassador and wanted to hand down a statement, which was declined. His security whisked the envoy safely from the area.

Commenting on the incident a US embassy spokesperson Jeff Ridenour said, “We have raised this matter at the highest levels of the Bangladeshi government, as well as with the Bangladesh embassy in Washington, D.C.”

Meanwhile, the Bangladesh Foreign Minister Dr. AK Abdul Momen expressed his annoyance and said that ‘Mayer Kanna’ went against the [diplomatic] norm by trying to submit a memorandum [statement] to the US ambassador. “Our country does not have the culture to stop a foreign ambassador on the road to submit a memorandum,” he remarked.

Despite all odds, Odhikar did not cease monitoring despite the government’s sensitivity to the issue, the extra-judicial deaths and enforced disappearances. The data with sensitive information was uploaded and updated on Odhikar’s website in both English and Bangla, which was also annoying for the regime.

The information was used by major international media, rights groups and human rights annual country documents of American and European governments.

Such sensitive information in the public domain caused outrage among bureaucrats, political leaders, and policymakers, which had dented the government’s international reputation.

Despite the global outcry, the authorities did not bother to investigate the wrongdoings of the state actors and non-state actors.

Instead blamed Odhikar for disseminating disinformation, misinformation, fake news, hoax news, mal-information, and rumour and of course fake news.

Coming to the issue of numbers, Odhikar has been banned and two leaders of the organisation were sentenced to two years in prison in September.

The crime of Adilur Rahman Khan and Nasir Uddin Elan was that ten years ago Odhikar published a number of people killed on 5 and 6 May 2013. The midnight police crackdown brutally suppressed the Islamist protest.

Thousands of members of a hardline Sunni Muslim organisation, Hefazat-e-Islam (Defender of Islam) occupied downtown Motijheel Commercial Area unless the government accepted their demands to declare Bangladesh an Islamic Republic, scrap the secular constitution, and change the national flag and the national anthem. Also implement Shariah laws and a host of other Islamic dogma, which incidentally match with the Wahabi creeds advocated by the Taliban and Islamic State (ISIS).

The Human Rights Watch said at least 58 people were killed in police action. Amnesty International put the figure at 44. It said 3 members of law enforcement and 41 civilians were killed in the violence on May police mayhem.

Well, the Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) and Home Affairs Ministry contradicted each other. Police said the figure was only 11, while the Home Ministry said 28 dead. Both DMP and the ministry never published the names of the dead people.

Odhikar, several times changed the figure and finally concluded that the death stood at 61. The organisation never published the names of the victims and their addresses.

Khan defending himself in the court said it’s a moral obligation that the privacy of the immediate family members be protected from the wrath of law enforcement agencies.

He said that Odhikar did not publish the names and addresses for fear of being harassed and intimidated by law enforcement agencies in forcing the victim’s families to sign a paper stating that the person is living in the Gulf countries or another story.

In a ‘white paper’ published by the “People’s Commission” formed by Ekattorer Ghatok Dalal Nirmul Committee (committee against the collaborators of 1971) challenged the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and Hefazat-e-Islam’s claim that thousands of people have been killed, which were exaggerated and incomplete.

The “People’s Commission” got a list of 79 names from Hefazat-e-Islam.

“Awami League leadership and Bangladesh authorities mock victims and routinely obstruct investigations, making clear that the government has no intention of meaningfully addressing enforced disappearances by its security forces,” said Brad Adams, Asia Director, Human Rights Watch.

Bangladesh has not ratified the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

The curious question arises, why did the government target Odhikar? Why did authorities not list Hefazat-e-Islam, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International for disseminating misinformation or disinformation? The question is left to the readers to respond.

First published in the Northeast News, 2 October 2023

Saleem Samad is an award-winning independent journalist and media rights defender based in Bangladesh. A recipient of the prestigious Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He could be reached at <>; Twitter @saleemsamad