Sunday, June 10, 2018

European union's limp response to mass extra judicial killings

Once again, European Union diplomats in Bangladesh have failed to take a firm position on the Bangladesh government's egregious human rights record.

On June 4, the EU heads of mission in Bangladesh, along with Norway, issued a ridiculously weak response to the government's policy of killing over hundred alleged drug traders.

Instead of describing the deaths as alleged extra judicial killings - which is what the evidence suggests that they were - it referred to the deaths as resulting from:
"excessive force in the drive against narcotics."
Whilst the Bangladesh government would deny that the deaths were the result of 'excessive force', this description falls within the general Bangladesh government narrative that its law enforcement bodies were involved in legitimate law enforcement activity. The EU is saying that the force used was a bit much.

In fact the evidence evidence suggests that these deaths were straightforward murders committed by law enforcement authorities - in which people were picked up and killed in cold blood. They should be referred to as alleged extra judicial killings.

Of course, it should be said that the European Union statement was stronger than the really absurdly poor UN Drug Office statement that was issued three days earlier which did not even criticise what the Bangladesh government were doing. It simply stated that countries should:
"adhere to their commitments to promote balanced, human rights-based approaches to drug control"
A bit of credit should be given to the EU statement, I suppose, in that it at least did talk about investigations into the deaths (something that the UN Drugs statement failed to do), stating:
We expect the authorities to ensure that all incidents involving the deaths of alleged criminal suspects are investigated fully and in accordance with due processes.
However, we all know that this is not going to happen - and I think we can bet that the EU wont be putting any more pressure on the government about those investigation.

The EU should learn from the statement given by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights which:
 "condemned the alleged extra-judicial killings of suspected drug offenders in Bangladesh and urged the authorities to ensure that these serious human rights violations are immediately halted and perpetrators brought to justice."

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Sajeeb Wazed Joy's dictionary of new political terms

Sajeeb Wazed Joy, the son of Bangladesh's prime minister has recently published not one but two extraordinary articles which not only denies that the country's law enforcement authorities are involved in enforced disappearances - the picking up, secretly detaining and often killing of men in Bangladesh - but also that the police investigate every single one of these disappearances and found no evidence of state involvement. 

In fact, not only is there overwhelming eye-witness evidence that law enforcement and intelligence agencies including Rapid Action Battallion, the Detective Branch of the Police and DGFI are involved in picking these men up (over 400 since the government came to power) and that in some of these cases, but also new evidence that the prime minister herself - Sajeeb's mother - has personally authorised some disappearances including that of one person whose whereabouts, 20 months after his pick-up, remains unknown. Moreover, far from the investigating disappearances, the Bangladesh police don't even allow most families to report them. To read a response to Joy's articles see here.

In his articles, Joy defines "enforced disappearances" as 
"fictitious attempts by accused criminals to avoid prosecution and accountability."
Bangladesh Politico has now got its hands on a few pages from Joy's new dictionary of Bangladesh political terminology - and we can for the first time publish some more definitions.

  • Awami League - the only legitimate political party in Bangladesh;
  • Caretaker government - a mechanism of ensuring more fair elections in Bangladesh which had to be stopped as it risked allowing the election of a party other than the Awami League;
  • Corruption - thievery, larceny and kleptocracy solely conducted by the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party and other parties that support it;
  • Democracy - When elections results in the victory of a party led by Sheikh Hasina;
  • Election Commission - a group of trustworthy and incorruptible administrators who say and do exactly what the Awami League asks it to say and do;
  • Extra-judicial killing - when a criminal, often under the influence of drugs, shoots himself, (sometimes having handcuffed himself first);
  • Freedom of Speech - freedom to speak about the greatness of the Awami League, its current leader and her family members;
  • Freedom of Assembly - a freedom that prevents members of the opposition parties from congregating and speaking against the Awami League;
  • International Crimes Tribunal - a process which complies with all standards of a fair trial, other than the ones that could allow the accused to properly defend themselves;
  • ISIS - a group that exists in every country other than Bangladesh;
  • Police investigation - an inquiry which results in a finding that a crime was committed by a leader, activist, member or supporter of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and other opposition parties and concludes that no member of the governing party was involved;
  • Terrorism - any activity conducted primarily by the opposition political parties.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

What Bangladesh media failed to publish about UK parliamentary report

If you only read Bangladesh newspapers, and news websites, you might think that the recent UK parliamentary report, “Bangladesh, Burma and the Rohingya Crisis” published by the select committee on international development was full of applause for Bangladesh. This was because all the newspapers which wrote about the report – including the Dhaka Tribune, The Independent and New Age – simply published verbatim the highly misleading press release, titled UK Parliament praises Bangladesh economic growth, written by the Bangladesh government news agency BSS, rather than actually looking at the report itself.

Whilst it is certainly true that the committee report praised Bangladesh’s overall economic growth, and the government’s role in the Rohingya crisis, it was highly critical of the current government’s human rights record. In fact it was damning. This is what it had to say.

Monday, June 4, 2018

UN Drugs body fails to criticise Bangladesh on drug killings

In a period of 17 days, between May 15 to June 2, Bangladesh law enforcement authorities have killed 132 men in what they call 'anti-drug' operations.

The authorities claim that these men were killed in gunfights with the law enforcement authorities.

However, there is now significant evidence, as reported in local media, that many if not the vast majority of these men, were murdered by law enforcement authorities. After being picked up by law enforcement authorities - and whilst in state custody - these men were simply killed.

In this scenario, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has issued an extraordinary lax statement that fails to criticise or condemn the Bangladesh government or their law enforcement authorities at all. No wonder the Bangladesh government believes it can continue this current killing spree with impunity.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Satellite tender 3: Family links raise further questions

The Bangladesh government has in the last few days launched the country's first satellite, named Bangabandhu-1. 

Back in May 2012, I wrote a series of three articles for the Bangladesh daily newspaper, The New Age about how the whole process started with serious irregularities in the tender process that resulted in a small US company receiving a $10 million consultancy contract when it did not meet the most basic tender requirements.  

Since the newspaper's website before 2016 is no longer online, I am publishing the articles again . Below is the third of the three reports, published on May 17, 2012. The links to the first two are here: US bid winner doesn't meet minimum tender requirements and BTRC manipulates space satellite tender to advantage small US Company


Bangabandhu space satellite tender III 

Family links raise further questions about tender 
David Bergman
A key member of the small US company that won in contentious circumstances a $10 million consultancy contract to assist the government in the launch of the Bangladesh satellite Bangubandhu 1 is related through marriage to an Awami League minister. 

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Khaleda Zia corruption conviction: Meritorious or Malicious?

What should one make of the prosecution and conviction of Khaleda Zia, the leader of Bangladesh's main opposition party for offences involving alleged embezzlement of around Tk 21 million ($252,000)?

Khaleda Zia, was convicted in February 2018, and is currently in jail serving a five year sentence of imprisonment. In March, the High Court granted her bail pending an appeal, but this order was stayed by the Appellate Division which ruled that it would consider her bail application in a hearing on May 8. This court has now heard arguments and a much delayed decision will be given by the Appellate court on Wednesday.

Is there any merit in the case against her or is this just about malicious politics, to remove her from involvement in the elections as Lord Carlile, a member of her legal team (recently refused entry into Bangladesh) believes? 

Satellite tender 2: BRTC manipulates tender evaluation

The Bangladesh government has in the last few days launched the country's first satellite, named Bangabandhu-1.

Back in May 2012, I wrote a series of three articles for the Bangladesh daily newspaper, The New Age about how the whole process started with serious irregularities in the tender process that resulted in a small US company receiving a $10 million consultancy contract when it did not meet the most basic tender requirements. 

Since the newspaper's website before 2016 is no longer online, I am publishing the articles again. Below is the second of the three reports, published on May 17, 2012. The links to the first article is here: US bid winner doesn't meet tender requirements. The final article is available here: Family links raise further questions about tender


Bangabandhu Sapece Satellite Tender-II 
BTRC manipulates evaluation to advantage small US Company

David Bergman 
The Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission manipulated the results of a technical evaluation of tender proposal involving five international companies each of whom were bidding to assist the government in the launch of the country’s first space satellite to ensure that a small US company won the contract. 

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Satellite tender 1: US bid winner not meet tender requirements

The Bangladesh government has in the last few days launched the country's first satellite, named Bangabandhu-1. 

Back in May 2012, I wrote a series of three articles for the Bangladesh daily newspaper, The New Age about how the whole process started with serious irregularities in the tender process that resulted in a small US company receiving a $10 million consultancy contract when it did not meet the most basic tender requirements.  

Since the newspaper's website before 2016 is no longer online, I am publishing the articles again here. Below is the first of the three reports, published on May 17, 2012. Here are links to the second article BTRC manipulates evaluation to advantage small US Company and the third article, Family links raise further questions about tender

Bangabandhu Space Satellite Tender -1
US bid winner doesn't meet minimum tender requirements 
David Bergman 
The small US company that won a $10 million consultancy contract to assist in the launch of Bangladesh’s first space satellite, Bangabandhu-1, beating some of the largest satellite companies in the world, failed to meet a number of minimum requirements that should have prevented it from even participating in the tender, New Age can reveal. 

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Government preventing Lord Carlile from entering Bangladesh

Lord Carlile, a member of Khaleda Zia's legal
team prevented from entering Bangladesh
You may have read my recent report for Al Jazeera on the view of Lord Carlile QC, a new member of the Bangladesh opposition leader's legal team, about the conviction of Khaleda Zia, for embezzlement. If not, you can read it here. 

In summary, he said, that following a review of the relevant documents he had "not seen any evidence whatsoever that could justify prosecuting Begum Khaleda Zia, let alone convicting her"

Many people, quite understandably, will say that as a member of the defence team, the QC "would say that wouldn't he." 

That is of course a fair point. When I asked Lord Carlile exactly that, he claimed he was not saying this simply because he was part of Khaleda Zia’s legal team.
“When I was asked to look at case I made it clear to people involved that I would look at it in any normal way as any conscientious barrister would look at the case, and had there been sufficient evidence in this case, I would have so advised.”
I shall be writing more about the case tomorrow.

However, one notable point to make is that, the Bangladesh government is - at present - preventing Carlile from entering the country to attend Khaleda Zia's appellate court hearing on 8 May. When I interviewed him on Thursday, he said that he had applied to the Bangladesh High Commission a couple of weeks earlier and personally attended the Commission. He said that he received

"a number of e-mails from a first secretary at the High Commission asking me questions that were completely irrelevant to my application – asking me if I had a license or permission from various entities in Bangladesh to do what I am intending to do – but all that I am intending to do is give private advice to a private client, and every Bangladesh citizen can get advice form any lawyer anywhere in world they like and of course they often do as there is so much trade between Bangladesh and the UK so it is inevitable that Bangladesh entities are getting commercial law advice on this. This has been pointed out to the First Secretary and has not been disagreed with and he has been provided with all information that he needs."
He went onto say that
"I have not been refused a visa but the [Bangladesh High Commission] know perfectly well that I want to be there on 7 May so I can be present in court on 8th and they are playing for time. ... I have not had a refusal, not had an acceptance, just this correspondence dance taking place."
This is of course not the first time that the current Bangladesh government has stopped foreign lawyers from entering the country. In 2011, it stopped Toby Cadman, who was representing a number of leaders of the Jamaat-e-Islami who were on trial for international crimes allegedly committed during the country's 1971 independence war and a year later, the government is reported to have stopped Joe Cyr, a US lawyer from Hogal Lovell, who was representing BNP opposition leader Salauddin Quader Chowdhury at the time being prosecuted for similar offences.

It should be noted when Sheikh Hasina was in custody during the two years emergency period 2007-9, she instructed two lawyers - a Canadian lawyer, Prof Payam Akhavan and the UK lawyer Cherie Blair -who were both allowed to enter Bangladesh, to attend court hearings and hold press conferences.*

* updated with information on Joe Cyr and Cherie Blair

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Hasina, the ODI and human rights in Bangladesh

Is the reputable, and supposedly independent, Overseas Development Institute helping the Bangladesh government to enforce here in London the draconian restrictions that journalists experience in Bangladesh?

And is it, in light of how ODI dealt with a question from a Channel Four News journalist at the meeting itself, protecting the prime minister from having to respond to tough questions?

It certainly appears so.

ODI Vetting?
When I applied a week ago to attend the ODI event at which Sheikh Hasina, the Bangladesh Prime Minister, was due to speak. I got a very welcoming response. from Ben Tritton, the event organiser. "We'd be delighted to welcome you to ODI" he said. 

So I was rather astonished to receive an e-mail on Monday morning, the day before the talk, disinviting me from the event.
"Apologies but over the weekend we have received a large number of high level responses and this event is highly over-subscribed. We will therefore be unfortunately not able to welcome you to the event"
This seemed rather odd and I therefore immediately responded with this e-mail
"Could you please clarify whether you have allowed the Bangladesh delegation/government/representatives to vet the list of those who can attend the talk."
I received no response. 

On Tuesday, the morning of the talk, I called Mr Tritton and asked him why I had been disinvited. He kept me holding for about a minute and then repeated what he has written in his e-mail. I asked him how many people, like me, had been disinvited and he said 15 people

I then asked him the same question I had earlier e-mailed - about whether he allowed the Bangladesh government or representatives to vet the list of those who could attend the talk. If the ODI had not allowed vetting, one would have expected the answer to be a direct "No." Indeed one would have expected an independent think-tank to immediately respond in this way. However, he said:
"I am afraid I cant comment at all on that"
This is as close to a confirmation as you will ever get without the ODI saying "yes". If they hadn't allowed the Bangladesh government an ability to vet the invite list, the ODI would surely have just denied it.

In Bangladesh, media censorship has become increasingly restrictive. The government refuse to allow journalists from certain independent newspapers to attend government press conferences; the military intelligence agency has ordered large companies not to advertise in two major newspaper's reducing their advertising income by over one third; the prime minister has denounced a newspaper editor for publishing stories that were seeking to "destroy the country.” Government party activists have filed dozens of criminal cases against the same newspaper editor; dozens of journalists and editors have been arrested under the vague and arbitrary Information, Communication, Technology and Communication Act; and there is a high degree of censorship and - rather obviously - self-censorship. Televsion is particularly controlled.

The ODI must know about all this so why would it participate in apparently allowing the Bangladesh government to dictate who could and could not come to the meeting?

Channel Four News*
In addition, of course, and more significantly, the ODI did everything to prevent Channel Four News to ask a difficult question to Sheikh Hasina about human rights issues in Bangladesh. 

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Boris Johnson and British man secretly detained in Bangladesh

When late last year, the UK foreign minister Boris Johnson visited Iran, a country at the centre of various military conflicts and diplomatic controversies, the only issue that concerned the British media was his conversations with the Iranian government about Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a british-Iranian woman convicted on trumped up charges of plotting to “topple the regime”.

The dual British-Iranian national, initially detained in April 2016 as she sought to return with her daughter back to london following a family holiday, is now languishing in a Tehran jail after she was sentenced for five years.

Boris Johnson arrived in Bangladesh on Friday, but it looks like that the release of a British-Bangladeshi man who was picked up by law enforcement authorities in July 2016, and has been secretly detained ever since, was not on his agenda.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Tulip Siddiq, her mother and links to the Awami League

Tulip Siddiq in parliament
The failure of Tulip Siddiq, the West Hampstead and Kilburn labour Member of parliament, to help seek the release of those secretly detained and disappeared in Bangladesh, a country ruled by her family members, including her Aunt, the prime minister, has resulted in sharp criticism from her normally loyal local newspaper.

In a by-lined article in the December 2017 edition of the Ham and High, the editor states that a Channel Four News program, “raises questions as to exactly how deep her political involvement with her family really goes” and that the MP appears to have “misled” her and her readers in claiming that she has no political contact with her Aunt, the prime minister of Bangladesh.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Released ‘Secret Detainees’ in Bangladesh

A cartoon on secret detentions in Bangladesh. Credit: credit Mehedi Haque/The New Age
A cartoon on secret detentions in Bangladesh. Credit: Mehedi Haque/The New Age

The Bangladesh government has blocked The - and so am publishing this recent article to make it available to those in Bangladesh (until of course this website is blocked!)
- read the article that caused the blocking
- read about the government's blocking of The Wire

We Shouldn’t Expect Released ‘Secret Detainees’ in Bangladesh to Talk About What Happened

Three men recently released have denied that they were in law enforcement custody. That’s not surprising, given the threats and intimidation involved.
Representative image of Bangladesh police. Credit: Reuters/Adnan Abidi
Representative image of Bangladesh police. Credit: Reuters/Adnan Abidi
Last week, academic Mubashar Hasan, allegedly held in secret detention by Bangladesh’s military intelligence agency for 44 days, was released blindfolded onto the streets of Dhaka. This followed the release a day earlier of journalist Utpal Das, also believed to have been in secret custody for over two months. In the same week, another disappeared man, Aminur Rahman, was also ‘released’, again apparently from secret detention, though this time he was brought to court and ordered back into state custody after police accused him of involvement in a bomb attack.

Bangladesh Government Blocks The Wire

Following this article, the Bangladesh government blocked the Indian news website The Wire.

Bangladesh Government Blocks The Wire

The move came after The Wire published an article on the role of Bangladesh’s military intelligence agency in the illegal pick-up and detention of academic Mubashar Hasan.

Academic Mubashar Hasan. Credit: Twitter
Academic Mubashar Hasan. Credit: Twitter
The Bangladesh government has ordered the blocking of internet access to The Wire a day after it published an article on the role of the country’s military intelligence agency in the illegal pick-up and secret detention of the university academic Mubashar Hasan.
On Thursday, the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) e-mailed all international internet gateway (IIG) operators ordering them to “block the domain …”
The instruction stated that this requirement was “urgent” and that “the commission will take necessary steps  against those IIGs who will not comply with the instructions of BTRC.” (sic)

The article blocked by the Bangladesh government

The academic, Mubashar Hasan has now been released, but a month ago, the Bangladesh government blocked the website The Wire, a day after this article was published.

Bangladesh Academic Mubashar Hasan “Held by Military Intelligence Agency”

Academic Mubashar Hasan. Credit: Twitter
Academic Mubashar Hasan. Credit: Twitter
Bangladesh’s military intelligence agency, the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI), is secretly detaining academic Mubashar Hasan, security and political sources have told The Wire.
According to the sources, the DGFI picked up Hasan, who works as an assistant professor at North South University (NSU) in Dhaka, soon after he attended a meeting at the United Nations headquarters in the city on November 7.
This information, which contradicts pro-government media who have sought to portray Hasan as a ‘militant’ who went into hiding, confirms the fear widely held by his colleagues and friends that he had become another victim of the increasingly widespread practice in Bangladesh of “enforced disappearances”.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Disappearances since 2016 - the men subsequently killed

Below are the details of 28 people picked up by Bangladesh law enforcement authorities since 2016, secretly detained for different periods of time, and then subsequently killed.

To see the main page on disappearances, and see the list of those who remain missing since 2016, click here.

The information below is based on information from the human rights organisation Odhikar direct interviews with families as well as media news reports.

Out of over 90 reported disappearances in 2016, 21 people were subsequently killed (12 of them being opposition Jamaat-e-Islami activists). The information about these 21 people was first published in the recent HRW report

Out of over 80 reported disappearances in 2017, 7 people were subsequently killed

These figures do not include examples of militants allegedly picked up and allegedly killed - in cases like this. These are allegedly widespread, but are difficult to verify.

If you have any further information on these or other enforced disappearances in Bangladesh, please e-mail Bangladesh Politico

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Disappearances in last two years - the men still missing

Updated: January 22, 2018

Disappearing people has now become a well known practice undertaken by Bangladesh law enforcement agencies - a systematic technique by which a person is secretly detained for varying periods of time totally outside the law, their whereabouts unknown with the state denying any knowledge of the person.

After spending a period of time in secret detention - usually weeks or months - there are four possible outcomes:
  • the person is killed. In 2016, out of over 90 disappeared, 21 were killed; In 2017, out of about 80 disappeared, 7 so far have been killed
  • the person is simply released on the streets. This happens, but it unusual
  • the person is taken to the court and 'formally arrested' with the police concocting a story that they were arrested the previous day. They are then, "legally", sent to jail. This is what happens to most people.
  • the person remains disappeared. In 2016, out of over 90 disappeared, 8 remain missing; In 2017, out of about 80 disappeared, 17 remain missing
The people picked up and secretly detained fall into a number of categories of people. There are:

- those that are linked to opposition politics, sometimes at a senior level;

- those the authorities suspect, rightly or wrongly, are involved in militancy in some way;

- those who for one political reason or the other, it is useful for the state to secretly detain;

- those involved in conflict within the Awami League;

- those involved in other kinds of private conflicts where one of the parties to the conflict has the power to obtain the use of a law enforcement agency to do his bidding;

The pick ups are primarily undertaken by the Detective Branch of the Police, the Counter Terrorism Unit (which has emerged out of the DB), or by the para-military organisation, the Rapid Action Battalion - though RAB's involvement seems to be declining in recent years. The ordinary police are also involved, as are sometimes the country's intelligence agencies in particular the country's military intelligence agency, DGFI.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Inter-parliamentary union in Dhaka: Is this really going on?

Prime minister meets with speakers of 19 ipu member states
One must have more than a sneaking regard for how the Awami League government has managed to persuade the Inter-Parliamentary Union to host its assembly in Bangladesh this week with more than 650 MPs from 132 countries apparently attending.

The IPU may not have a high threshold of standards for membership, but one would expect - or at least hope - that since the organisation’s constitution suggests it is concerned about ‘representative institutions’ it would scrutinise the parliaments of the countries which sought to host its assemblies.

Well, in relation to Bangladesh, it seems it did not.

At the last election, in 2014, a majority of the parliamentary seats were uncontested and the remaining ones remained mostly uncompetitive. Even though polls showed that a free and fair election would have resulted in a close contest, possibly with the BNP alliance winning, just about every seat went to a member of the Awami League or its alliance of parties.

Not quite so representative.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

UN's 14 key demands on Bangladesh government human rights record

The United Nations Human Rights Committee - which assesses state parties' compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights - published its report on Tuesday setting out its observations on Bangladesh government 's compliance with the convention.

This report followed the government providing to the committee written and oral evidence of its claimed compliance.

Below are 14 key demands made by the committee along with extracts of what the committee stated.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Bangladesh government at the UN Human Rights Committee

Anisul Huq, the Bangladesh Law Minister, responding to
questions at the UN Human Rights Committee
17 years ago, in September 2000, Bangladesh's Awami League government ratified the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Under the treaty, within a year, the government was required to provide the UN Human Rights Committee a report on its compliance. But it failed to do so, as did the subsequent BNP 2001– 2006 government, the 2007 to 2008 emergency caretaker government and the 2009 to 2014 Awami League government.

A year into its new term of office, and 15 years after the initial ratification, the Awami League government did finally submit its first report which earlier this month came up for consideration before the Human Rights Committee.

Though the Committee has no teeth, it was nonetheless refreshing to see the committee put the Bangladesh government though its paces on two separate days - something which one does not see much of these days inside Bangladesh, as the country has a parliament without a proper opposition, and an increasingly restricted (and nationalist) media unwilling (or unable) to ask hard and concerted questions.

So what did we learn from the law minister, Anisul Huq, who represented the government in Geneva? Here are my 8 most notable inaccuracies – other people will no doubt find others - along with four other interesting government comments.