Monday, October 22, 2018

Sajeeb Wazed Joy, anti-semitism and offensive posts

Sajeeb Wazed Joy is the son of Bangladesh’s prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, one of her mother’s official advisers and, apparently, the governing party’s chief propagandist. Many of his articles and Facebook posts are full of falsehoods, lies and misrepresentations – see here about disappearances, here about a plot to kill him, and here about corruption.

This week in a highly offensive, inaccurate, defamatory and anti-semitic post he has taken aim at my father-in-law, Kamal Hossain, a well known lawyer and personality in Bangladesh who has decided to take a step forward into the political mainstream (and maelstrom) by allying his party with the country’s main opposition party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, with a series of demands around a fair election, and proposals to improve governance.

The AL v BNP

The first part of the post is a direct political attack again Kamal Hossain - and here, rather being offensive, Joy is being hyperbolic and inaccurate. Joy says in his post:
Kamal Hossain has finally shown his true colors by forming an alliance with BNP-Jamaat. His one partner the BNP burned our people alive with arson attacks during 2013 and 2015. His other partners Jamaat tortured and murdered our innocent civilians during our War of Liberation. The BNP Acting Chairperson Tariq Zia has been convicted of the 21st August grenade attack on my mother and our party. Their Chairperson Khaleda Zia has been convicted for corruption.
I am in no way involved in any aspect of my father-in-law's decisions about what he does in his political life - but it is important to make the following factual points about joy’s comments.
  • Hossain has not formed an alliance with the Jamaat (which can't even legally take part in the election), but with the BNP. What, if any, future electoral relationship there may be between these two parties, remains unclear.
  • BNP activists, or those under their instructions, were undoubtedly involved in arson attacks that killed civilians in 2015, and the party leadership failed to stop these. But it should be noted that when Awami League was in opposition it was involved in similar activities (though, admittedly, to a lesser extent).
  • Moreover, since the Awami League became the governing party nearly ten years ago, it has been responsible for extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances on a scale that dwarfs the killings and human rights violations perpetrated by the country’s main opposition party.
  • It is correct that Tariq Zia, the vice-president of the BNP has been convicted of involvement in the 21st August grenade attack and his mother Khaleda Zia, the party’s president has been convicted of corruption. However, the lack of independence of the lower judiciary, its highly politicised partisan nature (particularly in recent years), and the general poor quality of trials in Bangladesh, makes it extremely difficult for any one to give these verdicts much legitimacy. Read this about the Zia corruption trial for example

Whether BNP has changed, or is willing to change, as a party since its violent protests in 2015 or indeed from its time in office in 2001-2006 (where it was widely accused of corruption) is a mater of conjecture and speculation. But it is certainly inappropriate to argue, as Joy seems to do, that the Awami League is on the side of angels and the BNP on the side of the devils. And, right now, it is the Awami League, holding the power of the state, that is accused of very serious human rights violations – and it is the BNP and its activists which are amongst its victims.

However, this blog post is primarily about what Joy writes subsequently in his Facebook post – making outrageous allegations against myself as a means of attacking Kamal Hossain. For Joy, traducing reputations is simply collateral damage in his fight against my father-in-law.

In the first draft of his post, he referred to me as Hossain’s “Jewish” son in law. This is simply dog-whistle politics at its worst - Joy refers to my Jewish heritage as he thinks this is an effective way to smear my father in law. Joy thinks Bangladesh people will think worse of Kamal Hossain because his son in law is Jewish.  For a supposedly secular politician or a supposedly secular party, 
using my religious background as a way of attacking Hossain is pretty despicable.

This is not the first time, that his family has used this tactic. His mother, the prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, sought to do the same in parliament in June 2013 following an (anti-semitic) claim by an opposition politician that the prime minister’s son had married a Jewish womzn. However, rather that just saying that this was inaccurate the prime minister said:

“It is unfortunate they (opposition) lack this information. They turned my daughter-in-law into a Jew. My son is not married to a jew, he is married to a Christian, they are people of the book. It is Dr Kamal Hossain’s daughter who is married to a jew.”
Interestingly – seventeen hours after Joy published his post on Facebook and after it was reported widely in Bangladesh newspapers word for word, and shared thousands of time by his supporters  – Joy edited the post removing the word “Jewish”

Further falsehoods
Joy goes onto make further false and offensive allegations against me, claiming that I:

“tried to save our war criminals and is now continuously writing against our country. Both his daughter Sara Hossain and her husband are active abroad in trying to discredit Bangladesh in an attempt to get foreigners to intervene once again.”

What Joy really means to say is that any independent journalism which did not tow the government line on the trials was “saving war criminals.” The trials, just like any other part of Bangladesh political life, required independent journalism  – without fear or favour. It is the government who must be to blame for the tarnished reputation of the tribunal – since it, very sadly, was responsible for politicising the whole process.

As to the allegation about “continuously writing against the country” - what does he mean by that? That journalists should not write about the reality of a country’s politics, its alleged human rights violations and corruption, unfair and arbitrary detentions - since doing so means they are "writing against the country?" Was Jamal Khashoggi  – murdered recently by the Saudi Arabian government - “writing against” his country? Or was he in fact just holding up a mirror to it, creating a reflection which the country's rulers did not like and did not want others to see. Joy's minset towards independent journalism seems to mirror views held by countries like Saudi Arabia.

The only journalists Joy appears to appreciate are those who only write in favour of the government. Any other writing, in his view, is "against the country".

And as to Joy’s fanciful and absurd idea that I (or indeed Sara) am “active abroad in trying to discredit Bangladesh in an attempt to get foreigners to intervene once again”! 

Joy seems to think that there is a conspiracy around every corner, imputing non-existent motives and actions to any one who disagrees with his views or with the government’s actions. My writing does not discredit Bangladesh, nor does it seek to do so. If my writing happens to tarnish the reputation of the Awami League, government ministers or those who work for the country's law enforcement authorities that is only because their own conduct discredit themselves.

As to seeking “to get foreigners to intervene” – this is some kind of figment of Joy's imagination, presumably to ferment nationalist sentiment. It has no substance in any reality. 

Joy finishes his Facebook post with a nasty diatribe.

“These people disgust me. They have no morals, no ethics and certainly no love for Bangladesh. They are happy to join hands with terrorists and the corrupt, if they think that will get them to power. They are unpatriotic and anti-Bangladesh.”

It is difficult to know how to respond to such abuse. On a personal note (putting myself to one side for a moment), the idea that my wife and my father in law have “no morals, no ethics and certainly no love for Bangladesh” is just so wrong on all levels, and so opposite to the reality, that it is bewildering to believe that Joy would allow himself to write that.

The fact that Joy did do so, says more about him than anything else. He deserves to be judged harshly for this post.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Tulip Siddiq MP, human rights, and the Bangladesh prime minister

The Bangladesh government has blocked The so for those in Bangladesh who cannot access the news website, I am setting out below my recent article on Tulip Siddiq MP, the niece of the Bangladesh prime minister and what her role should be in calling out human rights abuses in Bangladesh. The original article is here.

Also see: 

September 23, 2018 
What Can Tulip Siddiq Do to Lessen Human Rights Abuse in Bangladesh?
With her aunt Bangladesh Prime minister Sheikh Hasina in London, the question of Siddiq’s role in seeking to mitigate Bangladesh’s worst human rights abuses comes to the fore again.
Dhaka: Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina arrived in London late Friday on her way to New York to take part in next week’s United Nations General Assembly.
According to press reports, she will stay in the capital for a few days – in Claridges no less – and meet party activists as well as members of her own family.
Hasina has two main family members in London. Her younger sister, Sheikh Rehana and her niece, the British Member of Parliament Tulip Siddiq.
In November 2016, Private Eye first reported that whilst Tulip Siddiq had been campaigning hard for the release of her constituent, the Iranian-British dual citizen Nazanin Zaghari Ratcliffe, from detention in Iran, she had not lifted a finger in relation to those picked up and literally made to disappear by government agencies in Bangladesh.
The magazine stated, that with the Iranian authorities failing to “listen to a word she says” perhaps she should turn her attention to “influencing a political regime … where she has very direct access to the country’s most senior leaders.”
Channel 4 News picked the story a year later when its reporters directly asked the question about why the Member of Parliament for Hampstead and Kilburn had refused to use her influence to help the family of a particular disappeared lawyer in Bangladesh, Ahmed Bin Quasem, whose mother had written directly to Siddiq asking for her help.
Now, with her aunt – and Bangladesh’s prime minister – in London, again, the question of Siddiq’s role in seeking to mitigate Bangladesh’s worst human rights abuses comes to the fore.
Of course, it is not just Siddiq’s maternal aunt who has significant political power in the country. Her paternal uncle, Tarique Ahmed Siddique is the defence and security adviser to Hasina. Her cousin (the son of the prime minister) Sajeeb Wazed Joy, is another government adviser as well as being a key propagandist of the government. Her brother Rezwan Siddiq helps run a pro-government research centre; and her mother, Rehana Siddiq, is also a player within the party.
And Siddiq’s mother, cousin and brother are all talked about as possible successors to Hasina to lead the Awami League, the party in power in Bangladesh.
Moreover, Tulip Siddiq is also very close to her aunt Sheikh Hasina, calling her a ‘role model’ for her daughter. When she first won her North London seat in 2015 the newly elected MP said, “Today I remember my Auntie Sheikh Hasina. I learnt how to campaign from her. And I learnt about social justice from her.” When she made her maiden speech in Parliament, who other than Sheikh Hasina was present.
Although she lives in Britain, Tulip has been directly involved in Bangladesh politics. As a Labour party activist, before she became an MP, Tulip described herself on her website (now removed) as an “Awami League spokesperson” and campaigned in Bangladesh for the party. In 2011, she was listed as a delegate of the Bangladesh government at the 66th UN general assembly alongside her mother Rehana Siddiq.
Tulip Siddiq’s close proximity to those ruling Bangladesh is therefore undeniable and is therefore unique amongst the 650 UK MPs in having such close and intimate relations to a ruling party of another country.
The question of course – one which no other Member of Parliament has to face – is whether or not Siddiq, as a British member of parliament, should be using this proximity to lobby publicly and privately, with her aunt and other members of her family in Bangladesh, significant human rights abuses in the country?
In relation to the disappeared lawyer Ahmed Bin Quasem, Tulip justified her inaction to Channel 4 News by stating, “I was born in London and serve as a British Member of Parliament. The focus of my work is spent on delivering for the residents of Hampstead and Kilburn who elected me to represent them.”
She went on to add: “The fact that some members of my family are involved in politics in Bangladesh has long been a matter of public record which I have not hidden from. That said, I have no capability nor desire to influence politics in Bangladesh.”
She also implied that those who sought to argue that she did were racist. “Be very careful. I’m not Bangladeshi,” she told Channel 4 News when they tried to interview her at a rally. She then went on to make a police complaint arguing that she was subject to “racially aggravated assault” by the television news team.
It is of course the case that Quasem’s mother was neither a British citizen nor Tulip Siddiq’s constituent and the MP therefore had no parliamentary obligation to take up his case.
But that did not remove her moral obligation as a British member of parliament to use her best efforts to seek his release.
Those who do not know Bangladesh politics may not appreciate the extraordinary influence Siddiq, as a member of the ruling family, can wield in Bangladesh politics. All the country’s institutions, particularly the law enforcement agencies and the criminal justice system, are corrupt and highly politicised. In the main, they do exactly what their political masters tell them to do. And the most significant of those political masters are members of the current ruling family – of which Tulip is a part.
Channel Four News came back to the issue of Bangladesh’s human rights situation in April 2017, in a film about a number of other disappearances in Bangladesh involving this time British families, who had written to her about their relatives.
Again, Tulip responded to the families by saying that she could not take up their cases as they were not her constituents, but did go further in obliquely criticising disappearances in Bangladesh. She said, “as a committed human rights activist, I deplore the use of extra-judicial detention and any human rights abuses anywhere in the world, including in Bangladesh. I understand and have sympathy for the plight of anyone whose loved one disappears in such a way.”
This was a private communication – not a public condemnation of Bangladesh human rights – but it was a step beyond her previously maintained silence on the human rights situation in the country.
More recently, Tulip Siddiq has publicly criticised the Bangladesh government in its detention of the highly reputed photographer, Shahidul Alam. She was quoted by the Times newspaper as saying, that his detention was “deeply distressing and should end immediately”. She also said that Bangladesh “must uphold international standards of justice in treating its own citizens” and that she “would hope our Foreign Office will convey that message in stark terms to a country that is seen as a close ally.”
However – unlike the other two Bangladesh origin MPs – she has not issued a public statement as they have done. She has also not as far as anyone knows, lobbied her aunt and other family members to ensure his release.
And neither has she sought the release of any of the dozens of other men who have disappeared in the country.
With her aunt in London for a few days, this is an ideal opportunity for Siddiq to take her Aunt to one side and push for the release of all those disappeared and arbitrarily detained.
Ironically, though Tulip Siddiq is representing those living in her North London constituency, as an MP she could do far more good through her influence over her family members that rule Bangladesh, than she will ever do for her constituents in Kilburn and Hampstead. As a former employee of Amnesty International she should appreciate the position provided to her as a Member of Parliament and use it for the public good to help those victimised by Bangladesh’s state agencies.
And she would be applauded if only she would do that.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

"The PM's son, Deceit and the Case against Shahidul Alam"

The Bangladesh government has blocked the Indian news website and as a result its articles can not be read in the country. Below therefore is the text of a recent article, written by The Wire about an intervention made by Sajeeb Wazed Joy, the son of the Bangladesh prime minister, seeking to justify the detention of the photographer, Shahidul Alam, titled,   "Sheikh Hasina's Son Has Exposed the Deceit in the Case Against Shahidul Alam". The original article is here.


Sheikh Hasina's Son Has Exposed the Deceit in the Case Against Shahidul Alam

Sajeeb Wazed Joy's Facebook post on the photographer's arrest is full of falsehood, misrepresentations and faulty analysis.

The Wire Analysis

Sajeeb Wazed Joy, the Bangladesh prime minister’s son as well as her adviser, has intervened in the debate on the detention of Shahidul Alam, the eminent and internationally regarded photographer picked up on Sunday and now remanded to police custody, arguing in a Facebook post – and widely reported in Bangladesh media – that Alam had published false posts which directly incited violence leading to the blinding and crippling of one Awami League activist.
It is a scary intervention since in Bangladesh, to those working within the administration, law enforcement and justice system, pronouncements by the ruling family are like edicts from god on high. It is difficult to see now how any police officer, magistrate (or even some judges) will dare to actually engage their independent minds to the facts of the case.
Apart from being scary for its implications on Alam, it is also scary because Joy’s Facebook post is full of falsehood, misrepresentations and faulty analysis. One should not be surprised at this. In the recent past, he has falsely argued that disappearances don’t take place in Bangladesh; that a Canadian court exonerated the Bangladesh government from corruption in a World Bank-funded project and that the journalist Shafique Rehman was involved in a plot to kill him. So this is par-for-the-course.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Falsification of police FIR against Shahidul (part two)

This blog has  already written how the police significantly distorted its First Information Report written against Shahidul Alam - which sets out the rationale for his detention - claiming that he had stated sentences which he had never said, in fact just inventing sentences out of the air.

However, with the assistance of the journalist Tasneem Khalil, this blog can now set out more distortions in this FIR.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Why the Bangladesh Government Is Scared of Shahidul Alam is blocked in Bangladesh. Yesterday it published an article which I wrote on the Shahidul Alam case and I am republishing it here to make it available to those in Bangladesh. The original is here

Why the Bangladesh Government Is Scared of Shahidul Alam
David Bergman 
The photographer's arrest shows that the government wants to make sure that not only will Alam keep his mouth shut in the future, but also ensure that other independent minded non-partisan individuals do the same.

The arrest of eminent Bangladeshi photographer Shahidul Alam by over 25 detective branch officers on Sunday night is a clear indication of an increasingly nervous and authoritarian government in Bangladesh as national elections approach.

Far worse things, of course, have happened to many more people in recent months and years under the current Awami League government.

Hundreds have been picked up by law enforcement agencies and disappeared for weeks or months at a time, with the whereabouts of many remaining unknown. Extra-judicial killings have been widespread, resulting in the deaths of over 200 people under the rubric of a war on drugs in the last few months. Many thousands of others have been arrested under false cases and detained for months before receiving bail for saying the wrong things or belonging to the wrong political party. And of course, just in recent days, students and journalists have been attacked by governing party student wing members, with some suffering serious injuries.

Have the police falsified the FIR against Shahidul?

What are the police actually alleging against Shahidul Alam, the photographer arrested on Sunday evening?

A look at the First Information Report (the criminal complaint made by the police) suggests that Shahidul did not say what the police claim that he said. The police have seemingly distorted his words, apparently falsifying the FIR.

Below is - word for word - what the FIR claims Shahidul said on his Facebook page. This is the very basis of the allegation against him. This part of the FIR is written in English so it is not translated (see image above).

The particular text set out in the FIR is almost certainly supposed to be what Shahidul said on Al Jazeera Television in an interview broadcast a few hours before he was arrested since it very closely follows the interview. 

The crucial apparent falsifications are highlighted in bold and explained below.
"The Present AL govt. is non elected and so do not have any mandate to continue, Bank looting is conducted by the people in power and their associates. Extra Judicial killing is conducted every now and then. Disappearances are common pheonomena, Quota system continues to facilitate only the people in power. The Quota Movement is subdued brutally. In the safe Road Movement police invited the armed BCL student to fight the unarmed innocent students. Female students are taken and then disappearing. Many innocent students are made injured by BCL students and police. Personally he believes that without the care taker Government no Free, Fair and Neutral Election is not possible in Bangladesh. So the present government must be over thrown."
You can read the transcript of what Shahidul actually said here.
1. He does not say the government does "not have any mandate to continue". He says: "the government does not really have a mandate ..." An important distinction. 
2. He simply refers to "bank looting". He does not say that it is "conducted by the people in power and their associates." 
3. He only refers to "disappearances" happening, He does not say that they "are common phenomena." 
4. He discusses the Quota Movement but does not say it was "subdued" or that anything was done "brutally." In fact Shahidul says in the interview that the movement came to an end when the prime minister agreed with the student demands. 
5. This line is completely false - he did not say this: "Female students are taken and then disappearing," 
6. This line is completely false - he did not say this:  "Personally he believes that without the care taker Government no Free, Fair and Neutral Election is not possible in Bangladesh.

7. This line is completely false - he did not say this: "So the present government must be over thrown."
Lets see whether the police - and the government - can explain this?

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Shahidul Alam: "You cant tame a nation through fear"

A few hours before the celebrated photographer Shahidul Alam was forcibly picked up from his Dhaka home by 25 plain clothes dressed Detective Branch officers, he gave a live skype interview to Al Jazeera about the ongoing student protests over road safety. A case has been filed against him under section 57 of the Information and Communications Technology Act in relation to his Facebook posts - in which he provided news through Facebook Live on the ongoing student protests - though it is more than likely that it is this interview which forms the real basis for his arrest. He has now been remanded in custody for seven days.

In the interview Shahidul provides a highly incisive and articulate critique of the current Bangladesh political situation which few others would either be able or brave enough to provide. Many will not agree with every point, but it is worth reading as this is certainly what very many in Bangladesh are privately thinking, though unable in the current situation (where freedom of speech is significantly curtailed) to articulate. It is important to note that Shahidul is not politically partisan - and would criticise the opposition in similar language when equally appropriate.  

Q: These protests were sparked by two teens who were killed in a road accident but is this all about road safety or is there something larger going on?

A: Very much larger. This has been going on for a very very long time. It is an unelected government so they do not really have a mandate to rule, But they have been clinging on by brute force. The looting of banks, the gagging of the media. You mentioned just now the mobile internet is currently switched off, the extra-judicial killings, the disappearances, the need to give protection money at all levels, bribery at all levels, corruption in education. It is a never ending list. It has been huge.

So it really it is that pent up energy, emotion, anger, that has been let lose. This particular incident, sad as it is, really is the valve that has allowed things to go through. Very recently there was another very big protest about the quota because the quota system is rigged in such a way that only people close to the party in power get to get government jobs and there is a disproportionate amount of jobs going to them so ordinary people protested. And that was very brutally brought down.

Under pressure the prime minister offered reforms but them reneged on them. So that is also part of the reason. So this time when students did go on protests, again it went to a situation where they could not control it and the Prime minister has promised that she will cede to their demands, but of course people no longer believe. She has no credibility. She has made promises before, it has not been accepted, so now they don’t do it.

But I think what we need is to look at is what is happening in the streets today. The police specifically asked for help from these armed goons to combat unarmed students demanding safe roads. I mean now ridiculous is that. Today I was in the street and there are people with machetes in their hands chasing unarmed students and the police are standing by watching it happen. In some cases they are actually helping it out. I mean …. this morning, there was tear-gassing and I saw the police ganging up trying to catch these un-armed students, whereas these armed goons, are going out, wielding sticks and machetes, are walking past and they [the police] are just standing by.

Q: So where do you think these things are going to go from here? These protests appear to have spread across the country quite spontaneously and without any kind of central leadership here. This is part of the challenge the government is dealing with, in that it is so grass-roots in the way that it has spread.

A: I think the Government has miscalculated. It certainly felt that fear was enough, repression would have been enough, but I think you cannot tame an entire nation in this manner. And of course they are approaching elections, so the nearer it gets to elections, the more sensitive they are. They know that if there is a fair and free election, they will lose. But they haven’t got an exit plan as they have misruled for so long so that if they do lose, they will be torn apart. So they have to hang on by any means, so that is exactly what they are doing. They are clinging on using the entire might of the system plus the armed goons at their disposal.

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.