Friday, March 5, 2021

সরকার আড়ালে রাখতে চায় অনেক কিছুই: আমার বিরুদ্ধে কুৎসার প্রত্যুত্তর




[Original English version can be read here]

১লা ফেব্রুয়ারি আল জাজিরা ‘অল দা প্রাইম মিনিস্টারস মেন’ (বাংলা শিরোনাম – ‘ওরা প্রধানমন্ত্রীর লোক’) ডকুমেন্টারি সম্প্রচার করে। এখন পর্যন্ত ৭৭ লক্ষাধিক বার ভিডিওটি ইউটিউবেই শুধু দেখা হয়েছে, বাংলাদেশে একে কেন্দ্র করে সর্বস্তরে আলোচনা চলছে। সরকার এবং সরকার সমর্থকরা ডকুমেন্টারির তীব্র বিরোধিতা করছে। কিন্তু এতে প্রকাশিত অভিযোগগুলো আনুষ্ঠানিকভাবে খণ্ডন না করে এর সাথে সংশ্লিষ্টদের চরিত্র হননে লিপ্ত হয়েছে তারা। ডকুমেন্টারি নির্মাতা ও সাক্ষাতকার প্রদানকারী ব্যক্তিদের চরিত্র হননের প্রচেষ্টা তো তারা চালিয়েই যাচ্ছে, সেই সাথে এর বাইরের বিভিন্ন ব্যক্তিকে ডকুমেন্টারি তৈরিতে যুক্ত ছিল বলে অসত্য দাবী করছে এবং তাদের বিরুদ্ধেও কুৎসা রটনা করছে।

তাদের এই চরিত্র হনন অভিযান বিষয়ে বর্তমান এই লেখা, ডকুমেন্টারির বিষয়বস্তু নিয়ে না। আমি সম্পূর্ণ মিথ্যা ও মানহানিকর বিভিন্ন অভিযোগের শিকার হচ্ছি। একথা উল্লেখ করা জরুরি যে কোন জায়গা থেকেই আমাকে এসব অভিযোগের বিষয়ে জবাব দেবার সুযোগ দেয়া হচ্ছেনা। এটা সাংবাদিকতার প্রতিষ্ঠিত নিয়ম যে কারো বিরুদ্ধে অভিযোগ প্রকাশ করলে তাকে সেসবের উত্তর দেবার সুযোগ দিতে হবে। কিন্তু কোন একটি সংবাদপত্র, অনলাইন সাইট, এবং টিভি স্টেশন আমাকে তা দেয়নি, এবং ক্রমাগত মিথ্যা অভিযোগ প্রচার করে যাচ্ছে। এসব প্রচারের আগে আমার সাথে কোন যোগাযোগের প্রয়োজন তারা বোধ করছে না। আবারও বলি, উত্তরের সুযোগ দেয়ার বিষয়টা সাংবাদিকতার খুব অপরিহার্য একটা দিক।

Thursday, March 4, 2021

My response to bdnews24's "Open Letter" on Al Jazeera's film, "All the Prime Minister's Men"

 


Bdnews24 published an oped which was titled “An open letter to David Bergman.” It contains a series of factual inaccuracies as well as misrepresentations. One would have thought that bdnews would agree to publish a response. But no. Bdnews editor-in-chief, Toufique Khalidi and its English language editor, Arun Devnath have failed to respond to repeated attempts to contact them. 


Here is the article I would have liked the online news site to have published.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

The Bangladesh government has a lot to hide: a response to the personal attacks


On February 1st, Al Jazeera broadcast the documentary, “All the Prime Minister’s Men” and since then the investigative film has been watched on social media millions of times and widely discussed in Bangladesh. The government and its supporters have responded very critically – but instead of responding through a detailed formal rebuttal of the substance of the allegations, they have launched a smear campaign against the broadcaster, and those interviewed in it - or others whom they falsely claim were involved in making the film.

It is this smear campaign – not the substance of the film itself - that I am commenting on in this article. I have been subject to vicious lies and defamation, without it should be said being provided a single right of reply. Not a single one of all these newspapers, online sites and TV stations, which are repeatedly criticising me and making false allegations, have ever contacted me before publication, a very basic tenant of journalism.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Response to a critique of Al Jazeera's film, All the Prime Minister's Film



Rayhan Rashid wrote a long critique of Al Jazeera's film, comments which were directed specifically at me, and so I thought I should find the time to respond to the main claims. He starts his long article by stating:

“AJ’s investigation succeeded in establishing the following points to its credit:

- That the current Army Chief of Bangladesh had occasionally been in contact with his two fugitive brothers.

- That one of his two fugitive brothers is now using a false identity.

- That the Army Chief failed to report his fugitive brothers to the authorities when they visited Bangladesh from time-to-time.

These actions, and in some cases omissions, undoubtedly indicate breaking a number of laws, not just by the Army Chief himself, but also by certain other bodies and persons entrusted to uphold these laws. The person(s) responsible for such law-breaking must be held to account."

If the documentary had only succeeded in doing the above, any journalist would consider this to be a good job, very well down. To show that the head of a country’s army had committed criminal offences – as acknowledged by Rashid – in protecting his fugitive brothers, would be a front page story in almost every liberal democratic country in the world, and would result in his immediate resignation and sacking.

However the film is far more than that. 

Rashid seriously undersells what the content of the film and what was proven. It showed far more.

  • It tracked down Haris, the murder convict and fugitive brother of the current Chief of Army Staff (COAS), to Hungary

  • If showed that, as head of BGB, General Aziz Ahmed had himself organised to send  Haris to Hungary on false papers including a passport, NID certificate, and bank account in a fake name

  • It shows that in so doing, Aziz Ahmed obtained the assistance of at least three BGB officers – two of whom he got to authenticate false documents, making them complicit in the conspiracy

  • It shows that Haris Ahmed, the fugitive brother of Aziz, set up a string of companies in Hungary and France under this false name;

  • It shows Aziz visiting his brother in Hungary whilst he continued to be a fugitive, convicted of murder.

  • It shows Haris writing a proposal to his own brother, Aziz Ahmed to provide bunk beds for the BGB, which Aziz was then leading;

  • It shows that Haris Ahmed in conversation with a DGFI officers pressuring them to give him contracts

  • It shows Haris talking about his control over Rapid Action Battalion and how it does his dirty work for them.

  • It shows Haris talking about a system of bribes taken from police officers seeking changes in posts, in which the Home Minister and the IGP is involved

  • It shows Haris trying to persuade the whistle-blower to act on his behalf in a deal to provide Hungarian bullets to the Bangladesh army

  • It shows Aziz talking about how highly Sheikh Hasina thinks about his brothers.

  • It shows Aziz talking about how the prime minister had a plan to “clear up” the things that his brothers have done, referring to their murder convictions.
It raises so many questions – including for the prime minister - to answer. (To read about what questions the prime minister should answer, click here.) 

In any functioning democracy, this film would have dramatic political impact. Just imagine what would have happened if the same allegations were made about the political establishment in the UK! We can certainly be sure that Rashid would not be making the same comments about the film that he is doing now. 

The only reason there are not now wider political repercussions is that Bangladesh government has become increasingly autocratic, with very limited rule of law when it comes to crimes and abuse of power of those in positions of power. It is sad to say that Rashid's commentary plays its role in exonerating the politically corrupt by hugely minimising the content of the film

In response to some of Rashid's other important points
  • No documents were altered AJ has all the original documents that were sent by General Aziz to Sami. Don’t believe the rubbish you read in government backed website and newspapers

  • As to your defamatory comments  about Sami, the Whistleblower – ditto the above You will realise soon how foolish you are being in believing these claims. 

    (The fact that you are so willing to believe this kind of unsubstantiated claims is extraordinary, and speaks volumes.) 

  • Haris was not “goaded to brag”. This is Bangladesh’s underworld linked up to the most powerful army officer in the country – in real time.

  • It was fair to refer to the prime minister in the film: Who appointed Aziz? Who got Joseph a pardon (and indeed remission of the other two fugitive brothers?) Who according to Haris, knew about his business activities. Who, according to Aziz, praised the brothers for helping her to survive politically? Yes, the prime minister.

  • There is no anti-semitism in the programme. Israel was only relevant to this film as Bangladesh army was buying Israeli made spyware when trade with Israel is banned in Bangladesh. The trade was therefore illegal.
Try harder next time. Or perhaps not at all. 

 

Monday, January 11, 2021

Pictures of Awami League UK's campaign in support of Tulip Siddiq - which she denies knowing about


Awami League UK leaders outside Tulip Siddiq's election campaign office on the first day 
of the UK national election campaign. Dozens of UK AL leaders and activists without any connection to the constituency came to the office daily - whilst local labour members were absent


In the 2019 national UK election, the UK wing of Bangladesh's ruling party, the Awami League, organised a systemic campaign, somewhat covert in nature, involving dozens of its leaders and activists, to support the re-election of Tulip Siddiq as member of parliament in Hampstead and Kilburn. 

The UK Awami League (UK AL) is set up through the constitution of of the Bangladesh Awami League and its leaders were appointed in 2011 by the leader of the Bangladesh political party, the current prime minister Sheikh Hasina. Tulip Siddiq is her niece. 

As part of the election campaign, Tulip Siddiq's Labour Party rented out a dilapidated office in Kilburn that became the base of the UK AL campaign. The office was effectively the UK AL campaign office for Tulip's campaign - as very few non-UK AL people attended. Every day, throughout the campaign, dozens of UK AL leaders and activists, very few of them with any connection to Tulip's constituency, attended the office in order to receive election leaflets and other material and were told where to distribute them, throughout the constituency. 

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Why the Sunday Times has a lot of explaining to do

Bangladesh, an authoritarian regime, notorious for arbitrary detentions, false cases, extra judicial killings and disappearances would not seem the ideal source for a supposed expose in the Sunday Times claiming that a businessman who has lived in the UK for ten years was in fact a jihadist “terrorist”, and “arms dealer”.

But this did little to deter Tom Harper, the Sunday Time’s Home Affairs Correspondent from making such an allegation against Shahid Uddin Khan, a former colonel in the Bangladesh army in a report published late last month.

If the provenance of the allegations did not itself raise alarm bells about their integrity (and one assumes that for the Sunday Times, it did not) all that Harper had to do was to read an Al Jazeera investigation published in March which explained how Khan, far from being a “Jihadist” and “terrorist”, had been good friends and business partners with Tarique Ahmed Siddique, the security adviser to the Bangladesh prime minister and indeed the uncle of British parliamentarian Tulip Siddique MP. For ten years between 2009 and 2018, Siddique and Khan’s families jointly owned a land company in Bangladesh with Siddique’s wife as the chairperson and Khan the managing director.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Five key takeaways from Tarique Siddique's "vendetta"

The story about what has happened to Colonel (rtd) Shahid Khan over the last fourteen months published on this blog (and previously by Al Jazeera) says a lot about contemporary Bangladesh - the impunity, the links between politics and business, the corruption of law enforcement, intelligence and other state bodies, the unlimited power of people around the prime minister Sheikh Hasina, the lies and false allegations - and how the victims simply just keep on piling up.

Below are five key points that emerge from this story

1. The number of secret detentions and disappearances are almost certainly much higher than we know.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

"Vendetta" by PM's Security Adviser turns business partner into a "terrorist"

Colonel (rtd) Shahid Khan with the President of Bangladesh at the Hilton
Hotel in London, April 26, 2017
Colonel Shahid Khan is a retired Bangladesh army colonel, turned businessman, who since 2009 has lived in the UK with his wife and daughters. 

Until recently, Khan ran a Bangladesh company, Prochhaya Limited, jointly owned by both his own family and that of another retired Bangladesh army officer, Major General Tarique Ahmed Siddique. 

Siddique is no ordinary retired officer. He is the Security Adviser to the Bangladesh prime minister Sheikh Hasina, and is now one of the government's most powerful and feared men with effective control of the country's military and intelligence agencies. Siddique is also related to the prime minister as his brother is married to Hasina's sister - a relationship that itself brings power and status.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Judicial independence, media freedom and Sheikh Hasina



This is a story about a recorded conversation that says a lot about judicial independence and media freedom in Bangladesh - or the lack thereof.

Bangladesh's justice system is based upon an important fiction. It is a fiction not  uncommon to many authoritarian governments. This is the idea that the country's courts operate independently from the executive.

Probably, few people in Bangladesh actually believe that fiction. Many are aware of the partisan way in which magistrates and judges are appointed; how the government moves magistrates around from one court to another court, one district to another one, as and when they require; or indeed the powers of persuasion and intimidation held by the executive which they use to ensure that magistrates and judges make the "right" decision. Of course, if they have already appointed highly partisan judges, then little persuasion and intimidation will be necessary.

This is not to say that every decision goes the Bangladesh government's way. In a non-totalitarian country, there remains some levels of autonomy and independence, and certain conduct and decisions is outside the government's control.*

Nonetheless, this fiction of judicial independence is constantly claimed by government ministers and of course by the courts themselves. It is an important fiction; at some level the judicial system cannot function unless people have some kind of belief in the judiciary's independence.

In the past, the media - or more accurately the small parts of the media which remained independent  - did sometimes prick holes in this judicial fiction. However, it is rare - as doing so risked prosecution for contempt of court. Now, with even less media freedom in Bangladesh, it is a brave or reckless editor that would publish such a story.

It is in any case difficult for journalists at the best of time to get solid evidence that a particular judicial decision was made as a result of executive interference.

Occasionally, however, comments from the mouths of ministers themselves give the game away. And one such moment came a few days ago in a telephone conversation between the prime minister Sheikh Hasina and her UK Awami League party leaders in which she refers to the question of whether  Khaleda Zia, the leader of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, currently in jail following conviction for corruption, will be allowed out of jail or not. The government of course have said that it is upto the courts - and the courts are not giving her bail pending appeal.

Yet, a recording of a conversation between Sheikh Hasina and Awami League activists suggest that it is not the courts that will determine what happens to the opposition leader. 

The prime minister arrived in London last Wednesday, on 1 May. As is customary, Awami League leaders and activists came to the airport hoping to meet her. Amongst those present were Sultan Shariff, UK Awami League president and Syed Faruq, the UK Awami League secretary.

The video shows Syed Faruq holding a mobile phone, with the speaker phone on, and the voice of Sheikh Hasina can be heard. It appears that Hasina was using a mobile phone belonging to Bangladesh's High Commissioner to the UK, as the name of Sayeda Muna Tasneem is shown on Faruq's mobile phone screen.

The person who filmed the conversation was Md Akkadus, an Awami League activist using Facebook live. The video is no longer posted on his Facebook time line.

Sheikh Hasina's voice can be heard loud and clear. At first she says this:
I will talk with you later after the surgery in my eyes. Please don’t crowd the hotel. Because you make such a crowd, no hotel wants to give us booking now. I will talk to you later at my convenience.
She then goes onto to talk about Tareque Zia, the son of the opposition leader Khaleda Zia
And, let the BNP know that if Tarique shows his arrogance with me, his mother (Khaleda Zia) will never be able to come out of jail in her lifetime. He must understand that nothing can be realized from Sheikh Hasina by force. Their (BNP) MPs have joined parliament today. They had some demands… treatment and others (of Khaleda Zia). We are ready to consider [that demand]. Many have met me in this regard, but as I come here now, if Tarique shows his arrogance over it, then I will tell them: ‘Sorry, your leader (Tarique) has misbehaved with me, has done such malicious act, I will not…" (emphasis added)**



Sultan Shariff, the UK Awami League president told this blog that "It was a simple conversation. She wanted to say thank-you for coming as she had not come to the UK for a long time."

However, it is pretty blatant that this was not a "simple" conversation - and that it suggests that the decision about Khaleda Zia's bail will be dependent on Sheikh Hasina and not on any independent judicial decision.

Equally noteworthy is that not a single media outlet in Bangladesh (as far as this blog can make out) actually reported on this conversation although this video was widely distributed. This is a reflection of the highly restricted media operating in Bangladesh these days - as noone would dare report on this conversation.

------------

In addition, there are many decisions before the courts that the government does not care that that much about anyway. And, of course, there are some individuals/organisations outside the government which can themselves corrupt the system so that the courts rule their, rather than the government's, way.

** This translation was revised on Thursday 9 May.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Fact-checking Gowher Rizvi on Al Jazeera


A month ago, Gowher Rizvi, the Bangladesh prime minister's foreign affairs advisor was questioned on Al Jazeera's Head to Head programme by Mehdi Hasan.

For me, as someone who has written about Bangladesh politics for a number of years, the programme was remarkable in that its format allowed for the first time the sustained questioning of someone representing the current Awami League government.

If there was anyone able to respond to Mehdi Hasan's hard questioning, Gowher Rizvi was probably the man to do so - but as I have written earlier, there are aspects of the current government's human rights and governance record that are hard to defend.

In the course of seeking to justify the Bangladesh government's position, Rizvi - and the Bangladesh High Commissioner in the UK who was present to support him - made a number of false statements, inaccuracies and misrepresentations.

Here are 18 examples.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

State agencies release Maroof Zamen from secret detention


On the evening of December 4, 2017, Maroof Zaman, a former Bangladeshi ambassador to Qatar and Vietnam, (as well as previously Counsellor of the Bangladesh High Commission in UK and an additional secretary of the foreign ministry) was picked up by state security agencies as he was driving alone to the airport to pick up his daughter Samiha Zaman. 

Later that day, at around 7.45pm, Zaman called his home telephone landline from an unidentified number and informed the domestic help that some people would come by the house to retrieve his computer, and instructed them to cooperate. About 20 minutes later, three tall, well-dressed men came to the house and took possession of his laptop, home computer, camera, and spare smartphone. They wore caps and surgical masks to conceal their faces from the building’s CCTV cameras.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Al Jazeera's Mehdi Hasan takes on Bangladesh's Gowher Rizvi

This is going to make interesting and engrossing television.

The suave Gowher Rizvi, the Bangladesh Prime Minister's international affairs advisor, taking on the fierce interviewing style of Al Jazeera's Mehdi Hasan. 

The programme is being aired tomorrow on Friday, 1 March and for those interested in Bangladesh is "must watch" television. I was in the audience at the live broadcast, and Rizvi at what point looked like a boxer on the ropes. Though there probably is no one more capable than Rizvi of defending the Bangladesh government's human rights and governance record, the record of the Government on these issues is so parlous that even his skills are insufficient. 

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Resignation letter of Abdur Razzaq from Jamaat

Abdur Razzaq, until Friday an assistant general secretary of the Jamaat-e-Islami resigned from the party in a bold and surprising move. My article for Al Jazeera on this can be read here

Razzaq made public the resignation letter he sent to the leader of the Jamaat, and I am posting it here, as it is a very interesting document.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

How safe is the current Awami League government?


Why hold a free and fair election which you risk losing, when you can rig it to ensure certain victory, and get away with it?

This was clearly in the mind of the Awami League in Bangladesh which three weeks ago won 293 of the 300 parliamentary seats in what must be the country’s most rigged national elections as the party won its third consecutive term in power. This weekend, Sheikh Hasina organised a victory rally in Dhaka where she told her supporters, "Please remember, retaining victory is harder than earning it.”

In the fifteen years between 1996 and 2009, Bangladesh’s three national elections, though violent, were relatively fair, resulting each time in a change in government. This had nothing to do with the just disposition of the country’s politicians but because three months before each election a neutral caretaker government took over power and ensured a level playing field.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

3 youngsters accused of committing war crimes

Yesterday, Al Jazeera published my story on the recent arrest of a US citizen of Bangladeshi descent for allegedly committing international crimes including murder, rape and arson in the country's independence war even though he was 13 years of age in 1971 (he was born on January 3, 1958) when the offences were said to have been committed. 

You can read the article here

In the prosecutor's application for the arrest of Jubair (and 10 other people) it is stated that he was 62 years of age, suggesting that he would have been 14 - rather than 13 - in 1971. Whilst this was inaccurate - since all other documentation shows that he was born on January 13, 1958 - this may have just been a rounding-up error, since whilst he was 61 at the time of his arrest, he turned 62 two weeks late on January 3, 2019.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Egregious rigging in Barisal uncovered

If any more proof were needed of the government's rigging of the election, you can find it if you dig down into the constituency results at a polling station level.

The Daily Star has done this in the district of Barisal - with the most egregious constituency being the constituency of Barisal-1 which had a total of 115 polling centres/stations.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Government election narrative shredded by US, UK, EU

The UK, EU and USA have all now issued statements concerning the Bangladesh elections which will concern the government as they accept that vote rigging took place and cutt across the government narrative that these were free and fair elections. Each statement calls for the complaints to be examined. 

Opposition politicians and activists may have expected more - some even hoping (highly unrealistically) that the US or the EU would not recognise the new Bangladesh government - but arguably these comments are as critical as these countries could make in relation to a friendly ally, whose assistance they need in the fight against islamic militancy, and support for the Rohingyas. (It is important to appreciate that Governments tend to recognise states, not governments.)

When satire becomes reality in Bangladesh


There is now no satire in Bangladesh. Only reality. Or is that what we thought could only be satire is now reality.

Six months ago, Sheikh Hasina's son, Sajeeb Wazed Joy, wrote a couple of outrageous fact-free articles arguing that the police had investigated every single allegation of an enforced disappearances in Bangladesh and found them all not to be genuine! In fact, he argued that all allegations of disappearances were "fictitious attempts by accused criminals to avoid prosecution and accountability." Yes, really. He said that!

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

The Economist and the "Exit Costs" of losing power

The Economist has an uncanny ability of distilling a country's complex politics into 500 words - and yesterday's article on the election is pretty sharp. It states:


"The Awami League, which has has been in power continuously for ten years, flagrantly wielded the full power of state institutions, from police to courts to the Election Commission, to promote its chances. Sheikh Hasina’s party also resorted to virtually every electoral trick in the bag." (For those who cannot access the website, the whole article is set out at the end of this post. )

Election rigging - the international community response?

So far political leaders from China, India and Bhutan have congratulated Sheikh Hasina and the Awami League government for "winning" the election - without any of them mentioning the widespread allegations of election rigging before and after the Sunday poll.

India is Awami League's closest ally, and so its unconditional support for the government after the election is far from suprising. China is not interested in the fairness or otherwise of elections. And Bhutan is too small to matter.

Western liberal democracies have not yet given their views on the Bangladesh election - and what they have to say, in particular the will both be both fascinating and significant.