Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Further evidence supports law enforcers role in BNP leader disappearance

The car park of the building from where
Salah Uddin Ahmed was taken
See also in the 'Political Crisis 2015' series:
Analysis of the deaths (updated to  March)

Excellent piece of reporting by my colleague Muktadir Rashid at New Age, who interviewed members of the security committee and residents in Sector 3 of Uttara in Dhaka about what happened on the night of 10 March, when BNP Joint Secretary, and till then spokesperson of the party, went missing, and was allegedly picked up by law enforcement agencies. The article is published in New Age today, and the relevant parts are reproduced below.

This report should be read alongside the interview of the caretaker of the building which was also published in New Age, a few days back

To read about 19 BNP activists picked by and disappeared in December 2013, over a two week period,  click here
Wife worried, says law enforcers not cooperating 
Muktadir Rashid
….. Meanwhile, more witness accounts said that ‘uniformed’ Rapid Action Battalion personnel had asked security guards working in Rajlakkhi neighbourhood at Uttara about the location of road 13/B in Sector 3 on the night Salah Uddin had gone missing.
Residents in the area also told New Age they had seen a double-cabin van marked ‘Dhaka Metropolitan Police’ and a white ‘Noah’ microbus parked at the southern end of the 70-metre long 13/B road.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Political crisis 2015 - Caretaker claims police took Salah Uddin Ahmed

Salah Uddin Ahmed was according to caretaker picked up
by Detective Branch officers. Police deny it
See also in the 'Political Crisis 2015' series:
Analysis of the deaths (updated to  March)

This is an article that appeared in New Age on 16 March about the alleged pick up of Salah Uddin Ahmed, BNP joint secretary and, for the last six weeks, spokesperson for the party on 10 March. Ahmed had been the person issuing statements concerning 'hartals' on behalf of the BNP, and he has not been seen since he was allegedly taken away from where he was in hiding.

To read about alleged unlawful killings by the police since the political crisis, click here. to read about 19 BNP activists allegedly picked up by law enforcement officers in a two week period in November/December 2013 in Dhaka, see here

Caretaker gives account of what he saw 
David Bergman and Taib Ahmed 
On Tuesday night, Akhter Ali, 42, was sitting in the doorway of a small room in the parking space of a block of flats located in Sector 3, Uttara.
It was nearly 9.30pm, and he was cutting vegetables for his evening meal.
For the last three months Akhter had worked as one of the two caretakers to the building where four flats had been built.
It had been a routine life as a caretaker in Uttara until then.
As he peeled vegetables, a few people entered the parking space through a small opening of the large security gates.
‘I challenged them and asked what they wanted, but they shouted back, “Shut up. Don’t say anything. We are from the detective branch,’’ Akhter Ali told New Age on Saturday night at the building where it happened.
‘They pulled up their shirts and showed their detective branch badge attached to their belts, and I could also see two pistols,’ he said.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Political crisis 2015: 'Democracy cannot happen through petrol bombs"

Md Salim at the burns unit of the DMCH  
See also in the 'Political Crisis 2015' series:
Analysis of the deaths (updated to  March)

Here are four stories from Dhaka Medical College Hospital's burn unit which emblems the sheer inhumanity of the men who have been throwing petrol bombs into vehicles causing serious injury and often death. In the vast majority of cases, it is reasonable to assume these incidents are the responsibility of opposition picketers, or those working for them.

Md Al Malum's Story
Md Al Malum, DMCH
21 year old Md Al Malum, was lying on his back, with his heavily bandaged arms sticking out, cross-like, from his body. He comes from Tangail, and his parents were with him in the ward when I visited. His mother stays in the hospital all the time with her son, and sleeps by the side of the bed. I first asked Malum about how it happened: 
“I was a helper on a cargo truck and on 18th February we were going from Tangail to Bhuapur. The 18th was itself not a strike today, but a strike had been called for the next day. At 7.45 in the evening I finished loading the truck at Bhuapur and we started on the trip back.

"I had just started the journey when suddenly men appeared and threw a petrol bomb on the ground in front of the truck so the driver had to stop. Another person then came up to the driver’s window and asked “Why are you driving a vehicle during a hartal’. and then threw a bomb into the vehicle through the side window. It looked like a bottle with petrol in it with a flame at the end. A fire then started in the cabin and my clothes caught fire. I jumped out of the truck, and rolled myself on sand on the side of the road.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Daily Star: In the government's cross hairs


It is important that journalists and those concerned with free speech and the independence of the media in Bangladesh support the Daily Star and in particular its editor Mahfuz Anam who are under attack for publishing a picture of a wall poster of the banned Islamic organization Hizb-ut Tahrir under the heading 'Fanatics raise their ugly heads again' along with a caption:
“Taking advantage of the current political crisis in the country accompanied by wanton violence, banned extremist Islamist organisation Hizb-ut-Tahrir published and pasted posters in the capital in an attempt to foment unrest within the armed forces. This poster was found pasted on a wall in an alleyway near Bangla Motor intersection yesterday.”

First a lawyer lodged a case  against Mahfuz Anam and two journalists over the article suggesting that it was 'instigating' a breach of the peace, and a court on 15 February asked the police to investigate the matter.

Then three days later, on 18 February the Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, was asked the following question in parliament:
"A nondescript poster in one corner of Banglamotor has been blown out of proportions on the pages of Daily Star. Carrying the poster of a banned outfit in the paper is surely helping it to propagate its cause."
And she responded, in the following way:
"We will move against those who help the Hizb-ut-Tahrir by publishing their posters in the paper …. "I don’t care whether they have written positively or negatively but by blowing up the visual image of this nondescript poster at a corner of Banglamotor which would have attracted no attention, the paper has helped the radical cause."
So much then for the independence of the executive and the judiciary!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Some facts about the Editor's Council statement on media freedom

Toufique Khalidi, editor-in-chief of has recently written a vituperative article attacking a recent statement by Bangladesh's Editor's Council which had raised concerns about freedom of the media in country.

The article, 'Why I do not agree with the Editor's Council'  states that the Council's statement is 'a blatant example of hypocrisy, double standards, and personal agenda-driven exercise.' It is a very personalized attack, in which he states that he has 'no respect for some of these editors' some of whom he  argues have 'have never been professional journalists in the real sense of the term.' The final half of the article is just a stream of consciousness that deserves no serious attention, and is not directly relevant to the editor's council statement.

Khalidi's first set of concerns revolve around an apparent conflict of interest, since some of the members of the editors council are, he says, also shareholders of their papers, and are therefore members of the Newspaper Owners Association of Bangladesh (NOAB). This is an interesting point - but in the context of this statement made by the Editor's Council it is unclear what is the particular conflict of interest about which Khalidi is concerned. One could more appropriately allege that there was a conflict of interest had the editors not made a statement critical of the government (in order to protect their financial interests as owners) rather than making one, as they have done here.

Moreover, Khalidi's concern about editor's 'conflicts of interest' since they are also owners  would have had more force if he himself was not (and perhaps still is) a part owner of whilst at the same time being an Editor-in-Chief of the website. At the bottom of his article Khalidi describes himself as the Editor-in-Chief of, but perhaps he is actually writing as an owner of the company? **

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Political crisis 2015 - BNP's last, best and only hope?

See also in the 'Political Crisis 2015' series:
Analysis of the deaths (updated to  March)

Bangladesh Nationalist Party’s last, best and arguably just about only hope of the Awami League agreeing to hold a dialogue about a new interim election no longer rests with political forces inside the country.

It also does not rest with the United Nations, and the ‘Western’ International community which, for reasons set out earlier (see: ‘West, UN must share blame for Bangladesh crisis’) are far from willing right now to challenge the current government.

Ambassadors and High commissioners based in Dhaka will go no further in their conversations with the political parties than talk about the need for ‘confidence building measures’ The word ‘dialogue’ - yet alone the word ‘elections’ – is not, at present even part of their talking points with the political parties.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Silencing people in Bangladesh

Avijit Roy, killed by Islamic extremists
in Dhaka on 27 Feb 2015, with his wife
Rafida, who was seriously injured
in the attack
Attempts to silence journalists, writers and bloggers in Bangladesh come from all political directions, but in this country, at least, it is only religious extremists, seeking to silence those who write in support of secularism, atheism or rationalism, who go so far as to attack and kill.

Religious zealots don't just want secularists to stop writing critically about religion. They want to kill them. And too often they are successful.

The vicious murder on Thursday of Avijit Roy (who wrote for the humanist, rationalist secular blog of Mukto-Mona) was preceded by the fatal attacks on the poet and writer Humayan Azad in February 2004 and the blogger Ahmed Rajib Haider in February 2013. And in January 2013, Asif Mohiuddin also escaped death after being attacked by religious zealots.

So, when considering freedom of speech in Bangladesh, and how different individuals and groups within the country seek to silence those who write about this or that subject, it is important to keep in mind that it is only the religious fundamentalists that kill.

Sure, it is right to be critical of others* (including the government) who from a different perspective try to silence speech and writing in Bangladesh -  whether it be to stop publication of writing critical of the government, or of commentary on the International Crimes Tribunal, or questioning aspects of the official narrative of the 1971 war, or whatever if may be.

And, it is certainly very unpleasant to have criminal or other cases filed against you, or be abused on social networks,  or have attempts made to destroy your reputation or have other things done to make one's life difficult (which of course the religious extremists may also try to do)

But these 'silencers' do not attack or kill people. They don't seek to physically harm you.

And that is an important distinction to remember.


* Please note that 'others' does not include, or in any way refer to, the judiciary.