Monday, August 29, 2016

Kerry's visit to Bangladesh

Kerry at the house where Sheikh Mujib was murdered
The significance of the current trip to Bangladesh of the US Secretary of State, John Kerry remains unclear.

There is much talk about the visit seeking to strengthen the country's relationship, and no doubt there will be some announcements of increased cooperation.

It has been widely trailed that a key component of the visit will be discussions about counter-terrorism assistance. 

Whilst, it is important for the US government to find ways to assist Bangladesh to counter the continuing threat  of militancy - one would hope that the US government is cautious as to whether the Bangladesh government can be trusted to use any new tools provided to them without misusing them against the political opposition and without violating basic human rights

The issue of human rights is likely to be part of Kerry's message - which the Awami League government will not like. In a recent US state department fact sheet, it is stated that:
 "We believe the existence of viable political parties and ensuring freedom of media and speech are essential for Bangladesh to fulfill its true potential as a vibrant, secure democracy."
It is however unlikely that Kerry will voice any stronger public criticisms concerning the lack of democracy and the human rights situation in Bangladesh. The US needs the cooperation of the Bangladesh government - and public criticism does not go down well here.

Any concerns will be made in private meetings - though I would not be surprised if Kerry does not talk more publicly about about the need for increased freedom of expression. He is giving a speech today at the EMK centre, so it will be interesting to hear what he says.

However it has been announced that Kerry will visit Khaleda Zia, the leader of the opposition - though not the leader of the so-called parliamentary opposition - who may well soon be convicted for corruption. The very fact that he is meeting Zia, is significant; the visit is part of the public messaging of the US government's support for a multi-party democracy in Bangladesh.

If Kerry had not met Zia, this would really have put a further nail in the death of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party. The visit is a shot in the arm for the BNP, which is reeling from state repression and its own disorganisation and lack of focus.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The ten fictions of the ‘TerroristObserver’ website

When I made a film about 1971 war crimes, people alleged that I had taken money from the Awami League; when I wrote about the International Crimes Tribunal, it was alleged I was paid by the Jamaat-e-Islami; and when I wrote about the recent detention of the journalist Shafiqur Rahman, it was alleged that I had received money from the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, from Tareq Rahman no less!.

Quite a clean sweep, some may argue.

Of course these were all total fictions - false and defamatory allegations which appear to be simply the price of writing on Bangladesh politics. In Bangladesh, when someone can’t attack the substance of the writing, they simply attack the person who wrote it.

Now there is a new allegation against me made by which makes further false, defamatory and unfounded allegations. It comes in response to this article that I wrote about the detentions of Hasnat Karim and Tahmid Khan, two men dining at the time of the attack on the Holey Artisan Bakery.

The website was set up 7 July 2016, and the editor in chief is Riana Trina. According to her Facebook page, she studies or studied law at King College in London, works at the International Crimes Research Foundation, and is a presenter at Harbour Radio. I doubt that she has a career ahead of her in any profession requiring the determination of facts – though she may well have one in fiction and propaganda.

The allegations made by the website in an article widely shared on social media are total fiction – and I really mean fiction. They suggest that I have had meetings which I have never had, received money I never received, spoken to people I never spoke to, did things I never did and said things I never said.

There are at least ten major lies and falsehoods contained in this article, which are set out below

1. “Three days prior to the Gulshan attack, David Bergman and Mir Kashem’s son Arman held a meeting where a man named Nurul Islam was also present.”

This is total fiction. No such meeting took place. I was in London from the middle of June to the middle of July on a family holiday. I don’t know who this Nurul Islam is supposed to be.

2. “David Bergman was given 35 crore Taka to free Hasnat and Tahmid, and to do a campaign in the media.”

A total falsehood. Specifically, I never received any amount of money from any person who wanted me to do anything to ‘free Hasnat and Tahmid, and to do a campaign in the media’. The only money I ever receive for my writing are the professional fees from the publications who publish my writing.

3. ‘The majority of this amount was transferred to Bergman’s friend Samantha’s Natwest Bank account.’

I don’t have a friend called Samantha. And certainly no money (which in fact I was never given), was paid to any account of any person, yet along someone called Samantha.

4. “David Bergman was affiliated with Hasnat Reza Karim from a long period of time. We get the proof from the Twitter account of Hasnat Reza Karim, where he is following and sharing the writing of David Bergman.”

I never met Hasnat prior to the Holey attack, and so am in no way affiliated with him. My first and only interaction with him was at the magistrates court when he was remanded for the second time on  14 August (see below). I have 17,000 followers on Twitter; I am affiliated with only very few of them, and that does not include Hasnat Karim

5. “According to a source, in recent times David Bergman communicated with Arman, the son of Mir Kashem, and Hummam, the son of Saka Chowdhury. In that meeting they decided to take all the steps to do campaign on behalf of Hasnat and Tahmid, and to publish it in all the media in Bangladesh and abroad."

Pure fiction. No such meeting took place, and there was never any agreement of any kind made with these people or with anyone else to ‘campaign on behalf of Hasnat and Tahmid’. I have not met or spoken to Hummam for about two years, since well before the execution of his father.

6. ‘According to the source, Tahmid’s father also joined the meeting through Tele conference.‘

Since no such meeting took place, no one could communicate through Tele-conference. I have never met or spoken to Tahmid’s father.

7. “Our Investigation team tried to contact David Bergman a number of times, but his phone was switched off. He picked up his phone once and told our reporter in a snubbing tone that he will not say anything on this regard.”

I never received any calls, or miss calls, from this website and never spoke to anyone from this organisation, and never spoke to anyone about this subject.

8. ‘[At the magistrates court] David Bergman was seen to whisper something into the ears of Hasnat Karim, and as a reply Hasnat Karim shook his head.

I did not whisper to Karim. I asked him a question, ‘How are you being treated’? And he replied, ‘Things are fine’. At the same hearing, there were dozens of reporters inside and outside the court.

9. ‘He has been working really hard to stop the trials and to question the procedure of justice of the war criminals. … In the last six years, David Bergman has written more than 500 blogs against the tribunal.

Inaccurate. I have never written any article suggesting the stopping of the trials at the International Crimes Tribunal. Over 900 posts have been published on the Bangladesh War Crimes Tribunal blog, but almost all of them, 90 percent I would guess, are simply narrations of what happened at the Tribunal (see here for example). The rest are not ‘against the tribunal’ but are commentary about the tribunal.

10. “He is one of the leading persons to be involved in the skype scandal.”

I was never involved in this in any way.