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.