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.