Human Rights


It’s either 2005 or 2006. I am sitting at a family member’s home in Virginia, enjoying the new experience of watching Bangladeshi channels in the US. While surfing channels, the visage of a bearded man, holding forth on some lecture, flashes on the screen.

For the first and last time in my life, I hear the sound of teeth being gnashed.

I turn and ask my family member the reason for his extreme reaction. He tells me his story- of how, as a youth, he had run, futilely, after a Pakistani Army jeep which was driving away with his father. The place was Faridpur. The year 1971. And the man who had guided the Pakistani Army to his home was Bacchu Razakar, now Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, the man with the orange beard.

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Mull over this: if a temple is ransacked in the forest, but no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

As per bdnews, several temples and shops were burned. This ransacking went on for two days. Bdnews says:

The leaders of the Hindu minority there blamed the ‘indifference’ of the administration for the situation.

The problem is, the facts suggest otherwise. The local level administration tried to hold some meetings and head off any trouble before things got out of hand. Then Anisul Islam Mahmud, the local MP stepped in. Now, he isn’t just your typical Jatiyo Party MP who has trouble even doing something innocuous as taking over a local hospital. Mahmud, along with Ziauddin Bablu, is Sheikh Hasina’s enforcer in Jatiyo Party, and is tasked with making sure that JP Chief H. M. Ershad stays in line. As such, Mahmud has, at all times, the ear of the Prime Minister. When he was not successful (by some accounts, he was chased by local people and had to be rescued by police), Afsarul Amin showed up. Afsarul Amin is the senior representative from Chittagong in this current cabinet, and was probably the best person for the job since former mayor Mohiuddin Chowdhury refused to get involved in this matter. Amin, too, failed to get things under control. It took the deployment of a heavy contingent of police and RAB to finally bring the situation under control.

And then, poof. The matter disappeared from our media. No follow-up reports to investigative articles. No allocation of the blame.

Or rather, some allocation of the blame. Four days after the incident, Nurul Islam, another MP from Chittagong and the leader of one of the three factions currently active in Chittagong AL, said this:

চট্টগ্রামে হিজবুত তাহরির, জেএমবি নিয়ে আমি দীর্ঘদিন চিৎকার করছি। শেষ পর্যন্ত তারা হাটহাজারীতে ঘটনা ঘটিয়েই ফেলল। ঘটনার বর্ণনা আমি দিতে চাই না। তবে চট্টগ্রাম-৮ আসনে সন্ধ্যা ৬টা থেকে রাত ১টা পর্যন্ত মন্দিরে মন্দিরে ঘুরে ঘুরে আমি পাহারা দিয়েছি।

I have been complaining for a long time about Hijbut Tahrir and the JMB. At last, they succeeded in causing the incident at Hathazari. I don’t want to go into the details of the incident, but I personally went from temple to temple between 6 pm and 1 am to guard everyone

The column was, ironically, titled “যার কাজ তাকেই করতে হবে”. Islam is silent on whether he thinks it is now his job to patrol the city at night to ensure law and order. Islam’s allegation that HiT and JMB are behind the attacks are also problematic. Both groups are banned in Bangladesh; people routinely get arrested for just owning literature that espouses their cause. That they would go on a violent rampage for two days, and be met with negotiation and discussion from the highest levels of the government, is fantasy, pure and simple.

Then day after, Abdul Mannan, the former Vice Chancellor of Chittagong University, who is now the designated pro-AL voice in Prothom Alo, wrote this:

একবাক্যে সবাই স্বীকার করেছে যারা এই দুদিন এমন একটি শান্তিপূর্ণ এলাকায় ধর্মীয় অনুভূতিকে উসকানি দিয়ে পরিস্থিতি ঘোলাটে করতে চেয়েছিল তাদের উদ্দেশ্য কী ছিল? ইসলামী ছাত্রশিবির চট্টগ্রাম বিশ্ববিদ্যালয়ের ঘটনাকে কেন্দ্র করে নন্দীরহাটের ঘটনার সূত্রপাতের দিন চট্টগ্রাম শহরে আধবেলা হরতালের নামে বেশ অনেকগুলো গাড়ি ভাঙচুর করেছে। তারা কোনো কোনো এলাকায় যুদ্ধাপরাধীদের দায়ে তাদের অভিযুক্ত নেতাদের মুক্তি দাবি করেছে। সবকিছু একসঙ্গে করলে সহজে এই উপসংহারে আসা যাবে যে এসব কোনো অপকর্মই হঠাৎ ঘটে যাওয়া কোনো বিষয় ছিল না। সবকিছুর পেছনে সুপরিকল্পিত প্রস্তুতি ছিল এবং উদ্দেশ্য একটাই, যুদ্ধাপরাধীদের বিচার বানচাল করা।

Everyone fully admits to being curious about the motive of those who instigated this incident in a previously peaceful area. Islami Chatra Shibir destroyed several vehicles on the day this incident started, which coincided with a hartal they had called. In some areas, they have demanded the release of their leaders who are now standing trial for war crimes. If all the dots are connected, we can easily come to the conclusion that this was not a solitary incident. There was a singular and well-planned motive, and that was to foil the trial of the war criminals

ICS, Jamaat’s student body, is currently under a state of siege, much like its parent organization. Awami League has consistently chosen to use overwhelming force anytime Jamaat or Shibir was bringing out even peaceful protests. Again, to suggest that the government would passively stand by and allow Shibir to take control of a key Chittagong suburb for two days and stand by passively is to show a reckless disregard to the ground reality of Bangladesh.

To sum up, we have what is, by all accounts, a communal riot, that the government did its best to nip in the bud. Its conduct afterwards, however, seems to have been less than honorable. That our media has gone completely silent on this story, while printing the self-serving allegations of Awami League politicians and intellectuals, is a stain on the entire industry. That the said politicians and intellectuals pin the blame on different groups only makes this matter more ridiculous. And as for the Awami League government, it would do well to remember one of the eternal truths of politics: it’s always the cover-up, not the crime itself, that gets you.

Prothom Alo and Daily Star have an unparallelled ability in Bangladesh to focus, day after day, on a single issue, and force some action on that issue. In the recent past, they did it about Limon, the unfortunate victim of RAB crossfire. They did it about the untimely deaths of Mishuq Munir and Tareque Masud. And lately, they had started focusing on the issue of individuals being abducted and being murdered, allegedly by law-enforcement officials in disguise.

Thus, Daily Star has run the following news-reports:

December 14: Rights violation still rampant

December 15: Seven bodies seen floating in the bay

December 16: Secret killing sponsored by the state: Fakhrul claims BNP its main victim, BNP leader killed after abduction

December 17: Disappearances and secret killings: Creating panic among common people, 5 abducted, missing for 10 days

Prothom Alo has run these:

December 14: ১৭টি সংগঠনের মোর্চার সংবাদ সম্মেলন:
‘গুপ্তহত্যা ও গণপিটুনিতে হত্যা নতুন উদ্বেগ সৃষ্টি করছে’
, ধলেশ্বরীতে আরও তিন লাশ: গুপ্তহত্যা

December 15: গুপ্তহত্যা: আরও পাঁচজন নিখোঁজ, রাষ্ট্রের সর্বোচ্চ পর্যায়ের হস্তক্ষেপ আশা করছি
সুলতানা কামাল
, মুন্সিগঞ্জে নিখোঁজ মানুষের সন্ধানে আরও স্বজন: স্ত্রীরা এসে স্বামীদের লাশ শনাক্ত করলেন

December 16: পাবনায় যুবকের লাশ উদ্ধার
, নিখোঁজ ও গুম: এএফএডির উদ্বেগ
, মুন্সিগঞ্জ পুলিশের ধারণা: বুড়িগঙ্গা দিয়ে আট লাশ এসেছে, গলায় গামছা পেঁচানো বিএনপি নেতার লাশ

December 17: ডিবির পরিচয়ে অপহরণ
ভাঙ্গার পাঁচ যুবক ১০ দিন নিখোঁজ
, ‘দলের কাউকে ধরতে হলে পুলিশকে পোশাক পরে আসতে হবে’, বাংলাদেশে নিখোঁজ ও গুমের ঘটনায় উদ্বেগ

December 18: গুপ্তহত্যার তদন্ত করবে মানবাধিকার কমিশন

December 19:
গুম ও গুপ্তহত্যার রহস্যভেদে গণতদন্ত কমিশন হোক

The response from the government about these claims, as it is about most criticism levelled their way by the opposition, was that BNP was behind all these murders and disappearances to foil the International Crimes Tribunal. Yesterday, BNP held a grand rally to honor freedom-fighters and decisively refute the charges that BNP was out to save war-criminals and foil their trials. However, this development became the second-most important story of the day after the bursts of violence that broke out all over Dhaka on the early morning of the same day.

The government claims, and both Daily Star and Prothom Alocarried this version, that BNP carried out these attacks. Daily Star went even further, and dragged out the two biggest scapegoats of recent years, Hawa Bhaban and Jamaat, as the groups allegedly behind this violence.

What is more likely, that BNP would sabotage the organizational meeting it had been concentrating on all month, or that Awami League was desparate to deny Khaleda Zia a stage surrounded by decorated war veterans? Daily Star claims that BNP Acting Secretary-General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir was in the dark about all these acts of violence. Meanwhile, Prothom Alo details show district-level leaders from all around Bangladesh were mobilizing to come to Dhaka. So this criminal master-plot was known to district-level BNP leaders all around Bangladesh, but somehow, BNP’s Acting Secretary-General did not know about it? Ridiculous.

Just like the government is running out of money to carry out its everyday duties, it is also running out of legitimate ways to stifle the entirely legitimate dissent that is bubbling up due to its numerous ill-conceived steps. One hopes that it will soon see sense, and shun the path of violence.

Daily Star Report Blaming Hawa Bhaban

About ten months into the current Awami League government’s tenure, Daily Star produced this sensational investigative report. In blaring headlines, it pinned the blame for the August 21 assassination attempt on Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Tarique Rahman (referred to as Hawa Bhaban bigwig in report), and some other BNP leaders. The assassination attempt was billed as a joint venture between BNP and an Islamic fundamentalist organization.

The timing of this report was extremely significant. Two years ago, it was quite common to hear predictions about BNP breaking apart or an end to the Zia-brand of politics. Rovian dreams of Awami League’s permanent majority was quite du jour. BNP was scheduled to have its annual party council at the end of 2009. A feasible connection between Tarique Rahman and a murder charge would not only put BNP’s leadership transition into question, it would have given the government a huge bargaining chip against the largest opposition party.

Julfikar Ali Manik claimed that a “highly privileged document” from “a top accused of the grenade carnage” was the source of this information. This document finally went public on April 7 2011, when Mufti Hannan was brought in front of a magistrate to give a confessional statement that mirrored exactly what the 2009 Daily Star report had claimed. Important to note, Hannan had already confessed to his own involvement in this crime back in 2007. This additional information was only to pave the way for Tarique Rahman and other BNP leaders to be also indicted for the same crime.

Fast forward to September 27, less than a week ago. Having involved everyone the government wanted to involve, the case starts. Mufti Hanna submits a document stating that his supposed confessions were extracted by torture. How does Daily Star cover the story?

Daily Star Report on Retraction

It buries the retraction deep into the story. Which is funny, because the news that the government allegedly extracted a confession from a prisoner in its custody, only so that it can frame opposition politicians, ought to be big news. Amar Desh has reproduced the entire petition, including description of the torture. Eyebrows have been raised for less.

Daily Star Report on BNP

The next day, BNP, quiet understandably, held a press conference claiming vindication and pressing for the name of its leaders to be dropped from the charge-sheet. Again, in the headline, Daily Star made no reference to the alleged retraction. A casual reader glancing at the headline, as I did, would have probably thought it referred to some garden-variety claim made in some rally somewhere, and missed this entire back story.

In an incredible counterattack, to make sure the retraction of the confession was downplayed, Daily Star printed a competing news article claiming that Hannan’s legal petition had no standing. The next day, it got eminent jurist State Minister for Law Quamrul Islam to say the same thing.

Daily Star Report on Retraction of Confession

Let us look at the legal claims that a confession given under Section 164 cannot be retracted. Section 164 (3) of Bangladesh’s Criminal Procedure Code states:

(3) A Magistrate shall, before recording any such confession, explain
to the person making it that he is not bound to make confession and that if he does
so it may be used as evidence against him and no magistrate shall record any such
confession unless, upon questioning the person making it, he has reason to believe
that it was made voluntarily; and, when he records any confession, he shall make a
memorandum at the foot of such record to the following effect :-
“I have explained to (name) that he is not bound to make a confession and that, if he
does so any confession he may this confession was voluntarily made. I was taken in
my presence and hearing, an was read over to the person making it and admitted by
him to be correct, and it contains a full and true account of the statement made by
him.
(Signed) A. B.,
Magistrate.”

This makes abundantly clear that voluntariness is at the heart of any confession obtained through Section 164. The fact that confessions extracted through torture are illegal are no surprise; the courts of Bangladesh have been very exact in this regard. Our Supreme Court has explicitly held, in State Vs. Abul Hashem, 3 MLR (HCD) 30, that a magistrate cannot record a confession that is extracted through torture. And then, just to make sure, the magistrate has to affix his own signature at the end, verifying that the statement was not produced through torture.

What factors should a court look at to see whether there were any indication of torture or general police coercion? One very important factor is whether the confession is extracted after being in police custody, or whether there is any possibility that the witness may be taken back to remand right after his interaction with the magistrate. In State Vs. Farid Karim, 8 BLT(AD) 87, the fact that the accused was in police custody for unexplained two days before the police produced him for making confessional statement, was one of the important factors in the confessional statement being found involuntary.

Has Mufti Hanna been taken in custody, also called remand, often? According to a very desultory Google search, he has been remanded for 7 days on September 6, 2009, 5 days on September 12, 2009, 3 days on September 23, 2009, for 7 days on December 3, 2009, for 3 days on July 18, 2010, 2 days on August 22, 2010, and 5 days on December 27, 2010 . After making the statement, he was remanded for 1 day on April 26, 2011. That makes for 32 days of remand, and potential police torture, before and  1 day after making this confession statement. During the remand hearing held on August 22, 2010, Hannan tallied the number of days for which he had been in remand at 369 days over the past five years, and begged the magistrate not to grant any more remand. Remand, though, was granted.

Hanna was in police remand for half of September 2009. Presumably, it was this during this period that the document which became Julfikar Manik’s investigative piece was produced.

Even if this confession was made through torture, should we care if such confession statements cannot be retracted? Yes. There exists a plethora of judicial opinion, specifically State Vs. Lalu Miah and another, 39 DLR(AD) 11, which holds that any allegation of torture which forced the confessional statement, is to be treated the same as a petition for the withdrawal of the statement. Now that Hannan has claimed torture in police custody, the judge must decide whether his earlier confessional statement is credible. So the claim that there is no legal basis for withdrawing his confessional statement is without merit.

So why is this about the Daily Star’s coverage of this whole issue, rather than the much serious issue of torture of a prisoner in government custody, in a conspiracy to subvert the opposition political forces. There are two main reasons. The first is that we hear about these human rights violations through newspapers, and especially the Daily Star. If not for the Daily Star, Limon would be rotting in a jail cell or dead by now. So, when the newspaper itself decided to obfuscate the story and shift the focus to legal technicalities like getting permission from jail authorities instead of the much bigger and more serious allegation of torture in government custody, it renders hollow its supposed commitment to human rights and reinforces the suspicion that the news printed in Daily Star is slanted to serve a particular agenda.

Secondly, torture does not occur in a vacuum. No torture can flourish in a society unless it decides, as a whole, that certain individuals or classes of individuals are exempt from the protection of law. It very much seems like Daily Star has made such a finding for Mufti Hannan, which makes the paper, in general, and the relevant individuals, in particular, accomplices to torture. And the insidious thing is that the class of people who can be tortured tends to grow and metastasize at unbelievable speed. You may think that it only includes people with beards, and then suddenly, it also includes young university students out at night. 

This saga is by no means over. While there is an aspect to it that has a purely partisan aspect, this incident also serves as a reflection of the values that we hold as a society. And those values are fraying fast.

Former Deputy Attorney General M U Ahmed died today under police custody in a city hospital. On August 11, 2011, at the order of high court judges Shamsuddin Chowdhury Manik and Gobinda Thakur, he was arrested and tortured by police until he suffered from a massive myocardial Infarction.

It is evident that everybody living in side Bangladesh is afraid of calling a spade a spade. An environment of fear, extreme fear has been created by these two thuggish judges in Bangladesh. Last in their list of atrocities in the murder of ex Deputy Attorney General Advocate M U Ahmed. This is plain simple muder commited at the beheast of two blindly partisan judges by a brutal murderous police force of Awami League government.

Suddenly ‘Bangali’ and ‘Bangla’ have become high demand hot objects.

Some people and some leaders of the Bangalis living on west part of the Bangali inhabited land, which is currently known as Indian state of west Bengal, do not want the west qualification before the name Bengal. This article describes the phenomenon objectively while this article clearly protrays the childlish shenanigan related to the name change campaign. Athough one main reason for the name change is West Bengal citizens wishes to see their state name mentioned early in the alphabetical list of Indian states instead of being at the fag end because of the unholy ‘W’ at the top of the state’s name — there was no lack of patrons behind this move. Starting from newly elected CM Mamata Banerjee to ‘Times of India’ newspaper empire; there has been great enthusiasm regarding this campaign.

However, with rising tide of Indian nationalistic fervour and ever increasing clout of Hindi in West Bengal, the Banglis belonging to east side of Bangali inhabited land, now called Bangla Desh, a sovereign state, may legitimately ask what kind of Bangla would flourish in the Indian state of Bangla. Will that be the Bangla narrated in Amar Shonar Bangla or like this one “Ami vi Bangali achhe”.

On the other hand in the east side of Bangla land, Bangladesh, Bangali is again the hot item. A recent constitutional amendment mandates everyone in the nation to be identified as Bangalis. Although it may not be the problem with nations majority ethnic group, the Bangalis, the indigenous people living in diferent corners of the country find the 15th amendment constitution stripping them of their ethnic identity.

In this video clip, Mr Shantu larma, an ethnic Chakma and a leader of Chittagong Hill Tract indigenous people, asks prime Minister how she would feel if someone forces her to be identified as an ethnic Chakma.

However, by this newly enacted amendment, one cannot even criticize this sort of constitutional provision. Thanks to this 15th amendment, PM hasina, with the help of partisan thuggish high court Judges Manik and Gabinda Thakur et el, can hand down capital punishment anyone objecting to any clause in the constitution.

A more interesting phenomenon regarding the Bangali nationalism debate is sudden change of heart of our left leaning progressive intellectuals about ‘Bangladeshi’ nationalism. These folks has always found it a religious ritual to come down hard upon late President Ziaur Rahman for replacing “bangali” nationalism of heavenly 72
constitution wth “Bangladeshi” nationalism. But now these folks are all for inclusion of ethic groups in our constitutional identity, which is only possible with Bangladeshi nationalism.

If you are one of the few people who haven’t seen the pictures, see them here.

First we heard that Faruq was bad-mouthing the police.

Then we heard that he was assaulting the police.

A Member of Parliament is brutalized in front of the Parliament building, and yet the Speaker won’t let opposition MPs speak on this issue.

And today, our honorable Prime Minister told us he was vandalizing vehicles.

Lies, lies, and lies. How can there be normal politics in a country when one side is led by a habitual liar?

We all understand and expect political spin. But not lies.

And, we need to make a law that no members of political parties or student political organizations, whether JCD, BCL, ICS, or others, can join BCS, police, army, or any other government service. They cannot work as government teachers, doctors, or lawyers.

We need to start looking for solutions to the underlying structural problems. Outrage and indignation can only take us so far.

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