Media


ArifHafiz_10

© Arif Hafiz

25_Paltan+Clash_220213

© BdNews24.com

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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.

ব্লগ এখন অনেকটা পর্নোগ্রাফিতে পরিণত হয়েছে: Syed Ashraful Islam

“On the Internet 50 percent is porn material. Why should we refer to the Internet?”: Vladimir Putin

Three broad trends significant in this election:

Media Activism: A large section of Bangladeshi media played an extremely enthusiastic part in boosting Selina Hayat Ivy, trashing Shamim Osman, and completely ignoring BNP candidiate Taimur Alam Khandqar. We heard over and over, that Ivy was a successful mayor in her last stint. What were the indications of her success? By how much did corporation tax revenues increase? How many schools and colleges did she build? How many bridges and culverts were constructed during her tenure? We don’t know, because the media didn’t tell us. Instead, they repeated non-stop that Ivy was a “clean” candidate. What that clean means, or will mean in the future, no one knows.

Similarly, Shamim Osman probably got the most intensive media lynching in Bangladeshi media history after Tarique Rahman in 2005 – 2008. Conspicuously absent from the litany of accusations against him was the fact that he committed the most blatant act of political terrorism in Bangladesh’s last 20 years. In 1998, when BNP arranged a road march to Chittagong to protest the peace treaty, it was Shamim Osman who led the attack on Khaldea Zia’s motorcade, and forced her to change her route to Chittagong. It was an event that shocked the nation and dominated media coverage at that time. Yet, this time around, this very significant event was almost absent from the media coverage.

In the same vein, all  the media said about Tamur was that he is a former chairman of BTRC and the past Caretaker Government filed 5 corruption cases against him. What were his successes or failures as BTRC chairman? What is the status of those corruption cases? Are they more or less serious than the ones filed against our current Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition, and so on? We don’t know, because the media didn’t bother to tell us.

Army Deployment and BNP: Sheikh Hasina chose an extremely insidious way to remove army protection from the elections. The media coverage of this election was extensive and hysterial for the last few days before the election. Thus, the Election Commission’s request for army was granted. Only, when the time came for the army to deploy, they never showed up.

When BNP then decided to boycott the election, it made things very simple for Ivy. The vote in this election was always going to divided into pro and anti Shamim Osman. With Taimur not participating, the anti-Shamim vote would, instead of being split up, go to just one candidate, Ivy. Even though everyone is going on about how exemplary this election was, there were plenty of indications of irregularity during election day, including Ivy complaining that half of her polling agents did not show up because of threats, and Shamim Osman openly assaulting a Chatra League leader. However, what changed was that while these measures may have been enough to tilt the balance in a three-way race where the anti-Shamim vote would be fragmented, it proved inconsequential in a two-way race.

Decentralization of power: Just two days after Ivy’s election, Lokman Hossain, the mayor of Narsingdi, was assassinated. Lokman Hossain was twice-elected the best mayor in Bangladesh. His assassination, from where it was committed to the modus operandi of the killers, all bear the trademarks of a political hit. A three-day hartal has already been called against the killing. Remarkably, Telecommunications Minister Rajiuddin Ahmed Raju is already mentioned as being involved in this matter.

Bangladesh is slowly undergoing a painful decentralization where young and ambitious mayors are building their own power base and challenging the more senior leaders in their parties. They are using their positions as mayor and chairman to build patronage networks, increase name recognition, and show the people of their area that they can deliver services and infrastructure projects. The ossification of student politics since the ’90s has temporarily stopped the inflow of student leaders into politics, and created a vacuum which is being exploited by businessmen and retired governemnt officials. However, in the end, it is this generation of local government leaders who will make the transition to, and ultimately run, national politics.

Major General (rt) Tarique Ahmed Siddique is an Advisor to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, with rank of cabinet minister. (For those interested, he is the brother of Dr. Shafiq Siddique, who is married to Sheikh Rehana, Sheikh Hasina’s sister.) He held an extraordinary press conference in the Prime Minister’s Office yesterday, where he said:

1. There is currently an ongoing international conspiracy to disband RAB.

2. The United States has a similar force to RAB, called Homeland Security.

3. Limon was involved with criminals.

4. All those writing about Limon are involved in the conspiracy to disband RAB.

5. A certain newspaper editor is at the forefront of the campaign to ban RAB.

6. This newspaper editor was involved with the 21st August grenade attack on Sheikh Hasina.

7. This editor is probably a supporter of terrorists and militants.

8. The government has enough evidence linking him to these attacks so that they could arrest him right now if they so wished.

9. However, the government shall refrain because it does not want to harass journalists.

So, where to start? In case there is any confusion, the editor in question is Prothom Alo’s Matiur Rahman. Allegations that he was involved in the 21 August grenade attacks against Sheikh Hasina had so far been limited to the realms of nutty conspiracy theories. They were propagated primarily by Kaler Kontho, a rival vernacular, and mouthpiece of the Bashundhara corporate group (Prothom Alo and Daily Star are owned by Transcom). In fact, merely a month ago, Matiur Rahman had won a decision in the Press Council that found such allegation to be without any supporting facts and issued a warning to Kaler Kontho.

Major General (rt) Siddique ran the military intelligence outfit, DGFI, and the force that guards the PM, SSF, during the last Hasina government. This term, he functions as Bangladesh’s de facto Defense Minister. Given that he has confirmed what Kaler Kontho has been saying all along, will the Press Council now apologize to Abed Khan and Kaler Kontho? Interestingly, both Prothom Alo and Daily Star have completely blacked out the story so far. I assume lots of emergency meetings are being held at CA Bhaban right now.

As a sidenote, Homeland Security is not a military or para-military force, it’s government department in the United States government, somewhat akin to our Home Ministry. Although in a country where the chief justice goes around saying safety of the state is the supreme law, nothing really shocks any more, but it would still be nice if blatant ignorance was the exception rather than the rule.

Showing us that all sorts of dynasties can coexist and flourish side-by-side in Bangladesh, Zafar Sobhan has very capably taken over the defense of Dr. Yunus (here and here) from his illustrious father. Mr. Sobhan’s main point is that this witch-hunt against Dr. Yunus hurts Sheikh Hasina’s international standing abroad, and detracts from what should be the Awami League’s real mission: the destruction of Tarique Rahman.

I absolutely defer to Mr. Sobhan on the ups and downs of our prime minister’s international standing. However, I am still left with some disquieting thoughts. Dr. Yunus is arguably the most accomplished Bangladeshi alive. He is certainly the most well-connected Bangladeshi alive. If all Mr. Sobhan is left with is appealing to international sentiments, one has to ask, is there no domestic constituency left in Bangladesh that can dissuade or counsel Hasina from this disastrous policy? The fifty-plus cabinet, the half a dozen advisers, too many MPs to count, the much-vaunted sushil brigade, and no one to tell or show Hasina that you can’t sink Dr. Yunus?

Instead, Mr. Sobhan is left appealing to the prime minister’s international standing. It’s not a completely futile threat. Joseph Stalin once asked, “How many divisions has the Pope?” Sheikh Hasina isn’t likely to be quite as flippant; she knows better than any of us the path that took her to Gono Bhaban in 2007 – 2008. However, it’d have been nice to be able to solve this one mess by ourselves.

Speaking of 2007 – 2008, we have fond memories of the glory days when the unbeatable troika of Messrs. Sobhan, Wahid, and Ahsan used to regale us with grand tales and lofty ambitions from the rarified perch of Daily Star’s op-ed page. However, as they say, all good things come to an end. Mr. Sobhan is no longer at Daily Star, and Mr. Wahid now graces Shah Alam’s Daily Sun. Syed Badrul Ahsan alone is left to educate and inspire us. But he has switched into over-drive recently; there are only so many rags that pro-AL tycoons will be able to publish in the next three years, and the plum editorial jobs aren’t going to land themselves. Thus, we got this gem:

Khaleda Zia’s vow of nullifying every act of the Awami League is a patent threat to all of us. If the threat comes to pass, the sunlight will go fleeing from our lives, the moon will lose its luster, poetry will die, politics will be no more, rivers will not run and good men and women will be fugitives in the wild woods.
Everything will pall. Everything will pale. Everything will fall.

If Mr. Sobhan is sending a message from the Awami League base to its leadership, Mr. Ahsan’s message is from the Awami League leadership to the people, and especially those who make up the readership of the Star: Yes, we are proving to be quite bad, and we have also started losing elections, but stick with us, otherwise, dum dum dum…

Yes, those currently in power have started thinking about the next elections. Which is good, because our opposition seems to find it difficult to focus on a time-window past the next two weeks. They should take a leaf from Sajeeb Ahmed Wazed Joy, the eminent computer scientist “with graduation from Texas University at Arlington, USA” who, like many before him, has discovered the convenient advantages of one-party rule, as long as it’s his party doing the ruling. Another message from AL, and perhaps the most significant one yet.

From the Daily
Star
:

According to Singapore newspaper
The Straits Times report, the court on Monday convicted and fined
businessman Lim Siew Cheng $900,677 (S$1.2 million) for
transferring Koko’s $3.17 lakh and holding the money in his
personal account upon Koko’s advice.

From The
Straits Times
:

Lim Siew Cheng, 63,
should have suspected the money could be the proceeds of criminal
conduct and should have reported it to the Corrupt Practices
Investigation Bureau or the police. He did neither and on Monday he
pleaded guilty and was fined $6,000 each for the two offences under
laws to prevent money-laundering.

Two fines of
6,000 for a total of 12,000. Not 1.2 Million, or 1,200,000. But
hey, when the Zia family is concerned, exaggerating things
a hundred times is nothing new. Expectations of accuracy and
honest reporting from the Bangladeshi media? Not unless your name
is Dr. Yunus.

Total voter were 659, of which 623 members of Dhaka Press Club cast their votes to elect a new executive committee. This committee’s job is to manage Dhaka Press Club activities for the year. Candidates in the election were nations high voltage editors, journalist leaders. It is difficult to turn Bangladesh news television on without seeing their faces and their opinion – advise on every single issue in Bangladesh.

 

Like everything else in Bangladesh, this election was also contested on the basis of Awami League and BNP supporting panel. Although these TV personalities and editors regularly serve the politicians sermons with advices to improve their cultures, they themselves exposed their real face after the election. The panel that lost the election rejected the election, alleged vote counting irregularities and resorted to vandalism and violence.

For Gods sake, there was only 623 votes. How counting irregularity possible in such an election? The candidates know each single voter, it is not impossible to know 300 people who can vote or against.

 

It was shocking but not surprising to see iqbal Sobhan Chowdhury, Golam Sarwar’s  real faces. Their thinking was, ‘we are ruling party supporting panel and how dare BNP wallahs win this election defeating us. We did not have enough vote, so what we will grab the verdict by force.’. This sort of attitude clearly exposes the standard and integrity of journalism these folks resort to.

And this election exposes the standard of another ‘once respected’ profession which is Journalism.  Few days ago we talked about the standard of Dhaka University teachers and this election reminds us that University Teachers are not alone in this race towards infinite decline. God save this country.

 

 

There is plenty of schadenfreude going around with the l’affaire Yunus.  For most, it’s the crab mentality that Rumi  joked about.  For me, it was the prospect of seeing the susheel types of Prothom Alo / Daily Star (and their next generation epitomised by the folks at Unheard Voice) having to choose between the ‘champion of democracy’ and the good professor.  When Hasina calls Khaleda names, no one cares.  When Hasina calls Yunus names, these folks become uncomfortable.  I mean, think about the embarrassment of having to tell the champion of democracy to tone things down a bit.

Take the recent Daily Star article by Prof Rehman Sobhan, reposted here.  Professor sahib writes over 2,000 words, lot’s of dhanai panai  nuanced analysis, with some light words strong admonishment:

The no less pertinent issue which has emerged from this incident is the extraordinary reaction in some sections of the media and society. Rather than first seeking clarification and response from Grameen Bank as to the validity of the TV programme, some sections of the media and society pounced on it with unseemly enthusiasm, using it as an opportunity to cite wrongdoing in a widely respected organisation.

Say what?  Some sections of the media and society?  Who are these sections of the media and society?  Is the Professor too embarrassed to tell us that the section of the media that ‘pounced with unseemly unthusiasm’ is owned by Salman F Rahman?  Is he unaware of this man’s connections with the Awami League?  Does he not know how this man has benefitted from the government of din bodol

Maybe Prof Sobhan doesn’t know about those.  But surely he knows that his dear Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina too pounced with unseemly enthusiasm, unless he thinks calling the country’s only Nobel winner a leech is fit for a Prime Minister.

So, was Prof Sobhan embarrassed?  Or was he afraid of crossing the Prime Minister?  And if Prof Sobhan was afraid, then I won’t embarrass the UV bloggers for being gutless in their criticism of the current power dispensation.  After all, jaan bachano faraz.

Embarrassed or afraid, I do feel like gloating at the plight of the susheels, senior and junior.  Karma is a bitch.

Published in BDnews24.com opinion Section on November 28th.

****************************

Rumi Ahmed

It’s not personal

November 28, 2010

khaleda-cry300pxThe manner in which the leader of the opposition and former prime minister Khaleda Zia was evicted from her cantonment residence was outright shocking to most observers of Bangladesh politics. Not only the physical eviction itself, but the way the opposition leader was literally pushed out of her home of 38 years by an overwhelming government force, speaks volumes of its ‘autocratic’ mentality. The whole chain of events surrounding the eviction process was totally unforeseen in the history of democratic Bangladesh.

Notable in the chain of events were the mind-blowing fast tracking of judiciary, manipulation of hazy legal jargons, and ultimately bypassing of the highest judiciary to push forward with the government’s agenda to remove the opposition leader from her home. The media manipulation of the event was also unprecedented for a democratic government. Advancing on what the previous military-controlled regime did, from the day before the incident, the media was fed with concocted stories of Khaleda Zia leaving her home willingly. And on the day of the event and the day after, the naked dishonesty and partisanship of the defence department’s press wing, ISPR, was simultaneously a painful reminder of the demise of the armed forces as neutral public servants and the last nail in the coffin of an institutional balance of power under present government.

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The eviction of Khaleda Zia from her residence of 38 years has forced pro-Awami League media personnel to display a particularly riveting form of bipolar disorder. With exceptions such as Abdul Gaffar Chowdhury, most of these reporters/columnists/commentators have had to acknowledge that evicting a former prime minister forcibly from her residence, while her case is pending in the Supreme Court, is just not done. On the other hand, they can’t really come out and condemn Sheikh Hasina for these actions either; that sort of negates the utility of being a pro-Awami League media person. Thus, the bipolar disorder. Condemn eviction, but… bring up the cancellation of the house allotted to Sheikh Rehana by her sister, Sheikh Hasina, or somehow turn this about Sheikh Mujib’s murder, or, if everything else fails, blame Lord Clive.

Zafar Sobhan adds an interesting twist to this approach. His take is – yes, Khaleda Zia has been evicted, but… she’s not dead yet, and BNP is just a “mafia” while Awami League is an actual political party. So, whatever.

Mr. Sobhan is an extremely capable media personality. He is one of the individuals described here whose views about Bangladesh shape how the world media sees us. Such drivel should be beneath him. That it’s not, is a good sign of where our politics stands right now.

How does one deal with the claim that the party that has administered Bangladesh for ten of the last twenty years, and at the nadir of its popularity, still commands the allegiance of one in three Bangladeshis, is a mafia? Not that particular leaders of BNP have indulged in criminal actions in the past. Not that its student or youth wings contain criminal elements. But that the entire outfit is a criminal organization?

In a sense, it’s an extremely simple solution to a pressing problem. A problem that is growing more pressing by the day in Bangladesh. Normally, when the party in power fails, the opposition is given a mandate. But what does one do when there exists a sizable group of individuals who have staked their careers and professional reputations on the premise that the opposition will never, ever come to power again? And when the party in power, which was supposed to govern uninterrupted till 2021, has seen such precipitous drops in its popularity that it doesn’t even dare hold an election to elect the capital’s mayor?

Apparently, one labels the opposition the “mafia.” Because, you know, they’re criminals. And not just any criminals, but a particular group of state-designated criminals. They type of designated criminals who don’t have rights.

Here is the money quote from Mr. Sobhan’s article:

Two senior AL leaders were separately assassinated, and another 24 party members were killed in a grenade attack that came within seconds of wiping out the entire party leadership. For all the troubles it faces, the BNP leadership has not had to fear assassination.

What he leaves out, of course, that both the assassination of senior AL leaders, presumably Ahsanullah Master and SAMS Kibria, were prosecuted during BNP’s tenure and those involved were convicted and sent to jail, again during BNP’s tenure. Convictions that the current government has not revisited or appealed in a higher court.

And what about the 21st August grenade blast? Almost two years after this government’s ascension to power, it is still busy taking time from the courts to prolong its investigation, no doubt to implicate as many BNP leaders in this case as possible.

And finally, when responsible individuals like Mr. Sobhan make absurd accusations about whether BNP is a mafia, it makes us wonder whether journalistic ethics is sleeping with the fishes. His description of the events involving Ziaur Rahman’s home, where his wife slept, where his sons played with their toys, makes us wish that the law enforcement individuals who evicted Khaleda Zia had left their guns and taken the cannolis. Of course, when one’s being evicted facing a loaded gun, what’s the difference? While Mr. Sobhan needs the BNP so that he can point at them and say that’s the bad guy, we all have to ask, is this the end of Rico? We fear that our esteemed friend may end up, like a lot of other AL supporters, sobbing, broken-hearted, in a Havana cafe and saying, “You broke my heart. You broke my heart.”  Perhaps the Appellate Division will make BNP an offer they can’t refuse, but we fear a lot of people are soon going to be saying hello to the Police’s (and RAB’s) little friend.

All jokes (and forced analogies) aside, it doesn’t take too much imagination to think of Khaleda Zia as the broken Don Corleone, while her heir recovers in the Sicilian countryside (London). The problem for Mr. Sobhan is I’m sure he remembers, as we all do, how that one played out.

ছি ছি হাসিনা, এই রকম করে না.  আমরা জানি খালেদা কত্ত খারাপ.  ইন্ডিয়াও জানে. ওর  ছেলেদের কে আচ্ছা সে পিট্টি দিসি না সবাই মিলে.  লাগলে আবার পিটাব. আর দুষ্টুমি কোর না, কেমন?

That’s how someone described the Economist article (over the fold) on recent political events in Bangladesh.  The article says: BNP, particularly Tarique, represents kleptocracy and Islamist extremism and his return has to be prevented at any cost, so AL can feel safe in its project to trash Zia, so long as nothing too egregious is done.  If this is any guide to the thinking in the Embassy Row, then BNP is in lot more trouble than appears.

Now, how does the Economist write its articles on Bangladesh?  There is no Economist correspondent in Dhaka.  There is one in New Delhi.  James Astill, the guy in Delhi, is well versed in the politics of Pakistan and Afghanistan.  He is reputed to prefer Lahore over Delhi.  He is not really a pro-Indian kinda guy.

So how does he write a piece like this?  Well, he doesn’t really know all that much about Bangladesh.  He gets his views from a few dozen English speaking, Gulshan-Banani-Baridhara living folks.  He visits Dhaka once a while, sips cold beer at Sonargaon, and talks to men and women in their 30s and 40s working in the corporate and NGO sectors.  And he writes what they think.

It’s that class of Bangladeshis — confession, the current blogger is from that class, as is the owner of this blog — who overwhelmingly think this way.  This class of Bangladeshis, who read the Daily Star, and dine at Le Saigon, influence not just what James Astill, Nicolas Haque (Al Jazeera) or Amy Kazmin (Financial Times) thinks, but also what the Embassy Row thinks.

And there are hardly any BNP voice in this crowd.  There is no BNP equivalent of Zafar Sobhan to write regularly in the Guardian, no Asif Saleh with a social network across corporate, bureaucratic and civil society elites.

The most desparing thing is, I don’t see any appreciation from anyone connected with BNP leadership that this is a problem.

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It’s hard to know what the Awami League government was thinking when they decided to evict Khaleda Zia from her home. However, it did not go completely as Sheikh Hasina had planned. Khaleda Zia’s televised press conference affected almost everyone. As Syed Abul Maqsud put it in a column aptly titled “The Government’s Truth:

স্বেচ্ছায় বাড়ি ছাড়ার দৃশ্যটি দেখে অন্তত কিছু মানুষ তাদের জীবনের সর্বোচ্চ সুখ উপভোগ করেছে। কয়েক কোটি মানুষ হয়তো মনে মনে বলছে, বেশ হয়েছে। তবে আট-দশ কোটি মানুষের মনের অবস্থা আমাদের মতো অ-মনোবিজ্ঞানীর পক্ষে জানা সম্ভব নয়। তাদের মনোভাব জানা যাবে ২০১৩-র ডিসেম্বরে। (“The way in which the home was ‘voluntarily left’ has probably given some people the greatest happiness of their lives. Perhaps a few crores of our people thought to themselves: this isn’t too bad. What the rest eight or ten crores thought is unknown to non-psychologists like us. However, we shall find out in December 2013.”)

Syed Abul Maqsud’s political orientation is not unknown. When columnists of his stripe start talking about December 2013, one must realize that this is the most serious message they can deliver to the Awami League Government. They are politely reminding Sheikh Hasina: “এই দিন দিন না আরো দিন আছে

As Maqsud noted, the full extent of the reaction to this event shall not be known until well into the future. But the fact that there was a reaction was evident to everyone. Awami League had not expected this; they thought they what happened inside Jahangir Gate would, so to speak, stay inside Jahangir Gate. They even issued a press statement “thanking” Khaleda Zia forleaving voluntarily. However, once it became apparent that explaining away this action was going to be a bit more complicated than that, Awami League quickly set out to bring this reaction in their favor through a two-prong strategy.

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Opposition leader Khaleda Zia had a rally in Sirajganj, Pabna. As local BNP leader and organizer of the event, Mr Iqbal Mahmud Chowdhury states, first he intended to hold the rally in a field of a local college. However, as local unit of ruling Awami League student wing called another meeting at the same time and same venue, opposition leader’s meeting was moved to a field next to a railway track. Day night public announcement were going on  3 days.

As people were gathering for the meeting and big crowd was sitting on the railway track while listening local leaders speak, a train, coming in full seed, rammed into the crowd. Seven people lost their lives. Five instantly, two later.  Like anywhere in the country, the angry mob burnt several train compartments for killing of their comrades. This is a commonplace event in 21st century Bangladesh. Every time a bus / truck kills some pedestrian/ student– local mob runs amok and resort to a orgy of destruction. In Sirajganj it was already a protest rally and public was already gathered. Naturally violence erupted very easily.   Several train compartments were vandalized and burnt.

Since this happened, government, totally ignoring seven deaths and the deadly failure in railway communication warning safety net, only focused on the post accident vandalism. Fof the government, five train compartments were much more important that seven BNP supporters lives. Very shockingly, the mainstream media had a similar attitude.

 

No investigation was even initiated to find the fault in railway communication network. After few hue and cry by opposition secretary general, one fine morning railway announced that it was “SIMPLY” an accident. None bothered to care why the accident happened. Seven lives lost. No one cared.

But hell broke lose on the activists and supporters of BNP. Cases of destruction of government property were filed against few thousand unnamed. And unprecedented crackdown on the opposition was launched. Score of people were hunted down and put behind bar everyday.

16 more held over Sirajganj train attack

32 more held over Sirajganj vandalism

4 more held over Sirajganj train attack

16 more held in Sirajganj

5,000 sued, 20 held, 1 more body identified

6 BNP leaders sued, 32 more held

20 held over Sirajganj violence

Nearly hundred were arrested by the end of the week.  Few hundred more are still hiding, being relentlessly pursued by police.  Every single day reports are being published about arrests made in Sirajganj train vandalism case.

There was clear failure in Railway communication system is pre-warning the running train that a public meeting was going, people are sitting on the track and the train must slow down. For God’s sake this could have been a public meeting of Awami League or a non political gathering or a passenger bus stuck over the railway tracks or it might have been a gorur haat on railway track. . There must be a safety net in Bangladesh railway system where trains are warned in advance about trouble in tracks ahead. As a train passenger, I have seen many times trains wait in remote places awaiting clearance from next station to be able to proceed. That day this warning system failed. Sirajganj station must know that a public meeting was going on.  How could they give a green signal for the train to proceed?

 

It seems, as long as the people killed were all BNP activists, Government as well as the media are not interested in finding any crime/ flaw in it. And it seems, if they could, government would have rewarded the persons responsible for ramming a speedy train on a public meeting of opposition party BNP.

We read newspaper daily. Sometimes some news makes us sad, some news makes us angry, some ews make us optimistic, some news makes us skeptical and some news makes us curious.

Here are some news from today and how my mind reacted to those news.

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বিপুল ভট্টাচার্যের পাশে সতীর্থরা

It is a news of mixed emotion. The lively presence and powerful voice of young Bipul Bhattacharya as shown in our war documentary ” Muktir Gaan” is unforgettable. His illness is sad. But efforts by his fellow artists to stand beside him is a positive news. It gives us hope.

At the same time this news raises a question in my mind. What happened to Azam Khan. A legend in our pop culture. Father of band music in Bangladesh. An active freedom fighter. He is also sick with cancer. He also needs more money to continue his treatment. News report suggests artists donated personally. But what about a concert for Azam Khan. Where is BAMBA? A concert was orgnized in New York by BAMBA’s US counterpart. But Azam Khan denied his knowledge about that event. What is the problem? Is it Azam Khan who does not want a concert for him?

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সুজনের গোলটেবিল বৈঠকে বক্তারা

দিনবদলের সূচনাই হয়নি

Why Shujan always calls the pro 1/11 reformists as political party representatives in it’s meetings?  AL was represented by Manna while BNP was represented by Lt Gen Mahbub and Inam Ahmed Chowdhury. Does not it benefit Shujan ( and the country) if mainstream piolicy makers of each of The two party are called rather than those sidelined?

 

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Why Anwar Hossain Manju’s Ittefaq headlines yesterdays Sirajganj incidence this way? Should a newspaper headline be wrong or such one sided or provocative?

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মন্ত্রিসভা বৈঠকে প্রধানমন্ত্রীখালেদার বক্তব্য ও বিএনপির গতিবিধি নজরে রাখুন

 

Our Prime Minister has to be more charitable in her public remarks to maintain the halo around her. We know all the media men, ( Special attention to Golajm Murtaza and Sohrab Hossain of Prothom Alo in today’s Channel I tritio Matra) are trying their best to make the halo around the PM  as white and shinning as possible. But this sort of uncharitable remark by PM does not help Messers Bulbul, Khalidi, Mortaza, Anam, Motiur Rahman et el in their relentless effort to promote the PM. .

Sanaullah Babu's Murder

 

This did not end here. Tonight, PM went further. She specifically mentioned that Mr. Sanaullah was killed out of BNP’s own internal conflict. There is clear footage and photo of Nator murder  that shows Awami League activists chopping Mr Sanaullah. Mr Zakir, local Awami League leader was clearly seen walking around with a menacing looking stick ( In fade blue jeans and full sleev shirt at the center of the photo). And yet PM Hasina was trying to justify Zakir as innocent. What message she is giving to her activists?

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This news should remind BNP that from media’s and Police’s perspective, small misstep by BNP will be much high profile compared to big missteps by AL. The same day, a few other things happened.Ruling Party student wing supporters fought, injured each other in Rajshahi university, Jahangir Nagar University.  But this was a headline news in Prothom ALo followed by an editorial by no other than Motiur Rahman. Mr Rahman apparently is trying his best to please Mrs Hasina.

Although 15 people have been arrested and all those masked men were identified in this case, nothing happened so far in Natore case. The killers did not bother wearing any mask and yet no arrest was made except one eye wash arrest. PM is singing song for the main accused.

One thing I can say, PM Hasina is quickly reverting to her  original undiluted ‘kill ten for one”  self.

The value of Bangladesh Supreme Court apparently took a big plunge under it’s new leader Justice Khairul Haque.


Few months ago, the market rate of the honor of Bangladesh Supreme Court was 100,000 taka and six months jail sentence. That was under the leadership of former Chief Justice Fazlul Karim.The full bench of the court decided that rate when they sentenced newspaper editor Mahmudur Rahman for a report what they thought was truthful yet contemptuous of court.

So it was a matter of huge public curiosity when the same editor Mahmudur Rahman was brought back to the highest court for a second contempt of court case against him. And again the three men ( two men short this time, as two seniormost judges are not working out of ‘oviman’ as they were superseded by JusticeKhairul haque to be Chief Justice) found editor Mahmudur Rahman guilty of contempt of court.

However there was a difference in sentencing. Justice Khairul Haque led court  only sentenced editor Mahmudur Rahman a fine of 100 taka and no jail term. A major plunge from 100,000 taka and six months jail fixed by previous court.

Well, this is only the first month of Justice Khairul Haque’s Supreme Court. Let’s see what comes next. From 100,000 to 100 taka in a month. Then what?

Since this government came to power media came under relentless attack. At least two electronic media were taken off air ( probably to facilitate flourishing of ten new TV channels whose license has been distributed to party hacks by this Awami League government), declaration of one news paper were canceled, a prominent editor was put behind the bars and much more.

And while all these went on, the highest circulated Bangla and English dailies, owned by same media empire, despite the face saving lip services, maintained a shrewd complacency, in turn consciously facilitating government gag on those media of opposing business or political views. Although they were warned citing Pastor Martin Niemoller , they apparently thought themselves way too invincible.

So last week a process began what was expected to happen. These two print media came under attack by Ministers, members of parliament as well as the speaker of the house.

This blog has been vocal against this media house for quite a long time. This blog feels that the editor of the Bangla Daily under attack has done more harm to democracy and fair journalism than anyone else in history of Bangladesh. This editor and cohorts developed a new tactic of propaganda in favor of their political philosophy. It pioneered news-making culture in Bangladesh. Not only it’s op-eds and editorials were critical of it’s political opponents, news published by these newspapers are inadvertently adulterated to promote its petty partisan agenda. Without a blink of an eye, it’s editorial policy can change the content of the headline news item to support its own agenda. This newspaper has been cruel to it’s opponents in character assassination. Over the last decade, to drive it’s own goal, this specific media was so rampant in character assassination, it can be charged with agenda driven character genocide.

As the editor in question has all along enjoyed his rights of free speech in committing character genocide, now if any politician or member of parliament felt aggrieved, she/he must have the right to speak it out, be it in parliament, be it in a political rally. It is not fair to throw unsubstantiated attacks and start fear-mongering about attack on media when those under attack protests.

However rightful criticism and threat from government officials/ law makers are two different issues. And despite having such strong opinion about the media in question, this blog refuses to support the threat on this media house by the parliament. If this blog abhors double standard, this blog must criticize the attack on free media, hence criticize the recent parliamentary proceedings. And unlike progressives dealing with Daily Amar Desh and it’s editor Mahmudur Rahman, this blog refuses to add any qualification of exception to it’s unconditional criticism of the threat on Daily Prothom-Alo and the Daily Star.

To be more specific, this blog condemns the threat of the senior MP Suranjit Sengupta on enacting contempt of parliament law and protests threats of the speaker, at least two ministers and other senior parliamentarian (Sheikh Selim) of summoning an editor in front of parliamentary committee. There is already a place to complain against misadventures of media, that is called the Press Council. Any complain on media must go through press council. And any other form of state inflicted punitive/ corrective measure on media is absolutely unacceptable.

1. Bangladesh Supreme Court is imposing a new sort of blasphemy fear in our society. They just jailed an editor for six months and a reporter for a month and fined financial penalty to additional others for reporting some facts which the court even did not try to refute as false. Courts stand was like this, ” be it fact or truth, as long as we six men feel someone has written something which we consider harmful to our image, we shall punish him/ her. And there will be no appeal to this verdict because there is no court above us in this land”.

2. The report in vernacular Daily Amar Desh quoted a senior lawyer and ex justice, Mr TH Khan, as ” Chamber Judge Means Stay (of High Court Order)” as the title . The report chronicled the spate of cases where this chamber Judge Mojammel Hossain, acting on the plea of government’s lawyers, blindly stayed all high court orders without any exception. Cases he stayed included high court rules to cancel police remand ( which means police torture in Bangladesh) although there are previous high court ruling discouraging ‘Police Remand’. The person Daily Amardesh quoted was present in the court as a lawyer. Court did not bother asking him a question. The court did not bother discuss the facts whether indeed chamber judge means stay or not. The Supreme Court did not bother/ dare go into that detail because they knew all what Amar Desh published was true.

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Amar Desh published a report called চেম্বার মানেই সরকারপক্ষে স্টে (“Chamber Judge automatically means stay order in favor of the Government”) on April 21. The Supreme Court found this article to be so offensive that it found both Amar Desh’s editor Mahmudur Rahman and the staff reporter who wrote it, Waliullah Noman, in contempt of court. Mahmudur Rahman has been sentenced to six months of jail and fined Tk 100,000, in default of which he will have to serve one more month in jail. Noman has been sentenced to one month’s jail and fined Tk 10,000 in this connection. He would have to serve an additional seven days in prison if he fails to pay the fine.

There are several interesting points in this matter.

Let it be pointed out that Mahmudur Rahman did not go the usual route of hiring Barrister Rafiqul Huq and then making an unconditional apology. In fact, he did not apologize to the Court at all, something that has enraged Awami League hacks to no end. In standing up for what he believes in, Mahmudur Rahman followed in the tradition of Kazi Nazrul Islam and Gandhi when they spoke to the Court in their respective cases; like them, he has refused to back down in the face of state power.

In the Amar Desh article that gave rise to this whole matter, several inconsistencies had been pointed out: instances when the prosecution had presented false information to the court or acted in defiance of its prior order to get its way. During the trial, not a single of those allegations could be refuted, for the simple reason that they are all true. Thus, we are left at a dangerous state: speaking the truth is now a crime in Bangladesh. This may be tolerable in an imperial colony; it cannot persist in a free, democratic society.

There are two broad judicial models in the world. The British model, until 2009, was that the House of Lords was the supreme court. Thus, there was no ultimate difference between the three branches of government: the executive branch was also the elected leader of the executive branch and also the ultimate legislative branch. This model was just abolished last year, and UK got its own Supreme Court.

The American model, with the three different branches checking each other, is the one which Bangladesh seeks to emulate. The power of judicial review, in which, the judicial branch can also strike down a law passed by parliament, is an American concept. But, the price that the Court pays for meddling in public matters is that it must also bear public scrutiny. Thus, when Antonin Scalia goes duck-hunting with Dick Cheney, it is not contempt of court to question his partiality on cases directly related to the former vice-president. Or when Clarence Thomas’ wife becomes a prominent Conservative fund-raiser, it is not contempt of court to wonder how such activities will affect her husband’s decisions. And as for sentencing someone to jail for not referring to a judge as “The Honorable,” any such case would be laughed out of court.

Our Supreme Court cannot have it both ways. They cannot claim the power to meddle in political matters, and then, pretend they are above public scrutiny. The price of meddling in matters best left to politicians is that one must also be able to bear the scrutiny and abuse that is directed towards the politicians. Otherwise, best to retreat to the safer realms.

As Robert Jackson said of another Supreme Court, “We are not final because we are infallible, but we are infallible only because we are final.” The Supreme Court would do well to remember the limits on their power, and the perils of wading into political questions. Otherwise, they are inflicting grievous, perhaps irreparable harm in the very institution they are professing to protect.

Amar Desh Publishing Ban Struck Down

Updated: Amar Desh online version again available.

Article 39 of the Constitution of Bangladesh:

39. Freedom of thought and conscience, and of speech.
(1) Freedom or thought and conscience is guaranteed.
(2) Subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interests of the security of
the State, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality, or in relation
to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence-
(a) the right of every citizen of freedom of speech and expression; and freedom of the
press, are guaranteed.

Bangladesh Supreme Court just struck down the Awami League government’s ban on popular newspaper Amar Desh. Amar Desh online version is now available.

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