Thursday, January 31, 2008

Labor Activists Harrassed in Bangladesh

Bangladesh: Labor Activists in Export Sector Harassed
Recent Arrest Shows Government’s Misuse of Emergency Powers

Source: Human Rights Watch

(New York, January 31, 2008) – Bangladesh’s interim government should immediately end the recent harassment of labor rights activists who are conducting legitimate activities to protect the rights of workers in the country, Human Rights Watch said today.

On January 24, 2008, Mehedi Hasan of the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) was arrested and detained by National Security Intelligence in Dhaka. His arrest is believed to be directly linked to the labor rights monitoring that he carried out for WRC, an nongovernmental organization that investigates labor practices at apparel factories, largely on behalf of US colleges and universities.

Hasan is being held for violating Articles 3 and 4(1) of the Emergency Power Rules of January 25, 2007, which prohibit processions, meetings, assemblies and trade union activities. After his arrest by National Security Intelligence, Hasan was transferred to Pallabi police station in Dhaka, where he has been seen wearing shackles. On January 25, 2008, he was brought before a court and remanded into police custody for four days. On January 30, he was remanded for an additional three days.

“The interim government is abusing its emergency powers to target individuals who are trying to protect workers’ rights in Bangladesh’s most important export industry,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “This should set off alarm bells among donors and governments who don’t seem to understand or care how the authorities are using the state of emergency to systematically suppress basic rights.”

Hasan’s arrest is part of a recent pattern of harassment of labor rights activists that has followed clashes between workers and police in Dhaka’s Mirpur area earlier this month. On January 22, a Bangladeshi staff member of the American Center for Labor Solidarity was arrested and briefly detained. On January 24, a Danish national who serves as the South East Asia field director of the Worker Rights Consortium was held for questioning at Dhaka’s international airport before being allowed to board a plane for Thailand.

In recent days, the authorities have invoked Emergency Power Rules and have filed criminal cases against dozens of trade union members, including leaders of the Bangladesh Independent Garment Workers’ Union Federation.

Many other labor rights activists have complained to Human Rights Watch about being threatened and being under constant surveillance. According to police sources, a number of international organizations and their staff members are currently being monitored for allegedly engineering or inciting subversive activities within the garment industry.

Garments are Bangladesh’s main export, and have been a major contributor to the country’s economic growth in recent years. The industry has also been important in creating jobs for women.

“International companies that source garments in Bangladesh should insist that the Bangladeshi government end harassment of labor rights activists,” said Adams. “They should make it clear that labor organizing and activism is part of the deal when operating in the world economic system and that they will not accept it if activists are jailed, intimidated or harassed by the authorities.”

Bangladesh has been under a state of emergency since January 11, 2007. The emergency rules have placed serious limits on civil and political rights, and have severely diluted constitutional protections of individual rights. In a letter to the government dated August 1, 2007, Human Rights Watch called for the lifting of the state of emergency.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Free Rights Activist Mehdi Hasan

The army backed caretaker government in Bangladesh has taken Mehdi Hasan, a rigths activist, into police custody. Mr. Hasan works as a field investigator for the Washington, D.C.-based Worker Rights Consortium. He was arrested on January 24th Saturday at Zia International Airport as he was boarding a flight to Bangkok. Less than a year ago, Journalist Tasneem Khalil, a CNN and Human Rights Watch representative, was picked up by the army for interrogation. He was released within 24 hours when international rights activistis and journalists condemned his arrest.

Read WRC's Press Release here:

Anti-Sweatshop Investigator for US Group Arrested, Held Incommunicado By Bangladesh Government

Global Campaign Sparked as 178-member U.S. University Labor Rights Consortium Raises Alarm

The arrest by the Bangladeshi government of an investigator for a leading America labor rights watchdog group has sparked a global campaign to secure his release.

Mehedi Hasan, field investigator for the Washington D.C.-based Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), was arrested by government security forces on January 24th and has since been held in detention, incommunicado. The WRC is a Washington, D.C.-based labor rights monitoring organization working on behalf of 178 universities and colleges.

Human rights groups and labor rights advocates around the globe have joined the WRC in demanding Mr. Hasan's release. The US government and major apparel brands and retailers that produce clothing in the country have also weighed in with the Bangladeshi government.

Mr. Hasan's arrest appears to be part of a broader campaign of repression by the government against labor rights advocates in the wake of recent demonstrations by apparel workers in Dhaka, the capital city. An employee of the AFL-CIO's office in Dhaka was arrested a week earlier than Mr. Hasan and there are reportedly arrest warrants out for a number of Bangladeshi worker rights advocates.

Bangladesh is run by a military-backed "caretaker" government and the country's human rights practices have come under increasing criticism. The security forces are operating under "emergency rules" decreed by the government, which suspend basic civil liberties. Mr. Hasan's family's repeated requests to see him have been denied. The authorities apparently plan to subject him to a range of bogus criminal charges.

Said WRC Executive Director, Scott Nova, "There is no legitimate reason for Mehedi Hasan's arrest and we call upon the government of Bangladesh to effect his immediate and unconditional release. We are deeply concerned for his safety." Nova cited fears that Mr. Hasan may have been subjected to physical mistreatment while in custody.

Mr. Hasan's job is to monitor compliance with labor rights codes of conduct that the WRC's member universities apply to the production of clothing bearing their names and logos. The organization also does labor rights monitoring for the cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco. The kind of monitoring work done by Mr. Hasan is commonplace in Bangladesh and in other apparel exporting countries and plays an important role in ensuring that goods imported into the US are not made under sweatshop conditions.

Mr. Hasan's detention appears to be retaliation for his efforts, on the WRC's behalf, to protect the rights of workers in apparel factories in Dhaka that sell to US brands. Said Nova, "The government's actions are an attack on the independent labor rights monitoring that is essential to ensuring that the clothing worn by US consumers is made under decent working conditions."

Another WRC employee, Bent Gehrt, a Danish national, was in Dhaka with Mr. Hasan during the week of January 20. Mr. Gehrt was detained at Zia International Airport in Dhaka while attempting to board a flight to Bangkok. Mr. Gehrt was subjected to an aggressive interrogation, during which his interrogators made it clear that he and Mr. Hasan had been under surveillance by the security forces for several days. Mr. Gehrt was ultimately allowed to board his flight and leave the country.

In addition to arresting Mehedi Hasan, the government has seized a WRC computer containing records of confidential worker interviews. The WRC stated that it is concerned not only for the safety of Mr. Hasan, but of the workers who provided confidential testimony to the WRC in course of labor rights investigations.

"The government of Bangladesh should recognize that harassment of factory monitors, labor rights advocates, and workers who participate in labor rights inquiries will do serious damage to the country's international reputation," said Nova. "Brands and retailers that buy clothing overseas do not want their products associated with this kind of behavior. If the government of Bangladesh wants to drive away business and undermine the viability of the country's main export sector, this is a good way to do it."

We condemn this illegal detention of Mehdi Hasan and ask the army backed Caretaker Government to release him immediately. Bangladesh can not afford any more incidents of human rights breaches that will draw international condemnation and alienation. We hope international community, human rights activists and bloggers will come forward to demand Mr. Hasan's immediate release.

Caution against death in police-rab custody

Home ministry cautions lawmen against custodial death
Source: New Age
Date: January 30, 2008

The home affairs ministry on Tuesday cautioned law enforcement agencies against death in custody. Senior officials of law enforcement agencies such as the police and the Rapid Action Battalion were instructed to ensure that such incidents do not take place further, an official source said.

The directive was given at a meeting chaired by the home affairs adviser, MA Matin. The home secretary, inspector general of police, Rapid Action Battalion director general and senior officials of the agencies concerned attended the meeting. This was the first meeting of the adviser with the heads and senior officials of the law enforcement agencies after assuming the office of the home affairs ministry on January 16.

Matin, a retired army official who also heads the national coordination committee against corruption and serious crimes, issued 30-point instructions for the lawmen to go by in keeping order to hold free and fair national elections by the end of 2008. He directed the police to send to the home ministry as soon as possible the cases that could warrant speedy trial.

The adviser asked police officials to build better relations with people. He stressed the need for positive behavioural changes in policemen. One hundred and eighty-four were reportedly killed extra-judicially by the law enforcement agencies in 2007, according to a report released by human rights coalition Odhikar. The report said 130 had been killed in the ‘crossfire.’

Of them, 94 were killed by the Rapid Action Battalion, 64 by the police, 3 jointly by the battalion and the police, 7 each by the ‘joint forces’ and the army, 3 by the navy, 1 each by the jail police, coast guards, forest guards, Bangladesh Rifles and 2 by the officers of the Department of Narcotics Control. The number of extra-judicial killings in 2007 was lower than what it was in the preceding year.

The meeting asked the police and intelligence agencies to closely monitor labour unrest in readymade garments factories to keep the situation under control. It also asked the police to set up one-stop service centres at strategic points in cities to check harassment of girls and women.

Matin asked the law enforcers to conduct proper investigation into the cases related to acid throwing as the meeting observed the accused in most cases are released because of weak inquiry and lack of evidence. He also directed the traffic wing of the police to ensure that the vehicles having fake licences or without fitness clearances do not run on the city roads.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Barrister Moinul could come clean this time!

Shabbir Ahmed

The year 2006 was truly remarkable for Bangladesh because in that year the blueprint for rigging the controversial election in January 2007 was foiled by the mass uprising of our people. The mass movement paved the way for the formation of the present caretaker government under Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed. The democracy loving people of Bangladesh left the streets with hopes and trusts on the advisors, who took over power to make a level-playing field so that a free and fair election could finally be held. Surprisingly, one of the advisors started his rhetorics and actions very much against the will of the people in the aftermath of the takeover of this government. He was a learned barrister named Mr. Moinul Hussein. His rhetorics and actions implied his intention to undermine the advancement of the political process toward a stable democracy that people of Bangladesh have been aspiring during the dark days under the rule of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and the fundamentalist Jamaat-i-Islami (JI).

As a well-known Barrister, Mr. Moinul Hussein used to be perceived as someone who left Awami League for the cause of democracy probably in 1974 when BKSAL was formed. The anti Awami League (AL) quarters used to portray him as an icon for democracy, who did not compromise on the question for the same. They used to mention his name with reverence just to show their regards for him and for democracy. On the other hand, the AL supporters/sympathi zers and some neutral observers used to identify him as a conspirator once they saw him by the side of Khondokar Mushtaque (who conspired to capture power by killing Bangobondhu, his associates, and his family members) in forming a short-lived party named Democratic League. Despite all these in terms of his controversial track record, many people hoped that with time he probably went through some refinement and would deliver something good for healing the wounds caused by the conspiratorial politics of many political and supposedly non-political groups in Bangladesh. But, alas, old habits die hard. Instead of trying to minimize the differences among various political factions in the country, he started creating controversies and conflicts ad infinitum. He categorically blamed all politicians for corruptions and political conflicts in Bangladesh. It is relevant here to mention that the intellectuals like him were behind one or the other political forces that governed the country and/or demonstrated on the streets at different points in time in the past. It was an opportunity for me to watch a couple of his discussions in Channel I before one-eleven. It appeared that he was in agreement with the political forces that were holding or controlling power in pre one-eleven timeframe. As I remember, he was vehemently supporting the election that was scheduled to be held under a controversial caretaker government and under a partisan election commission aligned with BNP and JI. He even mentioned that the constitution mandated holding of the election within 90 days of the start of the caretaker government. However, his departure from this stance once he became the part of the second caretaker government backed by the cantonment crowd hardly ruffles feather in him.

As many people know, all the time in the past, Mr. Hussein supported the forces that brought political killings, militarism, and religion in politics. The shining example is his political association with Khondokar Mushtaque and his presence as a guest on the stages in the functions organized by JI and Islami Chatra Shibir (ICS). All these were visualized in bright pictures that came out in Internet after his inclusion as an advisor of the supposedly neutral caretaker government. It came as a surprise to many how he being such a politically colored and charged person made his way into the current caretaker government under Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed. His inclusion did not go well in terms of the image of the current government. The television viewers both in Bangladesh and abroad were both irritated and vexed by his controversial and conflicting remarks on a daily basis. He never concealed his anger over all politicians except may be Jamaat-i-Islamists. Whenever these fundamentalist forces were in trouble, he came forward to protect them. On the issue of punishing the JI war criminals, he came forward to protect them by asking for the trial of the politicians who were in power for not trying the war criminals. Such was his antics!

After his "sad" departure from power and fall from grace, there are many allegations published in a number of newspapers on his misuse and abuse of power. His lack of care and concern after the death and injuries of a number of workers in the Rangs Building was criticized by the conscious people of Bangladesh. Most importantly, the allegation of his brother in terms of the abuse of his power to capture the daily Ittefaq is very disturbing. As an astute practitioner of law, he was not supposed to act in such a fashion by abusing and/or misusing power. In fact, his use of power was supposed to set examples for the politicians and others who would come to power in the future. His rhetorics and application of rules were supposed to be meaningful and just that would have been followed by the politicians devoid of high level of education in law. Unfortunately, Mr. Hussein irritated all sections of people due to the lack of thoughtfulness in his expressions and actions while he was in power. No matter how hard he tried, he could not prove that he was different from some of our politicians devoid of thoughtfulness and scruple.

After one-eleven, the people of Bangladesh are not willing to accept the creation of more conflicts and chaos in politics. Instead, there should be efforts to create systems and institutions that would help avoid confrontation. In doing these, he could have contributed significantly. But, he did not concentrate fully to devote his efforts in these directions. He was supposed to be remembered but his untimely departure from power was welcomed by the people living both inside and outside Bangladesh. After all, he was seen more as a problem maker than as a solver. His rapid ascendancy to power was rather short-lived. His fall from grace was equally precipitous. His success as an influential advisor of the caretaker government has now become questionable and has come under severe scrutiny. All these would not have happened if he had acted little carefully in a just fashion. It can be said that he would have been remembered by all quarters for his role at this time even though he had a controversial political past. Mr. Moinul Hussein had ample time and opportunity this time to redeem himself for the mistakes he did in yesteryears but alas he was wayward from day one to the bitter end of his tenure. He simply let go this opportunity to come out clean.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Remembering Shah A M S Kibria

It happened three years ago today. Bangladesh lost one of its best sons, Shah A M S Kibria, in a political assassination organized by the BNP-Jamaat regime. Daily Star reports on January 26th:
The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) has yet to complete supplementary probe in the sensational cases--one for murder and the other for explosion--even though 10 months have passed since resumption of further investigation.

The then senior additional superintendent of police (ASP) Munshi Atiqur Rahman of CID on March 7 last year notified the tribunal of the matter.

After Munshi's retirement, ASP Rafiqul Islam took over as the investigation officer (IO). He claimed they had gathered some significant leads from different sources. He however could not say how much time he would take to file supplementary charge sheets.

Sources close to the probe said the decision for more investigation was taken after the investigators found Harkat ul-Jihad-I-Islami's links to the January 27 grenade attack at Baidderbazar in Habiganj that left Kibria and four others dead.

Munshi Atique on March 20, 2005 pressed charges against 10 BNP leaders and workers. The same day Abdul Majid Khan, the complainant, filed a no-confidence petition against the charge sheet in the murder case. But the Habiganj Magistrate's Court Cognizance-1) rejected the petition and fixed May 10 the same year for hearing.

But in the meantime, the case was transferred to Sylhet Divisional Speedy Trial Tribunal that too rejected the objections to the charge sheet.

The complainant then filed a petition with the High Court and obtained orders staying the proceedings on May 14, 2006. Moved by Dr Kamal Hossain, the petition challenged the tribunal's rejection of a prayer for further investigation.

The HC bench also ordered the government to explain within two weeks why the ruling of the Speedy Trial Tribunal should not be adjudged to have been done without lawful authority.

Proceedings of the case would remain stayed till the rule is disposed of.

Vice-President of Habiganj district BNP Abdul Quaiyum was made the principal accused. The other accused are Joynal Abedin Jalal, Jamir Ali, Momin, Tajul Islam, Shahed Ali, Selim Ahmed and Enayat Ali, Muhibur Rahman and Kajal Miah.

Of them, eight including Quaiyum are behind bars.

Asma Kibria and Reza Kibria, wife and son of the slain AL leader, had rejected the charge sheet.

Asma Kibria on January 19 last year urged the chief adviser of the caretaker government to ensure proper investigation and trial of the cases.
Shah A M S Kibria's family and friends have continued their protest against the heinous killing of Mr. Kibria and looking for justice. Days are passing. Like many other killings, Bangladesh will painfully forget Mr. Kibria and rehabilitate his killers. His daughter Nazli Kibria writes at Daily Star to remember him,
It has now been three years since my father's assassination on January 27, 2005 by grenade attack in Sylhet. I am sad to say that there has been no visible progress towards a complete and unbiased investigation into the crime; indeed, there is little apparent interest in this matter. It is difficult for me to understand how unresolved political killings can help the country in its quest to rid itself of corruption and to move towards democracy through free and fair elections.

I do know that however futile it may seem, I will continue, in whatever way that I can, our family's campaign for justice. After all, it was my father who taught me to keep on trying, to not give up.

Friday, January 25, 2008

New Censorship on Live TV Shows

BBC Bangla reports that the army backed Caretaker Government of Bangladesh has asked the private TV Channel to cancel its popular live talk show "Ekushe Somoy". Bangladesh Government has instructed the news channels to cancel live talk shows. It asked the media to broadcast only pre-recorded shows. Mr. Abed Khan, Editor of a Bangla Daily, was scheduled to appear in a talk show sponsored by the ETV channel that was taken off by the government's last minute instruction. It doesn't appear that the army backed government is ready to lift emergency when censorships is coming back in full force. Listen BBC's news coverage from today's morning show:

Get this widget | Track details | eSnips Social DNA

New Twist in Corruption Case

Now it's inhuman to keep Hasina confined: AL

Dhaka, Jan 24 ( – The Awami League thinks it would be inhuman and unjust to keep party president Sheikh Hasina detained after businessman Azam Jahangir Chowdhury said he had not sued the former prime minister for extortion.

Acting AL chief Zillur Rahman Thursday said they thought Hasina had been framed in the case to keep her confined and isolated from the people.

Zillur made the comment at a function to accept donations for the party's central relief fund for cyclone Sidr victims at his Gulshan home in the city.

"From the very beginning we have been saying that Sheikh Hasina is completely innocent. A conspiratorial case has been lodged against her. In this case we will win the legal battle," he said.

Chowdhury, the chairman of Prime Bank, said Thursday he had filed a case only against Sheikh Fazlul Karim Selim, Hasina's cousin, for extorting money from him in return for a promised deal.

"I want to make it clear that I did not file a case against Sheikh Hasina," Chowdhury told by phone.

Zillur said: "What Azam J Chowdhury has said proves that we have been telling the truth. This is the victory of beauty over ugliness and of truth over lies.

"It has been proved that there is nothing substantial against Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana."

Quoting Selim, the AL presidium member accused in the case, Zillur said, "Sheikh Selim has told the court that his confessional statement was taken under duress. Besides, there is no witness in the case. This is a baseless case."

At the function, a cheque of Tk 10 lakh on behalf of Jeddah Awami League Council and Tk 1 lakh by Fazlur Rahman, a Bangladeshi expatriate in the USA, were given to the relief fund.

It was announced that the central relief fund would accept no financial help after Jan 31.

Awami League leaders Abdur Razzak, Dr Mostafa Jalal Mohiuddin and Nazma Rahman were present.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

What a U Turn!!!

Azam J Chowdhury says he didn't sue Hasina

Dhaka, Jan 24 ( – Prime Bank chairman Azam Jahangir Chowdhury Thursday said he had not sued former prime minister Sheikh Hasina.

Chowdhury said he filed a case only against Sheikh Fazlul Karim Selim, her cousin, for extorting money from him in return for a promised deal.

"I want to make it clear that I did not file a case against Sheikh Hasina," Chowdhury told by phone.

"Sheikh Selim took the money from me in return for a deal. He told me that he would get the deal done with the help of Sheikh Hasina," he said.

But Chowdhury said he had not paid the money to Hasina. "Nor did she demand it from me."

"I don't know how she was implicated in that case," Chowdhury told reporters after he attended the annual business conference of Prime Bank at a Gulshan hotel.

"Sheikh Hasina is the daughter of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and I cannot even think of suing her."

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Celebration after Professors Release

Watch the following news coverage after the release of Dhaka University Professors:

Bdnews24 reports:
Prof Anwar Hossain, one of the three teachers convicted by a Dhaka court and later pardoned by President Iajuddin Ahmed, said: "This verdict is not only against some teachers of Dhaka University. It is against the whole Dhaka University community, the conscience of the nation."

"I did not want to come out of jail. Then the jail authorities tried to force me out as per the Jail Code. Later they informed me that all students would be released by tomorrow (Wednesday)."

"Nobody can gag the voice of conscience. We will join a teacher-student-guardian solidarity rally at the Aparajeyo Bangla tomorrow."

The teacher said he would narrate the picture of alleged torture in custody to the national and international media.

"We did not do any injustice. We protested injustice."

Prof Anwar thanked the members of the families of detained teachers for standing by them and supporting them with courage and patience.
Click here for more updated news:

Verdict Vs. Mercy

The military government of Bangladesh has once again shown the nation how dramatically it could influence the court. Dhaka court has been too quick to acquit and sentence the University Professors and students in two back to back hearings. At least the teachers and students are now free at the mercy of the President. But the wounds won't heal soon. This court's dramatic act and the quick Presidential mercy will mar the transparency of the court and the justice system. Read the rest from bdnews24:

Dhaka, Jan 22 ( – Four Dhaka University teachers Tuesday walked out of prison to the warm, yet tearful reception of relatives, colleagues and adherents. Full Story. Updates with PID note

Freedom of the four teachers—three of them sentenced to two years in jail but pardoned by President Iajuddin Ahmed just as quickly—and the fourth acquitted by a Dhaka court—drew a line under a long-running contentions issue.

There were no appeals for mercy by the families of the convicted teachers.

Deputy inspector general (prisons) Major Shamsul Haider Siddiqui told that jail authorities had freed the teachers after receiving documents of presidential clemency.

The prisons official said they could not free Moniruzzaman, one of the 15 students acquitted by the court, as jail authorities did not receive any supporting document on his freedom.

Secretary to the Chief Adviser's Office Md Kazi Aminul Islam had earlier confirmed to that the president approved the files for mercy.

The government also withdrew all cases against teachers and students involving the August violence—a move seen as a remedy to the months of tensions on the campus.

Additional chief metropolitan magistrate M Golam Rabbani, who presided over the case Tuesday morning, convicted DUTA president Professor Sadrul Amin, general secretary Professor Anwar Hossain and social sciences faculty dean Professor Harun-or-Rashid.

Rabbani however acquitted applied physics and electronics department chairman Prof Nimchandra Bhowmick, and 15 students of the same charges.

The three teachers had been jailed for two years on charges of breaking emergency rules and fomenting days of campus violence in August last year.

In a statement, the Press Information Department said the president had cleared the three teachers of conviction by exercising his powers in line with Article 49 of the constitution.

The case centred on the August violence, which was sparked after some military men from a makeshift camp on the university campus beat a student during a football match.

The students had burst into protests against the incident and demanded withdrawal of the camp from the campus.

The melee had continued to grow and spilled over onto the streets of Dhaka and elsewhere in the country, prompting the interim government to impose curfew.

The students clashed with the police and attacked army vehicles in Dhaka and Rajshahi.

The incidents led to a raft of cases against teachers and students.

In one of the cases, which involve breach of emergency rule, a Dhaka court Monday acquitted the four teachers and 11 students of Dhaka University.

The court had convicted four students in the case but later they were forgiven by the president. The same day, 10 other Rajshahi University students and an employee also got presidential clemency.

After release from Dhaka Central Jail Tuesday, the teachers placed wreaths at the Central Shaheed Minar on their way home to the campus.

Tuesday's verdict sparked protests on the campus.

A teacher said the verdict was "stage-managed" while another teacher said it was meant to "trample the dignity of Dhaka University".

The magistrate took only one minute to read out the summary of the 36-page verdict.

The four teachers of Dhaka University were in the dock when the magistrate pronounced the verdict.

The lawyers however made competing statements.

Defence counsel advocate Masud Talukder, said: "It's a mysterious judgement. There were no lawyers for the state in court."

Additional public prosecutor Kabir Hossain said: "The teachers had violated emergency rule. In the trial procedure, there was no intervention by the government as the judiciary is free."


Monika Bhowmick, wife of acquitted teacher Nimchandra Bhowmick, said she was happy about the verdict on her husband.

"But I'm very upset about the verdict against his colleagues," she said.

"The nation is shocked. I came to the court in the morning to hear good news. I demand their freedom. This verdict is conspiratorial," she said.

Sanjib Hossain, son of DU professor Anwar Hossain, had earlier said: "My father has said this verdict is against the conscience of the nation. My father won't seek mercy. My father won't come out of prison as long as any of his colleagues or students remains in jail."

Immediately after the verdict, Professor Nimchandra Bhowmick had said he would not leave the jail without his colleagues.

Even after the presidential mercy, Nimchandra refused to leave the jail as one of the students was not freed yet for "technical reasons".

The DIG (prisons) referred to the Jail Code that does not allow "pardoned inmates" to stay inside. And Nimchandra obliged.


Earlier in the day, two groups of Dhaka University teachers tied to the Awami League and left parties had rejected the court verdict.

The teachers called upon people to stand beside them through the "hard days".

The teachers assembled at the Battola on the campus in a midday demonstration and protested the verdict.

"The judgment has simply wounded us. DU is passing hard days," said Muntasir Mamun, a professor of history.

"We'd request all to stand beside us as they did in the past—in 1969, 1971 and in 1990."

"Protesting injustice and misrule has been our tradition and heritage through the past century-long life of the university, leading the country and the nation to realising a number of its cherished goals, including independence," Prof Muntasir had said.

"This military-backed government wants to see us trampled under the military's boots. We'll not allow that to happen. We want our teachers be freed with honour."

Professor Mesbah Kamal said: "The teachers and students here are no criminals. They just happened to speak up when the sanctity of the university was violated."

"The prestige of DU has been undermined seriously by the mockery of a judgment delivery," Prof Abdus Samad said.

On the news of the sentencing in the morning, acting dean of the social sciences faculty AAMS Arefin Siddique said: "I've heard about the judgment, which showed that the government is ill-disposed towards the highest educational institution in the country."

"I vehemently protest this inimical attitude."


Students of Dhaka University had also rejected the verdict.

The students brought out midday processions on the campus amid tight security to denounce the verdict.

Under three banners, the students rallied briefly when they demanded that the government stop "playing a game" with the contentious issues.

Police and other law enforcers put in place a huge security arrangement in and outside the campus to avoid any violence.

A senior police official, who talked to a correspondent on the scene, preferring not to be named, said they had ordered officials to stay alert.

He said they were restricting entry of outsiders to the campus area and let the students and employees in after security checks.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Are politicians immune to pain?

Are politicians immune to pain?
January 21, 2008
Source: UPI Asia Online

"I was kept blindfolded for 18 hours of the 24 hours of remand on Dec. 31. I was not taken to a police station from the Dhaka Central Jail, but somewhere else. I was tied up and suspended from the ceiling and tortured physically there while being kept blindfolded."
Most of the newspapers in Bangladesh published reports quoting Tarique Rahman, the elder son of former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, describing his torture in detention during a court hearing on Jan. 9. Rahman, like his mother, is a powerful figure, although he holds no official government position.

Politicians who support the Bangladesh Nationalist Party responded critically to these allegations of torture by their party's heir apparent. Politicians from other backgrounds also commented on the issue.

"When a politician like me is tortured inhumanly in remand, what can happen to the common people?" Rahman asked court officials during the hearing.

It is good to hear such a question from Rahman. Yet it would have been appreciated much more if he had asked the same question when his party was in power. He should not forget that the government of his party adopted the policy of extrajudicial killings referred to as "crossfire" by creating the Rapid Action Battalion, which was rewarded with an Independence Day Medal instead of being punished for its crimes and violations of human rights.

A number of officers from law-enforcement agencies were promoted for carrying out the directions of ruling party leaders, including torture in custody, in which Rahman allegedly played a key role behind the scenes.

Torture had been endemic for decades as a technique of law enforcement, but new records of brutality were set under Operation Clean Heart, initiated when Rahman's mother was prime minister in 2001. However, none of the ruling party politicians admitted that custodial torture was a problem. Instead, inhumanity and impunity were institutionalized at the state level.

In Bangla language there is a saying, "Whoever goes to Lanka becomes the Raban," implying that the ruling party always becomes the tyrant. This has been literally true of the governments of Bangladesh ever since the country gained independence in 1971.

He who wears a shoe knows how it pinches. Thousands of victims, who suffered torture at the hands of various law enforcement agencies, are eager to ask what exactly it contributes to the nation. They know how it works, how it paralyzes, ruins and destroys people's thoughts, creativity, capabilities and socio-economic life. Many of them have been permanently disabled, or even lost their lives, forever leaving inexpressible shock and grief behind for their families.

However, very few politicians have had the chance, like Tareque Rahman, to experience the taste of torture in custody. Rahman is fortunate that he has not yet had the taste of "crossfire," which was his party's creation and is still in use. This would put an end to his life in the custody of the so-called elite forces of society.

Are politicians immune to pain? Have they no painful consciences? They must have realized that using torture as part of the law enforcement system is a crime against humanity. Torture contributes nothing to the nation except causing distrust, disrespect and a psychosis of fear. Rahman says he has been feeling insecure these days. Now perhaps he understands the result of torture.

It is time to determine the impact on the nation of the institutionalization of torture. Everyone related to making and implementing policy should understand that torture is the antithesis of civilization.

If politicians can suffer from torture, if they know how painful it is, they must come to a national consensus on changing the tradition of torture. It should be criminalized, in compliance with international norms and standards.

(Rater Zonaki is the pseudonym of a human rights defender based in Hong Kong and working at the Asian Human Rights Commission. He is a Bangladeshi national who worked as a grassroots human rights activist in his country for more than a decade.)

DU Professors and most Students are cleared

Breaking News: Court freed Dhaka University Professors and 11 students in one of the cases. Hearing is continuing right now. More updates are to follow:

Dhaka, Jan 21 ( — A Dhaka court cleared four Dhaka University teachers and 11 students of charges Monday in one of the cases filed against them in connection with the August campus rioting at DU.

Judge Md Habibur Rahman Siddiqui of the Dhaka Metropolitan and Speedy Trial Court handed down the verdict on the case acquitting them of the charges.

The same verdict sentenced the four absconding students in the case to two years in prison and a Tk 1,000 fine each.

The judgement came after the government Thursday submitted a written appeal urging the court to fast-track the trial of the teachers and students.

The teachers are Dhaka University Teachers Association president Professor Sadrul Amin, general secretary Professor Anwar Hossain, social sciences faculty dean Professor Harun-or-Rashid and applied physics and electronics department chairman Professor Nimchandra Bhowmik.

The charges involve violations of emergency rules during days of Aug violence on Dhaka University premises.

The chaos began when some army people beat a university student during a football match in the university. The melee that later spilled over onto the streets and elsewhere in the country continued for several days.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

General Moeen at Tritio Matra

Watch forty five minute long interview of General Moeen at
Channel I:

Read an in-depth analysis on General Moeen's interview at Tritio Matra published in Bangla at Sahcalaytan

Dhaka, Jan 19 (—Army chief General Moeen U Ahmed, referring to the caretaker government, said Saturday "the train that derailed is now back on track" and now "an efficient driver is required".

On the army's role in this regard, Moeen said: "We are working as the crane in service of the government to take the train to its destination."

In an interview on Channel i talk show Tritio Matra aired Saturday, Moeen said the problem started in 2006.

"The army did not want to get involved with the 1/11 (changeover)."

"But not even animals have to die like people died on October 28, 2006."

The country must not be pushed into the path of destruction, the army chief stressed.

Mentioning the role of the political parties on Jan 11, 2007, he said: "It's the failure of the political parties. They have a lot to answer for."

On the present government's success, Moeen said: "The identification of corruption as the foremost malaise and keeping it under control is the government's success."

On the failure of the caretaker government, the army chief said: "I would not call it failure. Prices increased due to floods, cyclone and higher prices in the international market."

Emphasising food security, he said: "We have to increase production. We have to bring in hybrid seeds."

Whether the government was monitoring corruption by those within the government itself, the general said: "I am sure the government is alert about it. It will not allow that to happen."

On the recent resignations of five advisers, Moeen said the advisers resigned for their "personal reasons".

"The government wanted to bring dynamism in its actions."

Asked why institutional changes had not occurred despite changes of personnel within different institutions he retorted: "How do you get reforms if you don't have a right person in the right place?"

"First you have to place efficient persons. Then they will bring in the institutional reforms," Moeen said, citing the Election Commission as an example.

One eleven analysis Part-2

(Click here to watch the first part of One eleven analysis at Tritio Matra)

The leading political leaders, educators and a former adviser are talking about the army backed caretaker government's one year anniversary in Bangladesh. Dr. Abdul Momen from the USA, Sheikh Shahidul Islam, Begum Motia Chowdhury, Professor Ataur Rahman, former adviser M. Hafizuddin Khan and Hasanul Haque Inu are discussing politics, democracy and the interim government at Tritio Matra presented by Zillur Rahman at Channel I.

Tricky task of political transition

(We're sharing this wonderful political analysis of military regimes with our readers)

Juntas' tricky task of political transition
Source: Kerry B. Collison

2008 is shaping up to be the year when military-backed governments around the region face the tricky task of placing the administration of their respective countries back in the hands of an elected civilian leadership.

Such handovers are either already under way or have been promised in Thailand, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Even Myanmar's longserving generals have promised further progress in their 'roadmap to democracy', albeit one that enjoys little credibility in the eyes of independent observers.

Such political transitions, however, are rarely easy for military-backed governments, and this year promises to be no exception. In Thailand, the process is already well-advanced, with elections having been held on Dec 23 last year. But the task has been complicated by the fact that the People Power Party (PPP), a political grouping sympathetic to Thaksin Shinawatra (the man the generals ousted in September 2006) has become the largest in the legislature.

In Pakistan, meanwhile, polls have been postponed for six weeks after the assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto on Dec 27 upset pre-election power sharing deals and plunged the country into yet more political turmoil.

Next on the list is Bangladesh. The military-backed government has promised elections no later than December. But the generals in Dhaka are not having an easy time either.

Bangladesh does not get much international attention. Unlike Pakistan, it is not perceived as being at the front line in the battle against terrorism. Nor does it get noticed - like Thailand - on the strength of its popularity as a tourist destination. And unlike Myanmar, its generals are not known for their headline grabbing brutality in suppressing civilian protests. Yet Bangladesh is as good a country as any to illustrate the political logic facing military-backed regimes in countries that take over from elected civilian administrations.

The current government in Dhaka seized power on Jan 12 last year following protracted political violence in the wake of the failure of an interim administration to hold scheduled elections. Led by former central bank governor Fakhruddin Ahmed, but backed heavily by the military, it pledged to clean up local politics, eliminate corruption and organise elections as soon as possible.

Sounds familiar? It should. Thai coup leaders said almost exactly the same thing in September 2006, and Pakistan's leader Pervez Musharraf has been promising something similar for years.

Such pledges go to the heart of the dilemma facing military regimes. The need for political legitimacy requires coup plotters to appeal to the national interest. But military regimes also have vested interests of their own, sometimes making it difficult for high-minded political objectives to be carried out. The spoils of office, for example, may prove too attractive - one reason such regimes often last longer than early announcements by the leaders of successful coups would suggest.

Then there is the need to ensure that any future government that comes to power as a result of the promised election is sympathetic to the coup plotters. No military strongman wants to hold an election only to be forced into early retirement by the winners, an outcome Thai generals will be particularly anxious to avoid right now.

The possibility that real democracy might lead to such a situation often prompts self-proclaimed national saviours to do undemocratic things. These include preventing the regime's critics from standing for election and changing the Constitution in ways that entrench the role of the military in civilian life.

Like Thailand and Pakistan, things went well in Bangladesh at first. Frustrated by years of protracted political squabbling between the conservative Bangladesh National Party (BNP) and the left-leaning Awami League (AL), the public initially welcomed the military's move. The interim government began by rounding up dozens of politicians and businessmen, including former prime ministers Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia, in a widespread anti-corruption campaign.

It then initiated a crackdown on Islamic extremists, reversing a policy of tolerance pursued by the previous BNP government. Much progress was also made in separating the judiciary from the executive and improving the efficiency of key infrastructures such as the Chittagong port.

But today, with the economy in the doldrums and a series of natural disasters adding to the country's woes, the generals are probably feeling much less confident.

Partly as a result of an over-enthusiastic anti-corruption drive that has disrupted supply chains and (some argue) scared away legitimate investors, inflation and unemployment have become serious problems. High international commodity prices and natural disasters have exacerbated the situation, leading to a decline in support for the current government, particularly in the poorer rural areas.

Meanwhile, the tough response of the military to student protests in August last year has reminded Bangladeshis of past military dictatorships.

Despite the pretence of civilian rule through a group of renowned technocrats, the army is involved in almost everything the government does - from selling food to the poor to running the anti-corruption commission. And General Moeen U Ahmed, the head of the army, is frequently quoted discussing non-military matters - notably the economy.

Critics have recently been asking when the government intends to end emergency rule in order to allow political parties to campaign in the promised elections.

Compared to developments in Pakistan, Thailand and Myanmar, the activities of Bangladesh's military-backed government have not received much international attention. Yet a smooth transition to civilian rule in Dhaka could be as important as anything that is going on in Bangkok, New Delhi or Yangon.

One danger, according to Husain Haqqani, a Pakistan expert and adviser to the late Benazir Bhutto, is the 'Pakistanisation' of the country. There are certainly some uncomfortable similarities. Islamist extremist groups have been gaining influence in Bangladesh in recent years, corruption has badly weakened key national institutions, and democracy is regarded by many as a luxury best put off for the future. Should the military-backed government's transition plans stall, and existing secular parties remain unreformed, could political opposition begin to coalesce around Islamic groups widely suspected of having links to international terrorist organisations?

Shahaidul Islam, a research associate with the National University of Singapore's Institute of South Asian Studies, does not think so. He argues that Bangladeshis are strong supporters of secular government. Besides, 'the crackdown on the extremists has been very effective', and while the reforms may have caused some disruption, 'they will benefit the country in the long run'. What is crucial, he believes, is that the promised elections are held as scheduled in order to eliminate political uncertainty and encourage investors to return.

In other words, it is important to get the political transition right.

By Bruce Gale
The Straits Times
Publication Date: 18-01-2008

The perils of extremism

The perils of extremism
ANM Nurul Haque
January 19, 2008
Source: Daily Star

The suicide gun and bomb arrack on Benazir Bhutto killing her along with more than two dozen of her party activists compels us to think yet once again on the menace of endemic extremism. The people of Bangladesh hardly have any reason to feel comfortable in the thought that the government has tackled extremism effectively and thus we have got rid of militancy menace.

Defining extremism has always been a difficult exercise. It is a pejorative term used to describe the action or ideologies of individuals or groups outside the perceived political center of a society or otherwise claimed to violate common standards of ethics and reciprocity.

Extremism, particularly its religious variant has risen alarmingly in Pakistan, India and Bangladesh in the past few years which was in the making over a decade.

Some people may think that religious extremism has gone off with the execution of six key militant leaders of the banned Islamist outfit Jamatul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) including its chief Shaikh Abdur Rahman and his deputy Siddiqul Islam alias Bangla Bhai. All of them were convicted and sentenced to death for killing two judges in Jhalakathi in a suicide bomb attack on November 14, 2005.

Ever since the countrywide series of bomb blasts on August 17, 2005, RAB and police have been nabbing militants or busting their dens. The youngsters arrested by the RAB recently from different places are reported to have been enrolled as new members of the JMB. We have, therefore, serious reasons to apprehend that many of such members have been enrolled and trained by the JMB leaders to carry on its mission.

After the terror attacks on Twin-Towers, the US government enacted the Patriot Act and following the London blasts the UK government enacted the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 with a view to tackling the terrorists.

In a bid to combat extremism, the UK government has asked the local groups in the multi-cultural British society to evolve ideas and plans for anti-extremism projects. The government has also declared that the local authorities will be able to bid for five million pound starling for trial schemes to help the Muslim communities to tackle extremism.

Our two neighbouring countries, Pakistan and India are quite unfortunate to witness the ugliest face of extremism repeatedly. Before assassination on December 27, Benazir Bhutto faced another worst suicide attack in Karachi within hours of her return from an eight-year exile which killed at least 138 people.

Before diminution of shockwave of this dastardly attack on Benazir, a bomb blast in a mosque in Peshwar on the day of holy Eid-ul-Azha left 56 people killed and scores injured. This suicide bombing inside the mosque was carried targeting a former interior minister of Pakistan.

A suicide bomber killed at least 15 people, including a senior judge, when the bomber blew himself up inside a court in Quetta, Pakistan. The explosion hit when hundreds of people were inside the compound for court cases and police inquiries.

Seven bombs went off on July 11, 2006 in Mumbai's rush hour trains at seven different spots causing large-scale death and devastation. Hell broke loose again on February 19, killing as many as 67 people, mostly Pakistani nationals, when two powerful bombs went off in a Pakistan bound friendship train at Panipath, India.

Since the terrorism knows no territory, these tragedies with India and Pakistan, is no doubt an alarm for Bangladesh. The execution of six JMB kingpins, certainly not go all-out to rid the country of militancy menace. Religious extremism which has made deep penetration, might has developed cross-regional network. The caretaker government must realise the enormity of the danger that is looming large in this region and posing serious threat to peace and security.

The root of extremism is embedded in certain political, economic and social deprivation. Extremism essentially reflects on long but unsuccessful struggle to bring about changes in the state structures. This is a prime cause of frightening rise of extremism in this region.

The failure of Pakistani government in containing religious extremism in the country lies in the fact that, it did not tackle the crisis effecting social reform and political liberalisation.

The reasons of rising religious extremism in Bangladesh, besides other things, are violation of rights of the poor and use of religion in politics. Unless the government ensures the rights of the poor through poverty alleviation and prevent the use of religion in politics, no other things will help people to wean away from the conservative hard-line attitude that is sustaining extremism in Bangladesh.

Redesigning of madrasa education, which is also liable to breed religious extremism to certain extent is imperative to save the young minds from the clutch of religious extremists. The lack of proper education and enlightened governance has enabled extremists to create pockets of support by manipulating religious teachings.

One cannot be oblivious of the fact that, the extremists have been exploiting the religious faith and sentiment of the youths and also the education that they are being imparted in madrasas. Many young minds are opening up to extremists thought specially when getting their lessons of religion being administered not by scholars but by those who have mixed their political agenda with the message of religion.

Religious extremism -- be it Islamist or Hindutva, or any other -- contribute much to the retrogressive development of the society by way of spreading terrorism. The war on terrorism has given a big boost to their dangerous agenda. The boundaries of extremism have overlapped on one end with the traditional religious political parties and on the other, with the militants.

Much remains to be done so far as measures aimed at containing the religious extremism. The assassination of Benazir multiplies the need for correcting all the faults so far done by the immediate past government here in tackling the menace before it attempts to destabilise the state structures.

The immediate past government did a lot of things for arresting the top JMB leaders but hardly did anything of substance to trace the patrons due to their alleged link with them. Demolition of the political links of the religious extremists should be on the top of the agenda, which can be dealt with severely by the caretaker government, as it has no obligation to the vote bank.

What now actually needed for containment of extremists is better performance of all the law enforcing agencies and, of course, a democratic justice delivery system. However, care must be taken in the fight against extremism, as increased repression and coercion are likely to feed it rather than reduce it.

ANM Nurul Haque is a columnist of The Daily Star.

Friday, January 18, 2008

One Eleven Analysis: Channel I

The leading political leaders, educators and a former adviser are talking about the army backed caretaker government's one year anniversary in Bangladesh. Dr. Abdul Momen from the USA, Sheikh Shahidul Islam, Begum Motia Chowdhury, Professor Ataur Rahman, former adviser M. Hafizuddin Khan and Hasanul Haque Inu are discussing politics, democracy and the interim government at Tritio Matra presented by Zillur Rahman at Channel I.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Has US Policy Failed in Muslim South Asia?

Has US Policy Failed in Muslim South Asia?
By Sikder Haseeb Khan
Monday, 07 January 2008
Source: The Progressive Bangladesh

The assassination of Benazir Bhutto can only be seen as a setback for pro-democracy forces in South Asia. And with it, efforts to put a positive spin on US foreign policy post September 11 are looking increasingly feeble. Nothing short of a reversal is needed to rescue American interests from the dangers in Pakistan, and increasingly, in Bangladesh.

Garrison Pakistan
Pakistan’s situation has become complex, but the danger is plain and simple. Regardless of which militant group carried out the attack, most in Pakistan will continue to implicate, some directly and some indirectly, Pervez Musharraf’s administration. Bhutto was killed in a garrison town—and that too in a heavily militarized state. She complained regularly of living under threat, and noted frequently the lapses in the security detail that the government provided her.

Bhutto said as much also in her final email, written to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer with instructions to make it public in case she is killed. That was her coda to a grim family legacy: her father titled his memoirs, If I Am Assassinated. He was executed in 1979 by General Zia-ul Haq, who went on to rule Pakistan in a style emulated by General Musharraf, as well as by eager followers in Bangladesh, the other Muslim-majority country in South Asia.

Musharraf will continue to deny any involvement, and probably rightly so. But what’s more important is that Pakistan’s general populace will not buy that. The general’s hands are tied. If he takes a harder-line toward extremism, he will ignite greater violence all-around, losing more support of his military, which has become weary of fighting its own people. If he does not take a hardline approach, his government’s complicity will only seem “proven” in the eyes of Pakistanis. On top, he will stand to betray further the hope that the US administration had pinned on him.

But in the bigger picture, his complicity is through his policies, which were devised essentially to serve the bidding of the US war on terror. American use of a primarily offensive approach to win hearts and minds has hardly ever generated any goodwill, let alone favorable outcomes in the longer term. But the logic was exported to Musharraf with a generous dose of aid, and applied wholesale in Pakistan, alienating an increasingly larger group of people in the most volatile part of the world.

Copy in Bangladesh
The last two years, the US administration continued to ignore more democratic possibilities and kept on shoring up the general in Pakistan. And despite the growing signs of failure in that policy, the administration has been replicating it in Bangladesh, supporting another group of generals and their large-scale political purging there.

Under the rule of a center-right party (BNP) that the Bush administration initially supported, Bangladesh experienced a surge of bomb attacks and assassinations between 2001 and 2006. One attack blew up a well-respected former finance minister; another grenade attack, aimed to obliterate the entire leadership the main secular opposition party, claimed the lives of twenty-one, including many senior party members. These attacks were carried out under the connivance of the BNP government; investigations were deliberately stalled or derailed.

With violence increasing, the military took over, supported by Western diplomats. Generals have been ruling Bangladesh under a state of emergency since January 2007. Almost half-a-million have been detained in a massive political purge, many of them summarily convicted by special tribunals to long sentences. But the US continues to support the regime, at times displaying a type of naivete in its choice of allies and adversaries that harks back to the Chalabi era in Iraq.

There is a difference between Bangladesh and Pakistan, and it is this: Bangladesh’s rulers since 2001 have been protecting Islamist extremists, openly. So the outcome, which baffles most analysts, is that US policy has been nurturing the same type of extremist enemy in Bangladesh that it has been fighting directly in Pakistan. Over the years, this enemy has grown; confronting it head-on would be a tricky affair now.

Dictators or democracy? Choose now
The only way out of the policy failure in South Asia is to keep the original American promise: support democratic movements; don’t support dictators, including the type that glibly promises the ‘restoration’ of democracy at some convenient future date. US policy should become transparent and consistent, along the lines of its own founding principles. Dictators should be declared unwelcome, plain and square.

The calculative, interventionist alternative is messier—and as surveys of foreign policy experts show—it has just not worked. So instead of trying to create a moderate movement using a heavy hand, the US should back existing progressive movements. They exist in both Pakistan and Bangladesh. In Bangladesh, for example, despite the military government’s discomfort, a strong movement has sprung up to expose and try the Islamist war criminals, who brutalized many thousands of Bangladeshis during the 1971 liberation war. The key to the hearts and minds of the majority of Bangladeshis and Pakistanis are progressive movements such as these. If now is not the time to abandon support for dictators, once and for all, then when is?

Is Bangladesh moving towards radicalism?

Bangladesh Seminar at Hudson Institute: Watch the video from the seminar:

View Bangladesh’s Swing to Radicalism on
View Bangladesh’s Swing to Radicalism on

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Illegal detention of students and professors

Charges are against conscience of nation: Prof Anwar

Dhaka, Jan 16 ( – Detained Dhaka University teacher Anwar Hossain said Wednesday that charges pressed against them were actually against the "conscience of the nation".

"The case against us is not ordinary. We—the four teachers and one student present in court—and 14 other fugitive students are not the real accused. It's Dhaka University that has been put in the dock."

"The accused are the conscience of the nation," Prof Anwar told a court in the capital where he defended himself against the charges of emergency rules violations during the days of campus violence in August.

The teacher said an intelligence agency was playing the main role in the issues tied to the August violence.

"It seems a Shahbag police official is the complainant of the case. But we know and the people know who the main forces were—against the conscience of the nation, against Dhaka University and against the teachers and students," he said.

"The members of the military intelligence agency have played the main role in framing charges. Not only that, they even attend this court regularly," Anwar alleged.

He said the charges were meant to malign the "conscience of the nation".

His statement came in the court of metropolitan magistrate M Golam Rabbani during the hearing of the defence statements by the accused.

Anwar read out a 10-page statement to the court where he described the context of the Aug violence.

He said they were no way responsible for the violence and they had just stood by the students against injustice.

The three other teachers and the student also pleaded innocent.

Prof Harun-or-Rashid said: "Nobody is above law. We are no different. Punish us if we are found guilty. Charges have been brought against us that we have violated emergency rules—state of emergency. But the government would not bring any charge against fundamentalists and anti-liberation forces who went on the rampages and brought out processions after the publication of a satire cartoon in the Prothom Alo."

"We have reviewed all papers of this case. It seems to me that all including the police official gave their statements under pressure," he said.

"We have limited wealth and powers. We cultivate knowledge. We compete for acquiring knowledge. We hope any person or any agency would not adopt any cruel measures against us. This is our country. Give us scope to build a beautiful country. I am innocent and I want fair justice," he told the court.

Dr Nimchandra Bhowmik and Dr Sadrul Amin also claimed to be innocent.

They said their names had not been included initially but they were included later "intentionally to malign us".

They said they had not been on the scene and did not give any statement during the volatile days.

Student Sardar Moniruzzaman Rubel also said he demanded "fair justice".

The violence had erupted over a chaos between the students and some troops camped at the university gymnasium.

The melee began during a football match. After some troops reportedly beat a student, the university students burst into protests, spilling over onto the streets of Dhaka and elsewhere in the country.

The court resumes Thursday for hearing of the arguments.

BBC Scotland on One Year Anniversary of 1/11

State of emergency in Bangladesh – where are we one year on?
Internal News - 15 January 2008
Source: Inside University of Bath

Dr Joe Devine from the Department of Economics & International Development was this week interviewed by BBC Radio Scotland on the political situation of Bangladesh, one year after a state of emergency was declared and a caretaker government was put in place.

Speaking on Newsweek Scotland he said that it remains unclear what kind of democracy the nation is moving towards.

Since coming to power on 11 January 2007, the military-backed caretaker government has run Bangladesh under a state of emergency and repeatedly pledged to establish a credible democracy, free from corruption and political abuse.

In order to achieve this, it launched a huge and widely-publicised crackdown on corruption and so far has detained almost 200 politicians including former prime ministers Sheikh Hasina and Begum Khaleda Zia. It has also begun to prepare a fresh list of voters with photographic identity cards and introduced a number of other political reforms.

Dr Devine believes that while it is difficult to gauge the mood of the general public during a state of emergency, it seems that until recently the government’s crackdown on political bigwigs has received broad support and even raised people’s hopes for change.

Over the last few months however there has been a marked escalation of public frustration with the caretaker government. In particular, it has come under pressure for its poor handling of the economy.

“2008 will be an important year for Bangladesh but it is not clear how things will unravel,” said Dr Devine.

“The caretaker government has set out a roadmap and committed to holding elections before the end of the year.

“Meanwhile it has to deal with the everyday business of running the government and this is proving difficult.

“Political leaders are pushing for the ban on political activities to be lifted as soon as possible and it is possible that they might use the public’s anger at the recent poor performance of the caretaker government to try and force this agenda.

“Any resolution, however, will depend on the role of the military. Although officially ‘supporting’ the government, the military has played a very visible role over the last 12 months sometimes heading up the most important operations of the government.

“It is unlikely that the political situation will be resolved without the approval of the military and for many in Bangladesh this is a very real threat and a source of deep concern.

“Only last year the Army Chief stated that the country should not return to an ‘elective democracy’ and that it needed instead to create a ‘new kind of democracy’.

“As the world’s fifth largest democracy enters its second year under a state of emergency, it is unclear what kind of democracy it is moving towards.”

Listen Dr. Joe Devine's analysis at BBC Scotland:

Get this widget Track details eSnips Social DNA

Global Freedom Declined in 2007

Report: Global Freedom Declined in 2007
Source: AP Diplomatic Writer
January 15, 2008


Freedom declined in 2007 for a second consecutive year as 36 percent of the people in the world -- about half of them in China -- were not living in freedom, according to a survey by a private democracy watchdog organization.

Nearly four times as many countries showed significant declines during the year as registered improvements, the New York-based Freedom House reported. While the number of countries judged not free declined by two to 43 last year "there were many and overwhelmingly negative changes within countries already designated not free," the survey found.

The number of countries judged free stood at 90, representing 47 percent of the world's 193 countries, and those considered partly free stood at 60, or 31 percent.

Those found not free accounted for nearly 2.4 billion people, about half of them living in China.

Expectations of government concessions on human rights or modest democratic reforms in advance of the 2008 Summer Olympics did not pan out in China, where the regime continued to crack down on political activists, Internet journalists and human rights lawyers, the report said.

Reversals in freedom were seen in one-fifth of the world's countries, including Pakistan, Kenya, Egypt, Nigeria and Venezuela. One country, Mauritania, joined the list of democracies, while three, the Philippines, Bangladesh and Kenya, dropped off it.

Two countries, Thailand and Togo, were upgraded from not free to partly free.

South Asia, the former Soviet Union and the Middle East did particularly poorly, giving "an alarming signal about the development of freedom worldwide, something formerly viewed as inevitable," said Jennifer Windsor, executive director of Freedom House.

Four stark reminders of the perilous condition of freedom were singled out:

* Parliamentary elections in Russia were held under patently unfair conditions.

* Democracy in Georgia was sullied by imposition of a state of emergency and a violent police crackdown on demonstrators.

* In Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto was assassinated, and terrorism by Islamic extremists rose.

* In Kenya, hundreds were killed in rioting in the wake of "highly credible reports of vote-rigging by the government" in the country's presidential election.

in Russia, political parties and candidates who challenged President Vladimir Putin were sidelined, and the news media, largely controlled by the state and Putin's supporters, gave overwhelming coverage to the president and his allies while the opposition was kept fragmented and tame.

Using its enormous oil and gas resources, Russia exerts influence in former Soviet republics, providing political, moral and material support to authoritarian regimes that dominate Central Asia, the report said.

Three of the countries in the region, Belarus, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, have consistently ranked among the world's most repressive societies, Freedom House said.

Modest gains in the Middle East, where President Bush focused his hopes for democratic change, came to an end last year, the report said, with major declines in both the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli-occupied territories.

The Authority was down-rated from partly free to not free, due to the collapse of a unified government after Hamas took over Gaza. Israel's military incursions, restrictions on delivery of food and violent dispersal of protests led to a decline in civil liberties, Freedom House said.

On the Net: Freedom House

Expatriates review One Eleven

Watch this political discussion at ATN Bangla from January 14th about the army backed caretaker government's achievement in Bangladesh. Dr. Abdul Momen from the USA and Journalist Aminul Haque Badsha from the UK are talking about political changes and democratic prospects in Bangladesh.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Tribute to Selim Al Deen

Bangladesh has sadly lost one of its best stars. Professor Selim Al Deen, a legendry drama icon, passed away on January 15th at the age of 58. Daily Star reports, "Selim, a pioneer of theatre movement in Bangladesh, a researcher, an organiser and a professor of Department of Drama and Dramatics at Jahangirnagar University, was born in Shenerkhil village of Shonagazi upazila of Feni on August 18, 1949". "Bangla drama literature can be categorised into three eras -- the Girish era, the Shishir era and the Selim era. The Selim era has come to an end today," said Rahmat Ali, associate professor of Theatre and Music Department at Dhaka University.

Golam Kuddus, general secretary of Sammilito Sanskritik Jote, said, " Selim Al Deen started the modern drama movement and he is one of the best playwrights in Bangla literature."

Atiqul Haque Chowdhury, producer of Selim's first TV drama 'Ghum Nei' on BTV, said, "He was a world-class playwright and had contributed immensely to the Bangla literature. Shunning the western style, he gave a modern approach to the eastern drama. Bangladesh will not get a Selim Al Deen often."

Selim was a founder member of Dhaka Theatre. He along with Nasir Uddin Yusuf formed Bangladesh Gram Theatre in 1981-82 and Selim was its chief adviser.

His first article 'Negro Literature' was published on the literature page in the 'Dainik Pakistan' in 1968. His first radio drama ' Biporit Tomoshay' was broadcast in 1969 while his first TV drama 'Ghum Nei' in 1970.

He also compiled 'Bangla Natyakosh' -- the lone drama related anthology in Bangla. Selim Al Deen's drama is included in textbook curriculum of Dhaka University, Jahangirnagar University Jadavpur University and Rabindra Bharati University in India. He was also the originator of Fusion Theory and New Ethnic Theatre. Read Syed Badrul Ahsan's column paying respect to Professor Selim Al Deen.

Watch Professor Selim Al Deen's interview at NTV on the 50th program of Ki Kotha Tahar Sathe presented by Imdadul Haque Milon:

Stagnating under clean interim government

Stagnating Under 'Clean' Interim Government
By Farid Ahmed
Source: IPS

DHAKA, Jan 14 (IPS) - Bangladesh's military-backed interim government faced hard challenges on the political and economic fronts as it stepped into its second year on the weekend.

When the interim government came to power under a state of emergency, pledging credible polls, it enjoyed popular support. But this has given way to severe criticism over inept handling of economic issues.

The government, headed by former World Bank official Fakhruddin Ahmed, assumed office with the support of the army on Jan. 12, last year. A day earlier, the country's President Iajuddin Ahmed had imposed emergency rule to quell street violence over the conduct of national polls, originally timed for January 2007.

Soon after taking power, in an address to the nation, Fakhruddin Ahmed, also a former chief of the central bank, promised sweeping reforms in the political and electoral processes and credible elections to the parliament.

Again on Saturday, he reiterated his pledge on holding the polls, but analysts said there is no mutual trust between the political parties and the government and that the electoral process may be delayed further.

Over the last one year, Ahmed’s administration has turned down all demands for holding a dialogue with the political parties. But on Saturday Ahmed appeared to relent, saying it was imperative that the government sit down with political leaders.

Senior economist Zaid Bakht told IPS that it was necessary for the government to talk with the political parties. ‘’The government should allay the state of fear and build mutual trust,’’ said Bakht, a research director at the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies in Dhaka.

"The main challenge for the government is to hold the elections," said Talukder Moniruzzaman, a professor of political science at Dhaka University.

The government reshuffled its 11-member cabinet last week, removing five members, amid widespread criticism over the continuous rise in prices of essentials and staples, specially rice.

The state-run Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics showed that food prices hit an 11-year high of 13.8 percent in November, rising 6.65 percent last year.

The central bank on Thursday said rising prices in the international market, twin floods in July-September and the devastating cyclone in November were responsible. But clearly business confidence has also been shaken by the government's anti-corruption drive.

Economists said the government's inefficiency in running the affairs had made the people "prisoners of economic insecurity."

"I don't know what is good for us, but when there was a political turmoil, a year ago, I could buy a kg of coarse rice at a price of 20 taka (28 US cents). Now I have to spend 35 taka (50 cents) for the same," said a rickshaw (pedicab) puller Abdul Hamid in Dhaka.

Investment, both foreign and domestic, also marked a sharp decline in the last one year. According to the latest figures of the state-run Board of Investment, new proposals dipped more than 55 percent between January and November last year.

Foreign investment proposals plunged to 315.796 million dollars in the January-November period, down by about 84 per cent from 1.92 billion dollars in the corresponding period for 2006. Similarly, domestic investment was down by 36 percent in the same period, reported daily ‘New Age’ marking the government's performance of one year.

"Long-term investors were still waiting for a clear picture of the political scene," Bakht said.

Although the government succeeded in separating the judiciary from its executive branch, curbing corruption, making the Chittagong seaport effective, managing post-floods and post-cyclone situation, it failed at handling macro-economic issues, he said.

"There is political uncertainty and stagnation in economy," he said, adding that while the government has talked about carrying out political reforms, this is yet to be worked out.

Shafiqul Islam, a businessman in Dhaka, believed that political reforms would be impossible with the civil and political rights suspended under the state of emergency.

The successes of administration also included creating an independent Anti-Corruption Commission and recasting the Public Service Commission.

It also reorganised the Election Commission, and is now putting final touches on the plans to free it from control of the prime minister's office.

Chief election commissioner A.T.M. Shamsul Huda said on Wednesday: "We're firm on holding the vote by the end of this year and maybe earlier, if all the preparations are complete."

The commission, with the help of the army, was also preparing fresh electoral rolls with photographic identity cards to check any fraud during the voting, he said.

The commission expected to have the new electoral rolls ready by June and set the election schedule sooner than expected, he added.

In the meantime, the government will have to complete court proceedings against many senior politicians detained during the ongoing drives against corruption.

Ahmed and the army chief Moeen U. Ahmed have, on more than one occasion, said the drive was designed to clean up the politics ahead of the polls.

Among those detained are former prime ministers Sheikh Hasina Wajed and Begum Khaleda Zia, several of their family members, former ministers and a number of top businessmen and media tycoons. Only a few of them have so far been sentenced.

If convicted Hasina and her rival Khaleda, who alternated as prime minister for the last one and half decades until October 2006, will be barred from contesting in the next polls.

Hasina's Awami League and Khaleda's Bangladesh Nationalist Party have often voiced fears that jailed leaders might not get justice in trials before special anti-corruption courts.

Irene Khan, secretary-general of the London-based Amnesty International, has urged the Bangladesh government to ease the state of emergency to restore human rights and rule of law ahead of the elections.

She also urged the government, on Thursday, to initiate a dialogue with the political parties.

Nurul Kabir, editor of English-language daily ‘New Age’ told IPS that the present leadership has visibly failed to live up to the expectations that it generated in public minds a year ago.

"The reason behind the failures, I believe, are two-fold: lack of proper understanding of the need of a vibrant political process to bring in democratic reforms in an otherwise undemocratic political system and a tendency to adhere to the proposition of the politics of anti-politics," he said.

Empowering Judiciary in Bangladesh

Empowering Judiciary in Bangladesh
By Nava Thakuria
January 14, 2008
Source: Scoop

Bangladesh, though it had witnessed an eventful 2007 amidst the emergency, postponement of general election, human rights violation and the arrest of some senior most political leader, had ended the year with some positive initiatives for empowering judiciary in the poverty stricken country. Waiting for the general election within this year, the South Asian country had attracted international media attention, while its interim government separated the judiciary from the administrative clutches.

In fact, it was a big leap in search of quality democracy for Bangladesh, which had emerged as a sovereign country in 1971. Amidst apprehension against the military backed caretaker government, which took control over the country on January 12, the great news broke from the land of Bengalis. The populous country, surrounded by India, Burma and the Bay of Bengal, was in global media on November 1, the day its interim government announced the formal separation of its judiciary. And the declaration came from none other than Dr Fakhruddin Ahmed, the chief adviser to the caretaker government in a function held in the capital city Dhaka.

Inaugurating the Dhaka District Judicial Magistracy and Dhaka Metropolitan Magistracy, the chief of the government flagged off the journey of an independent judiciary in Bangladesh. "It is a great day for the nation," said Dr Ahmed, a former World Bank official, turned the head of the interim government, adding, "The judiciary is fully independent of the executive from today and from now the courts and the judges will establish rule of law without the interference of the executives."

The ceremony in the capital city coincided with the celebrations in 64 district judicial magistracies and three metropolitan magistracies of Bangladesh as well. The government has already created a total of 4,273 posts for the judicial magistracy (including 655 posts of judicial magistrate) to facilitate an effective and independent judiciary system in the country.

The civil society, media and the political parties of Bangladesh welcome the development. Haroon Habib, a Dhaka based freedom fighter turned journalist said, "The separation of judiciary was an epoch-making step, and should be considered a major milestone in Bangladesh's judicial history despite the fact that it was done when there is no political government." Appreciations came from its development partner countries like the US, UK and Germany saying that was as an important step towards strengthening democracy in Bangladesh.

The Supreme Court of Bangladesh ruled in favour of separation of the judiciary (from the executive) eight years back, but it was implemented by neither the government of Sheikh Hasina (1996-2001) nor that of Begum Khaleda Zia (2001-2006). The Awami League government of Ms Hasina had reportedly initiated a few positive steps to honour the directives of the apex court (though failed to complete the process), but the Bangladesh Nationalist Party led government of Begum Zia did nothing in this direction.

Bangladesh has now two sets of magistrates namely judicial and executive. According to the amended criteria (Code of Criminal Procedure), the judicial magistrates, primarily the judicial officers will run the courts hereafter in the country. They will be appointed by the Supreme Court and also be liable to the apex court of the country. The executive magistrates, including the deputy commissioners have been stripped of judicial powers and will exercise only executive powers.

As Bangladesh does not have provinces (thus avoiding power sharing with the province chief ministers), the deputy commissioners emerge as the most powerful executives after the Prime Minister of Bangladesh. They were however overburdened and those executive magistrates had to perform their duties in a complex structure. While their primary responsibilities remain as revenue collectors, they have to play the role of administrators too. In addition, the executive magistrates had to deliver justice, though most of them lacked credible knowledge of law.

The challenges now lay ahead of the judges and other judicial officials. Barrister Mainul Hosein, the Adviser for Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs to the caretaker government described, "We (the government) have separated the judiciary from the interference of the executive not as a favour to the judges, but to assign them with the heavy responsibility of upholding justice and contributing to good governance as contemplated by the Constitution."

The initiative to get the judiciary separated in Bangladesh received momentum following the Supreme Court directive that came after a writ petition filed by Masder Hossain (who was then a sub-judge in Dhaka) with hundreds of other colleagues in 1995. The High Court on May 7, 1997 delivered the verdict in favour of the separation of judicial services from other services in Bangladesh. The country's finance ministry appealed against the verdict in the Supreme Court. But the apex court dismissed the appeal and pronounced its judgment on December 2, 1999 detailing a 12-point directive.

The British during their colonial rule in the Indian sub continent (comprising today's India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and parts of Burma) introduced the magistracy, where collectors were empowered with judiciary authority. It was in fact with an inherent aim to maintain direct control over the magistracy by the colonial government.

The demand for separation of judiciary started gaining momentum in the time of colonial rule itself. Awami League, since its inception in 1949 raised a voice for separation of power and it continued even after Bangladesh was created. The provision for separation of judiciary was introduced in Bangladesh's constitution saying, "The state shall ensure the separation of the judiciary from the executive organs of the state."

Soon after the government declaration (of separation of judiciary in Bangladesh), a satisfied Masder Hossain asserted that the initiative would prove a success in due course of time. Answering queries of local reporters, Masder Hossain (now a judge) added, "Oppressed people suffered a lot of harassment on way to get justice. I only wish with the separation of judiciary, justice seekers get fair justice swiftly without spending much."

But the suspicion and confusion about the new legal system are still paddling in the minds of the people. Mustafa Kamal Majumder, the editor of The New Nation, a Dhaka based daily says, "It is definitely a long felt demand met. But the question arises, how efficiently the sufficient number of judges (more precisely to talk about the quality) are appointed to fill the void left by administrative officers."

Statistics reveal that 484,832 cases (as of February 28) are pending with the courts of magistrates across Bangladesh that has a population of over 140 million. Moreover, for a layman, justice delayed is always understood as justice denied. The amazing trial of strength of the independent judiciary in Bangladesh will lie on how it deals with the trials of some very prominent politicians including the two former premiers (Begum Zia and Ms Hasina), who are presently serving jail terms for corruption and misuse of power during their respective reigns.