Thursday, 14 March 2013

The (Hacked Daily) Star

Again!? (see here and here)

Unidentified miscreants

From today's Daily Star - if all the mysterious unnamed Jamaatis mentioned below are counted (and added to the 50.000 from this), they outnumber the Shahbag crowd without any doubt:

Five cases were filed with Banshkhali Police Station since February 28 accusing 258 identified persons and 12,000 unidentified people in connection with Jamaat-Shibir violence in Banshkhali upazila of Chittagong.
Jamaat-Shibir activists went berserk in the upazila as International Crimes Tribunal on February 28 gave death penalty to Jamaat leader Delawar Hossain Sayedee for war crimes.
Banshkhali police Sub-inspector Ratep Chandra Das filed a case against 211 identified and 12,000 unidentified people on charge of ransacking the police station on February 28.
Rapid Action Battalion on Sunday filed a case accusing 13 identified and 6,000 unidentified people in connection with attacking them.
Shrimat Ramananda Puri Maharaj of Adaitananda Ashram filed a case against 4,000 unnamed people for vandalising the ashram.
Khokan Chandra Dhar, office assistant of Judicial Magistrate Court, filed a case accusing 17 identified and 4,000 unidentified people for torching the court house.
Abul Kashem, general record officer of Senior Assistant Judge Court, filed a case against 17 named and 4,000 unnamed persons for setting the court ablaze.

And you thought that America has a suing culture. Plus it's not only Jamaat:

Thirty eight BNP leaders, including its acting secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir and standing committee member Moudud Ahmed, were sued yesterday for violence in the capital on Saturday.
Some 1,200 unnamed activists of the main opposition were also accused in the five cases filed.
A case was filed yesterday against 40 named and around 100 unnamed activists of the youth and volunteer wings of main opposition BNP in connection with Thursday's vandalism in a Bogra court.


Earlier in the day, police sued over 190 leaders and activists of the alliance on charges of attacking law enforcers and blasting bombs during a rally in front of BNP’s central office at Nayapaltan.
Two cases were filed with the Paltan Police Station mentioning 153 names, Nasima Akhter, additional deputy commissioner of Dhaka Metropolitan Police Media Centre, told The Daily Star.
The cases also sued at least 40 unnamed people, the ADC added.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

More media bias and politicisation of Shahbag

Time for our daily helping of bias from the Daily Star:

Police excesses at BNP’s central office

Law-enforcers on Monday stormed into BNP’s central office at Nayapaltan and arrested some 200 leaders from there.  In their two- and-half hour raid, the police also reportedly confiscated papers and party documents.
But amid this worrisome development,  a bit of relief is that the next day (Tuesday), three of the arrested senior opposition leaders including the party’s acting secretary general Fakhrul Islam Alamgir were released.

On Monday, the police acted with vengeance and in an extremely highhanded manner. What is of utmost concern is what led them to barge into the central office of a major political party, break down doors and manhandle senior opposition leaders. It was outrageous, unprecedented and uncalled-for. We condemn their action in the strongest possible terms.

I don't remember the Daily Star being too bothered with the actions of the police just a few weeks ago which Odhikar termed a "killing spree"  - did I miss something?

As for Shahbag, here's the events over the last few days. First this:

Shahbagh protesters at a large rally at Uttara in the city rally on Sunday said that no threats could stop them from holding their scheduled rally in Chittagong on March 13.

Then Hefajat-e-Islaam (what a name) - reaffirmed their rally for Wednesday, which the government apparently tried to avert in order to make sure the local branch of Shahbag is opened without any annoyances:

In order of Government high officials,Chittagong District Commissioner and High officials of Low-enforces urged Hifazat-e-islam Amir , President of Qawmi Madrasah education Broad Shah Ahmed Shofi to withdraw Wednesday Chittagong Hartal .But Shah Ahmed Shofi instantly rejected the proposal to withdraw Wednesday hartal.

He informed the government officials that, Chittagong is the holy land of Oli-Auliya and Pir Masayekh , and they will resist  atheist anti-Islamic Shahbaghi to come on  that holy land.

He also added , On 13th March they will enforce a strict hartal and thousands of Touhudi Janata will be on the  street. He added they will do their best to resist Atheist Shahbaghi to come on this holly land .

Elsewhere, Hefajat denied any connection with Jamaat: “We do not have any link with Jamaat-e-Islami or are engaged in any activity to implement agenda of any political party,” Hefajat leaders claimed.

Their other demands include closure of blogs where ‘atheist bloggers’ are defaming Allah, Hazrat Muhammad and Islam, stopping ‘conspiracy’ to remove High Court Justice Mizanur Rahman Bhuiyan and withdrawal of the cases filed against Amar Desh acting editor editor Mahmudur Rahman.

The programmes also include long march toward parliament from all districts and grand rally at all divisional headquarters next month, special prayer for fall of atheists at all 4,50,000 mosques across the country, grand rally of Imams of the mosques and grand rally of 40,00,000 Olama Mashayekh.  

(if anyone can make any sense of these zeros and commas, I'd love to know)

Once it became clear to Imran H Sarkar and Co. which way the wind is blowing (and Hefajat-e-Islaam is certainly closer in their epistemology to being 'Taliban' than Jamaat, despite Shahbagi insistence that the latter are a terrorist organisation) the Shahbag-like rally in Chittagong was cancelled.

Note also the following from the Uttara rally referred to above:
Bangladesh Chhatra Union president SM Shubho, Chhatra Maitree president Bappaditya Basu, Bangladesh Chhatra League general secretary Siddiqui Nazmul Alam, JSD-backed Chhatra League general secretary Shamsul Islam, Samajtantrik Chhatra Front general secretary Mehedi Hasan, Biplabi Chhatra Maitree president Abdur Rauf, Chhatra Oikya Forum convener, Sohan Sobhan and Chhatra Federation office secretary Samia Rahman spoke at the rally.

Who can possibly believe this is a non-political movement?

Monday, 11 March 2013

Dissecting the mind of a Homo Shahbagicus

Another analysis of the Shahbag phenomenon appeared during the last few days, written by a sympathiser who is also a budding academic in the field of social work. The article belongs to the by now well-established genre of poetic glorifications of Shahbag written by Western educated deshis. It has a number of characteristic hallmarks of that genre, including the serious scholarly feel provided by the long list of references at the end of the article. Equally characteristically, it fails to mention any concerns with the trials, and explains the ongoing violence in Bangladesh as a mindless reaction to the Shahbag by the quasi-terrorist organisation that Jamaat-e-Islaami is. Here is what I posted in response to the article:

Thank you for that incredibly shallow and one-sided analysis of the current events in Bangladesh. It is useful insofar it provides us with insight into the mind of Homo Shahbagicus, and his (or her) uniquely banal approach to history, law and justice. Here are some points you may want to consider:

- the violence in Bangladesh caused by the trials at the ICT started much earlier than February this year. Large scale clashes took place in November, after it became evident even to the most obtuse observer that the court will not stop at anything to make sure the defendants are found guilty. That first wave of clashes between JI supporters and the police was triggered by the abduction of a defence witness in the Sayedee case. He was 'disappeared' by intelligence officers outside the ICT gates, and no investigation whatsoever was undertaken by the court or the police. The witness is missing to this day - quite probably dead. Then again, you don't care about the deaths of anyone except the 'Shahbag bloggers', do you? Not to mention the tens of JI activists (a number of whom were teenagers) murdered by the trigger happy Bangladeshi police. In the eyes of a Shahbag fan, Islamist lives are worth much less than those of enlightened secularists (who peacefully call for death penalties in trials which have not yet been completed), and the violence meted out by the police is but a necessary action to stop those faceless marauding Islamist barbarians.

- the violence started to get really bad when the Skypegate scandal occured in December 2012, revealing a collusion between the judges, government and prosecution. What did the court do? Nothing. The chairman of the tribunal quit for "personal reasons" and the trials went on. As a result, in the Sayedee case, "one of the three sentencing judges had heard only a fraction of the prosecution’s evidence, another had heard none of it and the third had heard no evidence whatsoever". But wait: evidence is not really relevant when it comes to 'rajakars', is it?

- As for your quote from Rao and Murshid: you are of course aware that (a) Mujib himself rehabilitated plenty of 'collaborators' and gave them posts in his government and administration, as is thoroughly documented in Mascarenhas' 'Legacy of Blood' and Lifschultz's 'Unfinished Revolution' and (b) Mujib did not only ban 'JI and other groups that collaborated with Pakistani forces' but
also eventually banned all political parties except his own, the Awami League. It's entertaining to see how Shahbag sympathisers, in typical Awami League fashion, blame Zia & co. for bringing about the culture of impunity for 'collaborators'.

- You say that JI threatened to carry out suicide attacks - any references for that claim, or did you get it from Prothom Alo(o) and the Daily Star, which in turn picked it up from a well informed Shahbag blogger?

- Don't you think it's worth mentioning that the current leader of the Shahbag movement is an Awami Leaguer, Imran H Sarkar, and that another leading figure in the movement (Lucky Aktar) had been beaten by AL goons for not allowing AL politicians to grace the crowd with their words of wisdom?

This is the problem with Shahbag and its sympathisers: they are completely blind to the obvious fact that the ICT trials have been a miserable failure and that no closure or justice can possibly result from them. Instead of recognising this and channeling their anger towards the ones responsible for this failure (the Bangladeshi government), they blame Jamaat, which, as a consequence, is becoming more reactionary by the day.  

PS The interesting question that arises here is how it is possible for cultured and educated Bangladeshis to be so oblivious to the failings of the court, and the politicisation of the entire process. Is this a conscious denial of reality, a sort of moral compromise necessary in order to avoid facing the possibility - by now a certainty - that there will never be any real closure for the tragedy of 1971?

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Selective compassion of the Bangladeshi press and Shahbag sympathisers

Notice the pattern: if a relative of a prosecution witness in the Ghulam Azam case is killed, the "liberal secularist" press will interview his family, uncles, aunties, neighbours; they'll even talk to cats or dogs that they think may have witnessed the murder. And they will happily blame it all on Jamaat without bothering to investigate any other potential motives for the murder.

This, for the Daily Star, is the big news of today:

Law enforcers are clueless about the motive behind the murder of Ahmed Miraz, brother of a prosecution witness in war crimes trial, a day after Miraz was found dead near Kuril flyover in the capital. Victim’s elder brother Ahmed Imtiaz Bulbul, who testified against alleged war criminal and ex-Jamaat chief Ghulam Azam, has expressed a deep sense of insecurity following his brother’s murder. A freedom fighter and noted musician, he has sought security from the state for him and his family. “I feel insecure and so do my wife and son,” he said while talking to The Daily Star at his Moghbazar house yesterday. He pointed fingers at the defeated forces of 1971 for the murder of his brother.

The story also mentions the 'mysterious death' of a prosecution witness in the Salauddin Quader Chowdhury (SQC) case; the Daily Star reported the story in detail a few weeks back:

Junu's family members said he had been threatened with dire consequences many times if he testified against the BNP leader. They alleged Junu had been murdered for giving testimony against Salauddin. Junu's daughter Shamima said there were injury marks in her father's chin.
However, Abdul Latif, officer-in-charge of Khulshi Police Station, told The Daily Star that they were chasing leads to the death.
“We will take steps after receiving the post-mortem report.”

Interestingly, the New Age (which is taking a more non-partisan line towards the ICT than the Daily Star)  reported that the witness died of a heart attack. What really happened? It's difficult to know amid these contradicting reports. What is interesting here is the blatant bias of the Daily Star: when the defence witness in Sayedee's case, Shukho Ranjan Bali, was alleged to have been abducted by intelligence personnel outside the ICT, the Daily Star didn't bother investigating the allegations. Instead, they ran a few stories with carefully chosen titles such as 'It's Jamaat's drama', which parrots the prosecution's version of events i.e. that they are a fabrication by the defence.

It was David Bergman who, to his great credit, took the allegations seriously, and conducted an interview with Bali's wife, where she not only corroborated the abduction story but also said that the prosecution wanted Bali to give false testimony at the trial.

The paper Bergman works for, the New Age, also carried a story on concerns from the HRW regarding Bali's disappearance. I quote here an excerpt from the HRW report:

Justice Nizamul Huq, then the chairman of the trial chamber sitting on the case, told Human Rights Watch that he had asked the prosecution at the ICT to verify all allegations of irregularities, including the disappearance, even though the prosecution is an interested party in the trials. He acknowledged that this was not the normal practice in Bangladesh and provided no legal or practical reason for this decision.

Although he vociferously denied any bias against the defense, Justice Huq had a member of the prosecution team and the deputy registrar in his chambers during the entire interview with Human Rights Watch, as he had in previous meetings. Justice Huq has since resigned as chairman of the ICT following publication by The Economist of intercepted email and phone conversations showing that there was prohibited contact between Huq, the prosecution, government officials, and an external adviser.

Human Rights Watch noted that Bali’s disappearance followed prosecution claims that they were unable to produce certain prosecution witnesses, including Bali. As a result, the prosecution applied for and was granted a motion allowing them to put into evidence written testimony without either direct or cross-examination. A defense challenge to this motion, which included evidence from government safe-house logbooks showing that witnesses were available to testify, was rejected by the court without a serious investigation.

How can anyone in their right mind think these trials are anything but a joke after reading this?

Amusingly, many Shahbag sympathisers are foaming over the murder of Ahmed Miraz, with some accusing Bergman of being biased because he does not seem to be conducting any investigations this time round. Have any of them stopped to think that the police are clearly actively investigating the murder (as they are investigating in the case of the SQC witness), while they dismissed the allegation of Bali's disapperance as (yet another) fabrication by Jamaat? Then again: these people don't seem to be too bothered by abductions, lies and fabrications - as long as they're directed against Jamaat.

Also note that major riots of JI and clashes with the police happened in the wake of Bali's disappearance and the refusal of the court to do anything about it, in November. It's important to keep this in mind in order to understand the underlying causes of the violence we're now witnessing.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

National Commission for Repression of Human Rights

If any political party tries to damage public properties resorting to militancy, it can be banned with an executive order, National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) chief said on Saturday.

“This type of parties had not been banned earlier. But if any party continues such destructive activities, it can be banned constitutionally,” Mizanur Rahman said after visiting victims of recent vandalism and arson by Jamaat-e-Islami and Islami Chhatra Shibir men in Banshkhali upazila.

You may wonder: what on earth does the chief of a human rights organisation have to do with commenting on issues of a political nature? Well, it's all rather easily explained once you realise that this man, Mizanur Rahman, happens to be one of the most unprincipled, spineless, immoral and politically compromised clowns to have walked on the face of the planet. He was appointed as head of the NHRC in 2010, when he said that

...his office will work with a view to making people aware about human rights and establishing the rule of law to ensure people's welfare like the human rights commissions of other countries.
The government will have to tolerate criticism if any of its offices violates human rights of the people, he added.

Here's his record since  then:

- in December 2011, he said that the ICT 'fulfils all international standards'

- at around the same time, he comes up with this:

Jamaat-e-Islami, he pointed out, had appointed.
lobbyists in the US, the UK and the European Union to lengthen the process of the trial, and had been spewing propaganda against the tribunal in the international media.
The NHRC chairman said there were political motives behind the opposition to the trial.
"The High Court has also heard appeals regarding the law that deals with the creation of the tribunal. Which country in the world has given more privileges to perpetrators of crimes against humanity?" he asked. 

(making it quite clear there that he already considers the defendants guilty)

- in January 2012:

Anyone who is questioning the International Crimes Tribunal is questioning the national judicial system and therefore, the very sovereignty of the country, said Prof Mizanur Rahman, chairman of National Human Rights Commission.
"The government answered these questions many a time and gave assurances that the war crimes trial will be of international standard," he said.
"If it were me, I wouldn't even bother answering such questions", the NHRC Chairman said while addressing a roundtable discussion at CIRDAP Auditorium in the city yesterday. 

- July 2012, on HRW criticising RAB:

 A foreign organisation like Human Rights Watch cannot recommend disbanding the Rapid Action Battalion, Chairman of National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) Mizanur Rahman said yesterday.
"It solely depends on Bangladesh. The government will decide which force will be in action and which will not," he told a view-exchange meeting at the court premises in Narayanganj city's Chandmari area.

 - January 2013, after Azad is sentenced to death in absentia - having been defended by an Awami League sympathiser who presented no witnesses or documents in defence of his client:

“We were eagerly waiting for this verdict. I am happy over the death sentence being given for crimes against humanity ... but at the same time, the verdict also leaves me a bit unhappy,” Rahman said.

He was happy as this verdict had started the culture of accountability, and he was somewhat frustrated since Bachchu Razakar was still out of law’s reach, the NHRC chief explained.

He also emphasised on implementation of the verdict fast. “Now I only wish that he [Bachchu Razakar] is nabbed anyhow and the verdict is executed. Trial of all those who committed crimes against humanity must be finished quickly.

Mizanur Rahman may well be the first human rights activist ever to have called for the swift execution of a death penalty.

- Feburary 2013, after the parliament passed retroactive legislation enabling the prosecution to demand a harsher penalty for Mollah - a move described by HRW as a mockery of justice:

"In war crimes trial process, prosecution didn't have the scope like the defence (for appeal against verdict on any war crimes case). Now, the prosecution has been empowered with equal scope and the trial has been promoted to the International standard through the amendment to the act," the NHRC Chairman said while addressing the same programme.

How this guy became a professor of law at Dhaka University is beyond me. Then again, in Bangladesh, everything seems possible.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Injustice meted out left, right and centre

To take a break from the ICT and surrounding chaos, let us remember that there are other trials taking place in Bangladesh which may even more rightly be termed 'show trials'; namely, the BDR mutiny trials. This is what HRW had to say on these in October 2012:

“Each accused has the right to a fair trial, meaning there must be specific evidence against him, a lawyer with sufficient time and access to represent him, and an impartial court. None of these basic principles have been met.” said Adams. “It is likely that many of those convicted had nothing to do with the mutiny, causing them and their families massive and unnecessary hardship.”

Human Rights Watch has documented numerous concerns about these trials. In July 2012 Human Rights Watch released a report, “‘The Fear Never Leaves Me’: Torture, Custodial Deaths, and Unfair Trials After the 2009 Mutiny of the Bangladesh Rifles,”which provided a detailed account of the mutiny and the response of the authorities. It documented serious abuses by the authorities in the aftermath, including at least 47 custodial deaths and widespread torture of BDR members by the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and other security forces. The government has claimed that all deaths in custody were due to natural causes.

The government explained that a few of the men in custody had unfortunately committed suicide by beating themselves up and subsequently shooting themselves twice - in the head.

A similar report prompted that indefatigable bideshi champion of fair trials in Bangladesh, David Bergman to write an article challenging the Bangladeshi government to answer 25 tough questions on the trials. Now, despite my respect for Bergman and the extremely useful service he's done to everyone via his website on the war crimes trials, he often manages to annoy me greatly by trying to sound unnecessarily impartial when there is no need to do so. Consider his article mentioned above:
Custodial deaths, torture and unfair trial?

(you don't need that question mark there)

HAS any member of the Awami League government actually read the recent Human Rights Watch report alleging custodial deaths, torture and unfair trials following the Bangladesh Rifles mutiny?

(yes they have - and they swiftly binned it and got back to corruption, torture and other pastimes)

Human Rights Watch is generally respected for the quality of its research, but even it can make mistakes — and it is always difficult to investigate and corroborate allegations of custodial torture. There is, therefore, nothing wrong with a government contesting allegations made by the organisation — but for any criticisms to have credibility they must actually engage with the substance of the report’s findings.

Aaaagh! Why does he have to go to such lengths explaining that there is a theoretical possibility that  HRW got it wrong and that the government may have a valid excuse? Then again, Bergman here managed to refer to Bangladesh as a 'thriving democracy'; perhaps he may be somewhat restrained in his criticism of Hasina's regime because of family history.