VIOLATIONS OF HUMAN RIGHTS BY THE JAMAAT/BNP COALITION GOVERNMENT OF BANGLADESH BETWEEN 2001/2005
The four-party alliance, which is infested with fundamentalist and communalist forces, came to power following the 8th general elections held on 1 October 2001. The range of human rights violations that the coalition government under the stewardship of Khaleda Zia and Motiur Rahman Nizami has committed in Bangladesh since its assumption of power is inconceivable in any sovereign, independent state. The coalition government has been quite successful in setting examples of torturing and killing members of minority religious and ethnic communities, leaders, activists and sympathizers of opposition political parties, intellectuals and professionals subscribing to secular democracy, employees of government/ semi-government offices, members of the Ahmadiya Muslim community and on-duty journalists, as well as allowing extra-judicial killings by members of newly created law enforcing agencies, obstructing and attacking peaceful meetings and processions of opposition political parties, disrupting social and cultural programmes, maltreating women, truncating the judiciary’s authority and subjecting it to the whims of the executive branch of the government, providing the killers and perpetrators with all forms of immunity, arresting mass people on lame excuses, persecuting opponents in prison cells and police custodies, and last but not the least, depriving the victims of the due process of law and justice. Such examples are only to be found in a 19th century colony.
The United Nations has adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as eight other charters, which are binding on all the member states, with a view to safeguarding the freedom, rights and status of the peoples of all nations. Besides, the Constitution of Bangladesh incorporates 23 articles pertaining to the fundamental rights of its citizens. The manner in which human rights has been constantly flouted in Bangladesh since the four-party combine’s assumption of power constitutes a flagrant infringement of the human rights charters of the United Nations as well as the country’s Constitution.
The Constitution of newly independent Bangladesh adopted in 1972 incorporated the substance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other relevant documents of the United Nations. To do away with all forms of repression, strife, deprivation and discrimination in the name of religions, the ’72 Constitution set a distinctive example in the world by embracing secularism as one of the fundamental principles of the state and prohibiting floating of political parties based on religions. Unfortunately, after the brutal killing of the father of the nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, General Ziaur Rahman and General H. M. Ershad consecutively clinched power and stripped the Constitution of its secular and humanistic image through the fifth and eighth amendments respectively, thereby giving it a communal character. Bangladesh can no longer claim that it is officially committed to human rights, thanks to the Islamization of its Constitution.
Although the unprecedented levels of persecution suffered by the minority religious and ethnic communities of Bangladesh in the wake of the coalition government’s advent to power have now subsided to a certain extent, non-Muslim peoples still fall prey to a multitude of discriminations, insecurities and panics. Bullying of minority Hindus and grabbing of their lands and properties still continue unabated in remote areas of the country.
In October 2005 the Nirmul Committee published a white paper on 1,500 days of repression on minorities in Bangladesh, marking the completion of four years in office by the coalition government. The paper took cognizance of about 5,000 incidents of murders, plunders and repressions that had been reported in 16 national dailies as well as in different national and international human rights organizations’ reports and photographic observations, which are impossible for the government to deny. What is all the more appalling is that the victims of repression have been deprived of justice in 99 per cent cases and the communal perpetrators have gone scot-free.
Since the coalition government’s advent to power, more than a thousand articles and features have appeared in the press regarding this menace, urging the government to bring the spell of communal persecutions to an end. However, the government has been least concerned about it. Exasperated at the repressive mindset of the coalition government, I wrote in August 2002 – ‘The kind of tyranny that the religious minorities of Bangladesh has had to go through in the wake of the general elections in 2001 is unprecedented. Ever since the beginning of election campaigns, voters from Hindu-inhabited areas were bullied, their homes and hearths and businesses plundered, a large number of their dwellings set ablaze, the well-off among the minorities held to ransom, and in some cases, they were killed and their womenfolk raped. All this was done with the aim of letting loose a reign of terror among them so that they would either desert their respective localities or would not go to the polling centres to exercise franchise.
‘On behalf of the Nirmul Committee, we visited different Hindu-inhabited areas prior to the elections and recorded testimonies provided by the panicky, bullied minorities. Both Jamat-e-Islami and BNP resorted to extreme forms of communal antagonism during their election campaigns. While visiting the constituency of notorious war criminal and Jamat leader Delwar Hussain Sayeedee, MP, in Pirojpur, we heard party leaders and activists chanting shameful catchphrases e.g. this year’s election is a battle between the Muslims and the Hindus in presence of none other than incumbent Prime Minister Khaleda Zia. It is to be noted that the main rival of Sayeedee in the election was Advocate Sudhangshu Shekhar Halder from Awami League. Even a responsible leader of BNP like former President Dr. Badruddoza Chowdhury spread communal hatred. Such pre-election propagandas set the stage for the post-election communal mayhems that we had to witness.
‘The Nirmul Committee, Ain-o-Salish Kendro (ASK), Sammilito Samajik Andolon, Bangladesh Mahila Parishad, Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council and many other national and international human rights organizations collected statistics of the incidents of communal repression that occurred in Bangladesh in the wake of the 8th general elections. Almost all the newspapers of the country including the pro-government ones splashed the news of communal atrocities that affected every nook and corner of the country. However, the actual statistics of these incidents of repression are impossible to come by because of a number of factors. First, as the perpetrators belonged to the ruling BNP-Jamat alliance, the victims were reluctant to lodge complaints with the police lest they were subjected to more brutal levels of tyranny. It was this fear that kept the victims from disclosing their ordeals even to journalists and human rights activists. Second, it is nearly impossible to learn about the incidents of repression that occurred in far-flung, inaccessible regions. Third, in case of rape and abuse, the victims rarely lodge complaints with the police because of a fear of reprisals as well as the social stigma associated with it. In many Asian countries including Bangladesh, victims of rape are usually looked down on with scorn. And in many cases, they are even more despised than the perpetrators. Fourth, since the government categorically denied any apprehension of communal repressions from the very beginning, the police carefully refused to entertain any complaint from the victims in many cases. Fifth, thousands of Hindu families, who fell victim to election-oriented communal tyranny, had to take refuge in India in order to save their lives, having lost their honour, relatives, properties and homes and hearths. And there was no way one could collect their statistics.
‘If the newspaper reports and those of different human rights organizations are anything to go by, it can be safely construed that such massive-scale communal mayhems had never occurred in Bangladesh except during the nine-month war of liberation in 1971. However, in ’71 it was external (Pakistani) occupation forces that were responsible for such persecutions. The latter spell of communal repressions is even more outrageous than that of ’71 in that it was let loose not by external forces but by Bengalis, who are the victims’ neighbours or fellow villagers. Those who had deserted the country in ’71 in order to save their lives came back afterwards. I had an opportunity to talk to the victims of the latest spell of communal repressions. They deserted the country and they told me that they would never return to Bangladesh.
‘The latest spell of communal repressions, which made its first appearance right after the caretaker government took over, received further impetus after the general elections were over. In the first three months of the (incumbent) coalition government’s tenure, there was never a day when incidents of communal repression did not occur somewhere or other in the country. This time incidents of plunder, arson, toll collection and rape outnumbered those of killings. The victims of rape range from six-year-old toddlers to elderly women of 60 years and those of killings range from newborns to 75-year-old geriatric persons. Many of the victims of killings were Hindu priests, Buddhist monks and religious scholars, for whom it was practically impossible to harm anyone.
‘News of communal repressions kept appearing in the press as a matter of routine. After visiting the affected areas, different political parties and human rights organizations prepared detail reports portraying the picture of repressions and sought redress from the government. Regrettably, the government turned a blind eye to all of it. Frustrated by government indifferences, Ain-o-Salish Kendro, a local human rights organization – lodged a case with the High Court, which issued a rule nisi upon the government in this respect. It has been nine months now and yet the government has not responded to it. On the contrary, the prime minister and the home minister have categorically denied the incidents of repression and denounced the reports published in all major newspapers as fabricated, exaggerated and cooked up by a particular party. While visiting Dhaka, the secretary general of the Amnesty International called on the Prime Minister as well as the home minister and expressed grave concerns about the spell of communal repressions. However, the top echelon of the government has always been least concerned about it.
‘As the government repeatedly denied the incidents of communal repression, the police did not take any effective measure against the communal thugs. Government lethargy on this issue only served to encourage the perpetrators to launch communal assaults of an even greater magnitude. There were a good number of victims who reported their plights to the press and human rights activists. However, the ruling party musclemen as well as the partisan police intimidated them and made them testify in writing to the effect that they were not harassed and that newspapers only published baseless stories. Above and beyond, the aggrieved and disinclined Hindu community was compelled in many places to observe Durga Pooja – the biggest religious festival of the Bengali Hindus – with feigned festivity last October so that it would appear that they lived in Bangladesh in great peace.
‘Reviewing the well-planned incidents of communal repression of this time, sociologists and political observers have construed them as a form of ‘ethnic cleansing’. Even two and a half months before the elections, fanatics belonging to ruling BNP and Jamat-e-Islami in remote areas openly declared : ‘Hindus can no longer live in Bangladesh’. The ruling alliance and their sympathizers have taken it for granted that whosoever is not a Muslim by faith is a supporter of the Awami League (AL) – the main Opposition – and the easiest way to weaken the AL is to persecute the minority non-Muslim communities. In the reckoning of these fundamentalists, if the non-Muslim communities get frustrated by such persecutions and desert the country, it will 1) make a dent on AL’s vote bank, and 2) enable them to transform Bangladesh into a monolithic Muslim state like Afghanistan or Pakistan.
‘We have extensively visited affected areas and discovered that the religious minorities, regardless of their political affiliations, have fallen prey to communal mayhems. Jamat-e-Islami ruffians in Chittagong killed elderly educationist Professor Gopal Krishna Muhuri, who used to be a member of the Workers’ Party, and not the AL. In Chittagong, people like Buddhist Monk Gyanjoti Mahathero, Monk Dulal Barua and Hindu priest Madanmohan Goswamy, who had nothing to do with politics, were mercilessly slaughtered. In Sirajganj, gang rape victim Purnima’s mother Basonarani told us that they had not been spared even after affirming that they had voted for BNP. Thus, it will be imprudent to think that only the pro-AL minorities fell victim to communal repressions. True, there are some political reasons for which leaders and activists of the AL and other opposition parties have been tortured for the last ten months. However, the repressions on Hindu, Buddhist and Christian communities are accounted for by a communalistic end – an ambition to transform the pluralistic society of Bangladesh into a monolithic one.’*
The persecution of the minority Ahmadiya Muslim community by the coalition government in general, and the two fundamentalist components of the alliance viz. Jamat-e-Islami (JI) and Islamic Oykko Jote (IJO) in particular, has become a regular phenomenon. Different national and international human rights organizations, the United States and many European countries have strongly condemned it more often than not, and yet the situation has hardly improved.
Since the creation of the state of Pakistan, the Ahmadiya Muslim community has earned the wrath of the JI and become one of its targets. In 1953 JI ruffians killed a minimum of 20,000 Ahmadiyas including women and children in Lahore of Pakistan. Before the party came to power in Bangladesh, a number of its allies launched deadly assaults on Ahmadiyas in many parts of the country, razed their mosques to the ground and even set fire to the holy Koran and other scriptures that were under the custody of the victims. After coming to power in October 2001 by dint of its alliance with the BNP, the JI, IOJ and their ally Khatm-e-Nabuwat and many other fundamenta-list outfits repeatedly attacked the Ahmadiya Muslim community, bombed and grabbed their mosques leaving many devotees killed and wounded and instigated attacks on members of the Ahmadiya community by delivering extremely spiteful speeches and hate compaign. Nevertheless, none of the perpetrators, masterminds or killers were punished. Little wonder they were not even put in the dock. In a bid to appease its fundamentalist allies, the government banned all the publications of the Ahmadiya Muslim community, thereby preventing them from preaching their faith. Despite widespread condemnations at home and abroad, the coalition government is still pursuing the same old Ahmadiya-bashing policies.
In a naked emulation of Pakistan, the JI has submitted a bill in the parliament seeking enactment of blasphemy laws with a view to dealing severely with the Ahmadiya Muslim community, the Christian community and the free thinkers subscribing to Liberal ideologies. We have reasons to apprehend that JI leader Nizami and his associates would be able to get blasphemy laws enacted in the parliament at the opportune time. And once they are successful in their evil bid, repression of diverse forms of liberal thinking and practices will obtain a legal mandate, as in Pakistan.
Regarding repressions on the Ahmadiyas, I penned a write-up last year (2005) saying – ‘Communal attacks on the Ahmadiya Muslim community have increased to an unthinkable extent since the four-party alliance sailed to power in October 2001. The recent incidents of repression in Satkhira stand testimony to this fact. Communal culprits rummaged through houses belonging to the Ahmadiyas in the Shyamnagar area under the district of Satkhira from 17 to 20 April (2005) and their main target comprised womenfolk and the local Ahmadiya mosques.
‘The incidents of repression on the Ahmadiya Muslim community and desecration of their mosques in Satkhira are not two isolated events. Warned beforehand, religious fanatics desecrated the Sundarbans (Ahmadiya) Mosque in Satkhira and hung their signboard on the site of the mosque in the same way as musclemen belonging to JI’s ally Khatm-e-Nabuwat Movement, making prior announcements, had razed Ahmadiya mosques in Bogra, Chittagong, Patuakhali and Khulna and posted their signboards on the ruins of the mosques under the patronage of the police. As in other places, the police abetted the perpetrators in Satkhira. This constitutes a flagrant violation of the Constitution of Bangladesh and the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well.
‘Although repressions on the Ahmadiya community have occurred in many places, the Satkhira incidents stand out in that the perpetrators, while hanging indecent signboards on the site of the mosque, raided houses of the members of the Ahmadiya community, physically tortured them and looted their possessions. Two seriously wounded Ahmadiya women were taken to and hospitalized in Dhaka. Leaders of the 14-party combine as well as the civil society visited them in the hospital on 19 April. While languishing in pain, the two victims – Ferdousy Begum and Rahima Akhtar – narrated their ordeals in a sobbing voice. On the same day, Ameer of the Ahmadiya community in Bangladesh, Professor Meer Mubashwer Ali, called a press conference in Dhaka and portrayed, by showing video footages, the terrorist attacks that the Khatm-e-Nabuwat launched on them in Satkhira leaving at least 50 Ahmadiyas wounded. Human rights activists and leaders of the civil society, among others, attended the press conference.
‘The civil society’s concerns about violations of human rights in Bangladesh are nothing new. It was the Media, human rights organizations and intellectuals who, before all else, protested the unprecedented levels of minority repression that helped the fundamentalist coalition government’s advent to power. Leaders of the civil society and media representatives dashed to the affected areas, collected statistics of repressions, comforted the victims and asked the local administrations and lawyers respectively to take urgent steps to stop the tyranny and provide the victims with legal assistance. However, the local administrations rarely took legal steps against the perpetrators, who not only supported the coalition government but also comprised a terrorist clique loyal to it. The local administrations are quite aware of the way the members of parliament (MPs) and other leaders belonging to two extremist components of the coalition government constantly lambaste this hapless religious community. It is pertinent to mention here that three of the five MPs from the district of Satkhira, where Khatm-e-Nabuwat militants created a reign of terror belong to Jamat-e-Islami.
‘The international community is loud in its praise of the civil society of Bangladesh as far as its active roles in protecting human rights are concerned. Unfortunately, the Taliban-leaning coalition government and its two fundamentalist allies have always invented ‘conspiracies’ in such civil society initiatives. To express our sympathies for the victims, we attended a press conference called by the leaders of the Ahmadiya community at Bakshibazar, Dhaka on 19 April (2005). Our only contention was – the common people of Bangladesh are quite unlike, and have nothing to do with, the spiteful Jamat-e-Islami or Khatm-e-Nabuwat ruffians.
‘The number of militant fundamentalists is barely a million. However, the vast majority of the country (the remaining 139 million) have never approved of any sort of extremism, militancy or assault on innocent people in the name of Islam. Nor will they ever do so in future. The more pains the Jamat-e-Islami fundamentalists and their associates inflict on the people by misusing power, the more they (fundamentalists) are abhorred.
‘In a video footage I saw a Khatm-e-Nabuwat leader from Bogra lambasting elderly human rights campaigner Justice K M Sobhan in an utterly vulgar language. At Nakhalpara, Dhaka, Khatm leaders made extremely offensive and provocative remarks about Ahmadiya sympathizers including Professor Kabir Chowdhury, Dr. Kamal Hossain, Justice K M Sobhan and me. These remarks incited their militant members, who assaulted Professor Humayun Azad with swords and daggers in a medieval fashion. They will, in all likelihood, launch more such attacks in future. However, readers of newspapers and the teeming millions of the country cannot accept such indecent and violent conducts.
‘Our presence in the 19th April press conference called by Ahmadiya leaders was not to the liking of notorious war criminal Mowlana Mannan’s newspaper, The Daily Inqilab, invented an anti-Islam and anti-Bangladesh conspiracy in our sympathies for the Ahmadiya victims. The daily published an editorial saying – ‘We are concerned at the Shyamnagar incidents albeit they occurred discretely in only a handful of villages, for the situation has been deliberately made confrontational overnight at a time when premeditated anti-Bangladesh propagandas at home and abroad have attained extreme proportions. The smear campaign is geared at painting Bangladesh as a terrorist country and a safe haven for the so-called Muslim militants and at inciting anti-Muslim international groups to do Bangladesh real harm. Despite repeated denials by the coalition government as well as all patriotic quarters, anti-Bangladesh cliques’ propagandas have not subsided. Rather, their diverse activities are on the rise. As part of a deep-rooted conspiracy, different countries and organizations have publicly favoured these cliques. In the absence of any evidence regarding such allegations, these vested cliques are busy making the situation seem to aggravate further. On many occasions, such acts of sabotage have become apparent, corroborating that anti-Bangladesh and anti-Muslim quarters have used the Quadianis (i.e. Ahmadiya Muslim community) to meet their evil and destructive ends for quite a long period. To be honest, the Shyamnagar incidents smack of sabotage. This is because a particular quarter has deliberately made Shyamnagar appear belligerent at a time when peace and harmony is prevailing all over the country and the government as well as patriotic quarters are busy trying to nullify the anti-Bangladesh propagandas. Not only this. The leaders of the infamous cliques rushed to the headquarters of the Quadianis in no time at all and raised a hue and cry about repressions on them (Quadianis). Concerning this issue, newspapers loyal to them made a mountain out of a molehill without any reservation whatsoever. All this gives us reasons to smell an anti-Bangladesh and anti-Muslim scheme behind the Shyamnagar incidents.’ (The Daily Inqilab, 21 April 2005)
‘If the Inqilab’s views are to be taken for granted, we have to acknowledge that the Ahmadiyas comprise a non-Muslim community. We have issued such an edict! It is we who have let Khatm-e-Nabuwat fanatics loose on the Ahmadiyas to harm the image of the government as well as that of the country!! It was at our instigation that Jamat-e-Islami extremists massacred 20,000 Ahmadiyas in Pakistan in 1953!!! The Inqilab people’s falsehood and nastiness, like those of Jamat-e-Islami, know no bounds.
‘US Ambassador Harry K Thomas went to visit the Ahmadiya Complex situated at Bakshibazar, Dhaka on 22 April in order to express sympathy for the victims. He said he would raise the issue of repression on the Ahmadiya community by religious extremists and the government’s inertia about it in the meeting of the US State Department. (The Daily Bhorer Kagoj, 24 April 2005)
‘What is going to be the next course of action for the government, which is already losing much sleep over its tainted image and that of the country? The local police have, however, accepted complaints against 13 persons including two top Khatm leaders and banned any meetings or processions in Satkhira by the organization for a month. We wonder what will happen once this ban expires after a month. Does the coalition government have the power to arrest the chiefs of the Khatm-e-Nabuwat? The answer is an emphatic ‘NO’ because they have close connections with the Jamat-e-Islami, which is a component of the government.
‘It is impossible for the government to deny the incidents of repression on the Ahmadiya community even though it has always denied incidents of repression on other ethnic and religious minorities. This is because two components of the ruling alliance, namely Jamat-e-Islami and IOJ, have been demanding for long that the Ahmadiyas be declared non-Muslim. It is because of pressures from these two parties that the government had to ban all publications of the Ahmadiya community in January 2004. The High Court has issued a ruling invalidating this ban. However, if the pictorial stories regularly appearing in almost all major dailies of the country are anything to go by, the police are being used as a force loyal to the infamous Khatm-e-Nabuwat.
‘Almost all major dailies published reports giving detailed accounts of the way Khatm zealots attacked the Ahmadiyas in Satkhira irrespective of age and sex leaving dozens of them seriously wounded, looted their possessions and ransacked their dwellings. All this happened in the presence of police and BDR (border force) personnel. The on-duty police did not prevent the assailants or arrest any of them during the attacks. What is all the more appalling is that the local police station did not entertain any complaints from the victims until 22 April (2005). Moreover, the district and police administrations made the leaders of the Ahmadiya community in Satkhira come to their headquarters, held them hostage for a few hours, intimidated them and compelled them to issue a statement saying that they had not been subjected to any kind of assault and that excellent peace and harmony were prevailing in the locality.’*
Besides inciting cruel assaults on ethnic and religious minorities including the Ahmadiya Muslim community, the coalition government has taken a terribly repressive stand against major opposition parties in general and the Awami League in particular. The precedence of the tyranny the 57-year-old party (AL) has been going through for the last five years is only to be found in the Pakistani army occupied Bangladesh in 1971. Since the coalition government’s advent to power, party thugs and known killers have been let loose on leaders and activists of the AL across the country. More than a hundred thousand AL leaders, activists and supporters were detained, thousands of AL leaders and activists including former Finance Minister Shah A M S Kibria, MP, Ahsanullah Master, MP, and central leader Ivy Rahman have been killed and thousands of AL activists and supporters permanently disabled by bomb attacks and repressions. On remand, hundreds of thousands of leaders and activists including Dr. Mahiuddin Khan Alamgir, Bahauddin Nasim, Mostofa Rashidee Suja and Principal Matiur Rahman have been tortured inhumanly.
During the tenure of the incumbent coalition government, at least 20,000 AL leaders and activists have been killed by the partisan law enforcing agencies and alliance thugs. A total of 22 persons including Ivy Rahman were killed in a deadly grenade attack on 21 August (2004). More than three hundred leaders and activists including Leader of the Opposition Sheikh Hasina were severely wounded. Ironically, following each and every attack on AL meetings that resulted in deaths, the coalition government invariably blamed it on the AL and India. As a result, successive investigations have proved farcical. The AL demanded international probes into the grenade attack of 21 August that left 22 persons dead and the grenade attack on Shah A M S Kibria’s meeting that left five persons including Kibria dead as well as into the incident of 500 bomb blasts across the country by militant fundamentalists on 17 August 2005. It is worth mentioning that Kibria was not just a politician from Bangladesh or an AL leader. He used to be a top United Nations official as well. His family also demanded a probe into his killing under the auspices of the United Nations. Different national and international human rights organizations suppor-ted their demand. However, the government has never heeded it, thereby proving that it is indeed responsible for these attacks and killings.
Baton charging AL leaders and activists, lashing out at them and arresting them with the object of frustrating each and every strike and agitation programme have become routine affairs for the police. The most inhuman of all this is the utterly indecent manner in which the police deal with female activists participating in processions. The police have got used to tearing their clothes, beating them mercilessly and arresting them in their dozens. About these female activists, former Home Minister Altaf Chowdhury once remarked – we have to identify whether they are men or women by undressing them. On 30 April, notorious war criminal and prime minister’s parliamentary advisor Salauddin Quader Chowdhury, quipped – overweight female (AL) activists who look like cushions and flour sacks have taken to the streets. These women are engaged in destructive activities at Russell Square, Bangla Motor and Zero Point. They even dare launch severe attacks on the police. (The Daily Jugantor, 1 May 2006)
Such a remark from a person of the stature of a top advisor to Prime Minister Khaleda Zia only goes to show the extent to which the coalition government’s attitudes towards and policies regarding women are compatible with the Constitution of Bangladesh and different charters of the United Nations. When a top leader of the ruling alliance can make such a vile remark about women, is it not a cry in the wilderness to expect their police force to demonstrate a semblance of decency?
Ironically, the members of the police who have persecuted women from time to time are rewarded with undue promotions instead of punishments. The many-fold increase in violence against women including rapes and acid throwing in recent times is attributable to such attitudes of the government towards women. In most cases of violence against women, the perpetrators have been let off the hook or meted out only nominal punishments. In the event of repression on minority Hindu women, the perpetrators invariably manage to get away with it and it is the victims who are harassed instead. The violation of Purnima, an adolescent girl from the district of Sirajganj, is a case in point. Perverts belonging to the ruling alliance have raped hundreds of women the last five years. The victims range from eight-year-old children to 65-year-old women. These facts notwithstanding, hardly a dozen cases have been lodged with the police.
As a matter of fact, BNP thugs gang-raped 14-year-old Purnima at Ullapara under the district of Sirajganj eight days after the general elections. When her family went to the local police station to lodge a complaint, the police refused to entertain it. Finding no alternative, they obtained a certificate from the civil surgeon and lodged a case with the magistrate’s court. Under Section 164, the magistrate recorded Purnima’s statement in which she mentioned names of 15 perpetrators. When the magistrate asked the police to arrest the culprits, only five of them were arrested. Afterwards, the local MP and other BNP leaders allured, and at the same time intimidated, the victim’s family to withdraw the case. Purnima’s family could effectively disregard all the lures and threats as local journalists, lawyers and the Nirmul Committee firmly stood by them. Subsequently, the local BNP MP filed a petition with the home ministry seeking reinvestigations into Purnima’s rape case. Pursuant to this petition, the local police reinvestigated the case and issued a fresh charge sheet accusing local journalists and lawyers as well as Nirmul Committee leaders, who had indeed come forward to provide a traumatized Purnima with necessary medical and legal assistance on sheer humanitarian grounds. The real perpetrators managed to be freed on bail. Purnima’s father outright rejected the fresh charge sheet and filed a petition three years ago seeking an immediate redress. Unfortunately, hearing on this petition has yet to start. Weakened by the physical assault of 2001, Purnima’s father died last year. Communal culprits mercilessly beat her brother so much so that he eventually lost his sight. Their family business – a barber’s shop – was razed to the ground in a series of attacks. Haplessly widowed, Purnima’s mother is now trying to find her elder daughter the job of a domestic help. Purnima is in the dark as to when hearing on her father’s petition will start or justice will prevail.
‘Fatwa’ (religious verdict) is another expression of torture on women. During the last ten years more than 300 women became victims of ‘Fatwa’ given by uneducated religious bigots in the rural areas. In most of the cases those hapless women had to commit suicide to avoid further humilation.
On 1 January 2001 a High Court Bench of Bangladesh comprised with Justice Mohammad Golam Rabbani and Justice Najmun Ara Sultana declared Fatwa illegal. In a verdict they asked the government to pass a law at the parliament in order to stop such unconstitutional acts of barbarism. The next day Mufti Fazlul Haque Aminee, a fundamentalist law maker of the qualition govt. severely critized the High Court Judgement on Fatwa and declared two Judges as ‘Murtad’ (a person eligible to be killed). Different human rights bodies condemned Aminee’s atrocious comments on the judiciary, asked govt. to take action but all went in vain. Fatwa still remains in Bangladesh as Aminee and his associates remain in power.
Notwithstanding the fact that thousands of reports and articles have appeared in the press concerning a diverse range of repressions on women committed under state patronage during the coalition government’s tenure, the situation is gradually deteriorating.
Journalists as a community are usually referred to as human rights defenders. According to observers, the kind of oppression the press and the journalist community of Bangladesh have been subjected to during the reign of the incumbent coalition government can only be compared with the brutalities unleashed by the Pakistani occupation forces in Bangladesh during the great war of liberation in 1971. As the earliest victim of state-sponsored repressions on journalists, I take the liberty to relate my ordeals.
Prime Minister Khaleda Zia has never been kind to journalists as a community. After her advent to power for the first time in 1992, she made sure journalists’ unions were split to pieces. Without providing any kind of financial benefit, her regime laid off nonconformist journalists from government-owned newspapers. I was the earliest victim during the first tenure of Madam Zia. Thanks to my involvement in the movement for the trial of heinous war criminal Golam Azam in the People’s Court, I was put in the dock on charges of sedition. As the lawsuit did not quite go in favour of the government, I was instantly dismissed from the post of Executive Editor of Bichitra, a widely circulated news weekly. Subsequently, more than a dozen prominent journalists including editor of the ‘Dainik Bangla’, Toab Khan, were dismissed. No termination benefits were provided to them.
After coming to power for the second time in October 2001 by forging alliance with the anti-liberation Jamat-e-Islami party, Madam Zia’s regime got me arrested and sent to prison before anybody else. I was charged with visiting India and video-recording interviews of the members of the Hindu community who were forced to desert their homes and hearths in Bangladesh and migrate to India on account of the state-sponsored repressions on them. I was further charged with telling the BBC in my interview about repressions on minority ethnic and religious communities. The coalition government turned my professional duties to sedition charges.
The government has categorically denied the incidents of repression on minorities since it assumed power. Leaders of the coalition government including Prime Minister Khaleda Zia and her cabinet denounced reports of repressions on minorities that appeared in different newspapers as ‘fabricated’ and ‘exaggerated’. They even christened those reports ‘drama staged by the Opposition’. After I was arrested, their desperation to hide the incidents of repression boomeranged. While demanding my release, different international organizations of journalists as well as human rights organizations expressed deep concerns at the repression on minorities. Journalists from many western countries came to visit Bangladesh to explore the condition of the minorities. Having ignored all the threats from the coalition government, the newspapers of the country made their mark in upholding the truth. Reports of such internationally acclaimed human rights organizations as the ‘Amnesty International’ and the ‘Human Rights Watch’ as well as the country reports of United Nations Human Rights Commission and the State Department of the USA accounted for the repressions on minorities and the flagrant violations of human rights in Bangladesh. These reports only went to show that most of the national dailies of Bangladesh not only alerted the countrymen by unfolding the picture of state-sponsored repression on minorities but also played a significant part in forming public opinions at international levels.
The purpose of newspapers publishing reports on such social disasters like communal repressions and human rights abuse is to alert the countrymen as well as the government so that it may take prompt measures to control and combat the disasters. However, the ruling alliance regards newspapers as its ‘enemies’ since they publish reports on a diverse range of state-sponsored attacks on minority Hindus that are aimed at ridding the country of the minorities. Unfortunately, there was nobody other than newspapers to stand by the victims of repressions this time around even though progressive political parties of the country had played significant roles in resisting such social disasters at other times. Were it not for the inertia of the non-communalist, progressive political parties, communal repressions would not continue unabated till date.
When the rise of extremism and communal repressions in Bangladesh received extensive media coverage in the West, the coalition government strongly protested it and brought charges of preaching falsehood against the concerned media. Journalists Zaiba Malik and Bruno Sorentino – British and Italian nationals respectively – came to visit Bangladesh in November 2002 in order to make a documentary film for BBC Channel 4. The government got them arrested on charges of hiding their identities. Along with the duo, journalists Selim Samad, Priscilla Raj and I were also arrested. Afterwards, journalist Enamul Kabir Chowdhury of BSS and eminent columnist Muntasir Mamoon were arrested in connection with bomb blasts in Mymensingh. Upon our release on bail, we apprised the countrymen of the inhuman physical and mental tortures we had been subjected to while under detention.
By reporting incidents of government-sponsored repressions, killings, corruption and terrorism, the journalist community as a whole incurred the wrath of the coalition government. However, journalists from remote areas suffered much worse than their counterparts in Dhaka. Culprits belonging to the ruling alliance have so far killed more than a dozen journalists and physically tortured as many as 800, many of whom have served prison terms on false charges. Some others have been forced to leave the country. A total of 50 journalists and employees of the government-owned news agency BSS including its Editor-in-Chief, Harun Habib, were sacked just because they were not loyal to the ruling alliance. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) – an international organization for promoting journalists’ rights and security – and the International Federation of Journalists have singled out Bangladesh as the most perilous and hazardous country for journalists. In February 2003, a panel of top CPJ officials visited Bangladesh to investigate the reported incidents of communal repression, talked to the victims and prepared their reports. The CPJ team was subjected to unwanted harassments by the Intelligence wing of the coalition government.
After my release in January 2002, I told a press conference: I have just graduated from a tiny prison cell to a bigger one. As in the case of a prisoner, I am closely kept watch on even after my release. Intelligence agents keep my house under strict surveillance, follow me like my shadow, tap my phone and censor my online correspondences in flagrant violation of the basic human rights as enshrined in the Constitution. Alliance terrorists have attempted to kill me more than once, not to speak of the threats and abuses in black and white and over telephone. After being repeatedly threatened with dire consequences in 2003, I went to the local police station and the police refused point blank to entertain my complaint. Afterwards, I lodged a lawsuit with the court, which directed the police to entertain my complaint and initiate an investigation into the incident, but to no avail.
Being on bail in two different cases, I have to go to the court every month. With one of my legs broken for the last one and a half years, I have to climb the stairs of the lower courts with the support of my crutch. For hours on end, I have to wait there with murderers, thieves and burglars to let my attendance be known and to know the next date of reporting. For the last four and a half years, I have been forced to go to the court and this is how I have been disciplined. The irony is that the government could not issue a charge sheet against me in all these years. The cases have yet to begin. Nonetheless, I have to go through all this. The coalition government is literally toeing the line of the vindictive queen of Hearts in Lewis Carroll’s legendary novel Alice in Wonderland wherein she asserts that punishment should precede trial.
The cruel attacks by the police on on-duty photojournalists in a Chittagong stadium on 16 April (2006) constitute yet another example of the coalition government’s spiteful attitude towards the journalist community. Without any provocation whatsoever, on-duty policemen led by Deputy Commissioner (Port) Ali Akbar Khan kicked and punched the journalists and mercilessly beat them with rifle butts. Eyewitnesses compared the incident with the mayhem perpetrated by the Pakistani occupation forces in ’71.
The account of the incident as given by ruthlessly beaten elderly photojournalist Alhaj Zahirul Haque, currently correspondent of the Kolkata daily ‘Aajkal’, is liable to make any conscientious individual feel seriously aggrieved and upset. Haque said, ‘…Ali Akbar Khan along with 25 to 30 policemen was entering the stadium, abusing journalists in the most obscene of languages. Standing beside Deputy Commissioner (Reserve) Humayun, I requested Khan not to abuse us and told him that both Humayun and the Commissioner had taken it upon themselves to settle the dispute but violent Khan said: you son of a bitch. I don’t compromise with journalists. As he said this, he started punching me hard. Disregarding Humayun’s repeated appeals, he kept on beating me until I collapsed on the ground. As a photojournalist of the Daily Purbokon rushed to save me, a policeman hit his head with his rifle butt leaving it badly fractured. While Khan was beating me, his contingent encircled the other journalists and beat them mercilessly. Khan’s punches damaged my teeth and his kicks hurt my ribs. At one stage, he made an attempt to strangle me when two journalists accompanying the Australian cricket team and an official of Ten Sports grabbed me, screamed at the top of their voice and pulled him (Khan) away. Only God knows what would otherwise have happened to me. I saw the policemen swooping on the journalists in an unprecedented frenzy of madness and beating them mercilessly with rifle butts. With the intent of saving themselves, some of the journalists rushed to the tent of cricketer Ricky Ponting and his teammates, but to no avail. Fellow journalists came to our rescue and took us to Chittagong Royal Hospital. The Chittagong Union of Journalists, Chittagong Metropolitan Union of Journalists, Chittagong Press Club, Reporters’ Unity and the journalists’ community as a whole strongly condemned this barbaric attack and took a resolve not to cover the game until and unless exemplary punishment is meted out to Khan and his colleagues. My eyes and chest being badly affected, doctors advised me to go abroad for better treatment as soon as possible. I have been a journalist for more than 45 years since the Pakistan period. I have taken pictures of countless incidents, both political and otherwise, and witnessed numerous struggles. However, never before have I seen policemen swooping like this on on-duty journalists without any provocation whatsoever. Such an attack on journalists is unprecedented inasmuch as it is horrific. The Chittagong incident only reminds us of the cruelties unleashed by the Pakistani forces in 1971.’ (The Daily Jugantor, 18 April 2006).
The following day, various dailies published detailed reports on the nefarious activities of police officer Ali Akbar Khan. A Jugantor report captioned ‘Billionaire police officer Ali Akbar Khan’ reads, ‘The audacity of Ali Akbar Khan, Deputy Commissioner (Port) of Chittagong Metropolitan Police, who unleashed medieval savageries on journalists, has created quite a stir in the police administration and elsewhere. He compares only with Kohinoor Mia, Deputy Commissioner (North) of Dhaka Metropolitan Police, who earned quite a name as a ruthless pro-BNP police officer by virtue of a plethora of unlawful activities. The coalition government has simultaneously rewarded both of them with undue promotions for their innate ability to vandalize peaceful processions and gatherings and to mercilessly beat anyone anytime…
‘There are thousands of allegations of irregularities and corruption against notorious police officer Khan, who desecrated the stadium and unleashed savage attacks on on-duty journalists without the approval of the Commissioner of the metropolitan police and the higher police authorities. In a very short span of time, he has been in possession of huge properties and an enormous sum of money. His subordinates have to pay him a certain amount of money on a regular basis to escape his wrath.
‘It is alleged that Ali Akbar Khan used to be an armed hoodlum belonging to JCD – the student wing of the ruling BNP – during his student career. He hails from the district of Chandpur and his wife from Comilla. He joined Bangladesh Police as Sub-Inspector in 1992. The BNP being in power, he inflicted brutalities on leaders and activists of the Opposition AL and afterwards left the job at the instance of a top female BNP leader. Later in 1995, he was appointed in the Police cadre as Assistant Commissioner after being shown successful in the 15th Bangladesh Civil Service recruitment test. He was posted first in the Riot Control Department. While serving as ADC in Dhaka, he earned quite a name by mercilessly beating AL parliament member Sohel Taj, son of former Prime Minister Tajuddin Ahmed, at Dhanmondi in 2002. Khan’s presence in any AL procession or gathering in Dhaka is tantamount to ruthless baton charging and merciless beating. Having promoted him as a reward for all this, the BNP-Jamat coalition government appointed him Deputy Commissioner (Traffic) in Chittagong Metropolitan Police.’ (The Daily Jugantor, 18 April 2006)
In the wake of intense public reaction against the 16 April police action on journalists in Chittagong, state minister for home affairs Lutfozzaman Babar expressed his regrets, suspended the responsible sergeant and closed Khan. A probe committee has been constituted. However, if our past experience is any guide, closed police officer Khan, like his colleague Kohinoor Mia, will be rewarded with further promotions so that he may feel doubly encouraged to swoop on political opponents. No matter how strongly the journalist community demands his punishment, nothing will happen to him.
The 16 April barbaric action on journalists in Chittagong is part of the ruling alliance’s plot to tarnish the image of Bangladesh through terrorism, murder, repression and corruption. On-duty photojournalists have repeatedly been beaten and harassed by the police during the tenure of four party alliance. On numerous occasions, the police have confiscated their films, broken their cameras, arrested them and beaten them on remand. The police are aware of the government’s attitude towards journalists. The crueller a policeman can be, the greater is his reward.
Newspapers are called the fourth pillar of the state. When a single pillar of the state is shaky, it cannot be an effective state. One of the main components of the coalition government is Jamat-e-Islami, which was bent on strangling Bangladesh during the country’s birth in 1971, when it was defeated. Since the BNP-Jamat alliance came to power in 2001, the leaders of the party have turned desperate in their bid to avenge the defeat in ’71. Their only goal is to turn Bangladesh into an ineffective, failed state. If it were not for the writings of the journalists, none would have the scope to learn about the evil deeds of Jamat-e-Islami including rape and genocide during the war of liberation. As long as the Khaleda-Nizami coalition government remains in power, the journalist community can in no way escape their wrath.
The image of Bangladesh has suffered serious setbacks due more to the extra-judicial killings by the coalition government than to repressions on opposition political parties, intellectuals subscribing to divergent ideologies, professionals and women. In the name of countering terrorism, ‘Operation Clean Heart’ was launched in 2002. About this operation, I wrote – ‘In spite of the fact that several thousand people have already been arrested in the military operation that got underway on 16 October 2002 in the name of countering terrorism, none of the blacklisted top terrorists have been nabbed yet. True, the 30,000-strong force has recovered some arms and detained a few petty terrorists, but the way they are conducting themselves during crackdowns is akin to gross violation of the Constitution.
‘By virtue of its utterly repressive measures against opposition political parties, religious minorities, freedom fighters and employees of different government, semi-government and autonomous organizations believing in the spirit of the liberation war, the fundamentalist, war-criminals-infested coalition government has already set an example of state-sponsored terrorism. The fact that the government has all along denied all this has only served to doubly encourage the real terrorists to continue their misdeeds.
‘Every citizen feels aggrieved at the way the administration has been turned into a tool for harassment; innocent people are being arrested under Section 54 and tortured on remand and the directives of the higher courts and taken no notice of. In her televised speech marking the coalition government’s completion of one year in office, Prime Minister Khaleda Zia repeatedly made mention of a deluge of development and blamed all sorts of political terrorism on the main Opposition. After the prime minister had claimed prevalence of ‘good governance’ it was hardly one week when she deployed as big as a 30,000-strong army contingent across the country in order to nab terrorists, keeping the civil administration in the dark, without declaring an emergency or discussing it in the parliament. By deploying army, the prime minister has proved that 1) the civil administration has drastically failed to contain the sliding law and order situation, and/or 2) she has little or no confidence in the civil administration. Such no confidence in the parliament and the civil administration only serves to create grounds for military rule.
‘Constitutional experts termed such a military operation ultravires of the Constitution. It was apparent from the reports published in various national dailies that neither the Constitution nor criminal legislations were abided by in such operations. The glimpses of post-arrest tortures and killings in custody that appeared in newspapers were enough to annoy the intentional community leading to a further deterioration of the already tainted image of the country.
‘Saber Hossain Chowdhury, former state minister and former prime minister Sheikh Hasina’s political secretary, who is otherwise recognized as a thorough gentleman in the political arena, was arrested without warrant and detained for 17 hours in army custody before being handed over to police. Opposition lawmaker and former minister Sheikh Fazlul Karim Selim MP was arrested in the same manner. Sheikh Selim has questioned in the court the validity of his arrest under Section 54 and his stay on remand for three days. Newspaper reports over the last one year and the ongoing military operation stand testimony to the fact that the Khaleda-Nizami coalition government has utterly failed to contain terrorism, though they came to power pledging to root it out. It was told that the military was deployed to aid the civil administration. However, the conduct of army personnel during operations falls far short of that objective. Contrarily, newspapers published reports saying that a police sergeant was humiliated for not saluting a junior army officer. [The Daily Sangbad, 23 October 2002] Army personnel are neither abiding by the Constitution nor adhering to criminal legislations in such operations.
‘The third part of the country’s Constitution contains 23 articles pertaining to fundamental rights. Some of these articles have more than one section. Article 35 pertains to protection in respect of trial and punishment. Article 35(4) reads ‘No person accused of any offence shall be compelled to be a witness against himself.’ Article 35(5) reads ‘No person shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment or treatment.’
‘Torturing accused persons in police custody or on remand is nothing new in Bangladesh. However, since coming to power in 2001, the coalition government has broken all past records in this respect. Notwithstanding, in the last one week of military operation, the army has broken one year’s record of torture and harassment by the police. The caption of the lead story of the 24 October issue of the Daily Janakantha reads ‘Another one dies in Gaibandha: toll rises to 7 in 7 days’. Torture and death in army custody has added a new dimension to state-sponsored terrorism during the tenure of the Khaleda-Nizami coalition government.
‘Family members of most of the victims of military persecutions have alleged that their deaths were due to tortures in custody. The death of BNP leader Ratan Molla from Gopalganj is a case in point. Besides his family members, the local civil surgeon has also attributed his death to brutal tortures in army custody. Regarding the death of one Afzal, the 23 October issue of the Daily Sangbad published a report which goes – ‘The death of Afzal Hossian (30) from Savar was due to ruthless tortures. The post-mortem report prepared in presence of the local UNO (administrative head) singled out torture as the cause of death. According to police and family sources, army personnel apprehended Afzal at noon on Monday. He was tortured mercilessly in custody and died at night. After the army men informed Savar Police Station of the incident, the police recovered the corpse the same night.
‘The postmortem report says that the corpse was recovered from the mortuary of Savar Cantonment Hospital at quarter past 3 on Monday night. There is a wound beneath his left shoulder. On his right arm is a mark of wound and tying with ropes. Just underneath his knee is another severe wound, a bloodstained fracture.
‘According to sources in the Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH) morgue, marks of torture were evident all over Afzal’s body. Both his legs from knee down were badly scratched. His autopsy was conducted at the DMCH morgue on Monday morning in presence of officials from Savar Police Station.
‘A physician from the forensic department attributed his death to violent tortures in custody.
‘No matter how resolutely the family members of the victims, the civil administration or forensic experts speak of tortures, army personnel have kept insisting that the detainees are never tortured and their deaths are due to cardiac arrests.
‘Cardiac failures’ are not akin to unnatural deaths. A person may die of cardiac arrest even when s/he is not taken to army custody. However, under no circumstances can it be referred to as a natural death when somebody is cold-bloodedly tortured and killed. ‘Deaths in custody’ and ‘killings in custody’ are not synonymous. Killings in custody constitute the most appalling violation of human rights, whose precedence has been set in the on-going military operation. The remarks of the government as well as army spokesmen regarding persecutions in custody have long lost all credibility.
‘We have said in the past and we affirm once again that no government has the right to get the army or the police to torture any accused in custody regardless of the nature of offence or party affiliations. Killings in custody are the most grievous of human rights violations. The Constitution of Bangladesh steadfastly prohibits such killings. According to newspaper reports, some of the victims, after being arrested, were so badly tortured that even the police refused to accept them. The family members of deceased Gopalganj BNP leader and freedom fighter Abul Khair Ratan Molla have alleged that army men tortured him to death and the local civil surgeon also has corroborated the allegation. The news of inhuman repression suffered by Khulna Awami League leader and former lawmaker Mostofa Rasheedee Suja while in army custody also appeared in newspapers. [The Daily Janakantha, 20 October 2002)
‘Apart from reports on killings in custody, newspapers are awash with news of a plethora of physical agonies suffered by detainees while in army custody, of people being arrested and detained without any warrants, and valuables being seized without any confiscation orders. Can the concerned army officers cite a law under which all this is being done? Dare they establish that they are not accountable to anyone for all the unconstitutional activities carried out by army personnel and that they are above all the laws of the land? The motive of the Khaleda-Nizami coalition government behind its endeavour to lock the army and the civil administration and the general people in a clash is becoming apparent day by day.’*
Operation Clean Heart lasted 86 days. A total of 53 people were killed in army custody and more than seven thousand physically tormented during that time. Many of those injured have been permanently disabled. The coalition government has exonerated those responsible for these killings and tortures. Consequently, justice will always remain a far cry for the victims and their family members. Not only should Prime Minister Khaleda Zia be tried in the domestic court of law but she may also be subjected to trial in the International Criminal Court for the crime she has committed by relieving the military perpetrators of the charges of killing.
Based on the experience of Operation Clean Heart, the coalition government later formed such killer agencies as ‘Rapid Action Battalion’ (RAB), ‘Cheetah’ and ‘Cobra’, taking both army and police personnel on board. Prior to World War II, Fascist Mussolini and Nazi leader Hitler brought into being such killer agencies as ‘Black Shirt’, ‘Brown Shirt’ and ‘Gestapo’ with a view to suppressing any opposition that came their way. Ironically, ages later, political ruffians belonging to four party alliances in Bangladesh are toeing the same old Nazi line.
Interestingly, RAB has christened killings in custody ‘crossfire’. Every time, someone is targeted and killed, a story is fabricated and the death is attributed to crossfire between RAB people and the victim’s accomplices. Such killings are not confined to leaders and activists of opposition political parties. True, the government has occasionally got some petty terrorists arrested in the wake of major terrorist incidents, e.g. grenade attacks and bomb blasts. These petty terrorists – some belonging to the ruling alliance – are being shot to death in the name of crossfire, lest they might divulge the names of the real perpetrators behind the screen. The principal witness to the murder of Awami League lawmaker Ahsanullah Master has been killed ‘in crossfire’. RAB has killed the accused in the murder of journalist Manik Saha even before the trial began. A number of petty terrorists have been killed in connection with the huge arms haul in the Chittagong port. As eyewash, a few notorious criminals have also been killed ‘in crossfire’. From the founding of RAB on 26 June 2004 till 30 September 2006, at least 600 people were killed ‘in crossfire’ and more than a thousand badly injured in physical tortures. The fact that the stories of RAB regarding ‘deaths in crossfire’ are fabricated has become evident from the alliance leaders’ unrestrained remarks. On countless occasions, leaders of the ruling alliance have publicly said that political opponents will be annihilated through the trick of ‘crossfire’. None other than the prime minister’s parliamentary advisor Salauddin Quader Chowdhury, in a meeting on 30 April (2006), directed 263 leaders and activists of Fatikchari (Chittagong) Awami League to shun their political ideology and tread siratul mustakim (i.e. the straight path) by 31 May. Or else, he threatened, their days were numbered as they were on the ‘crossfire’ list of RAB. [The Daily Prothom Alo, 1 May 2006]
The common saga of RAB’s crossfire goes: when RAB men took the arrestee someplace to recover arms, his accomplices opened fire on them, thereby prompting them to retaliate in self defence and the arrestee was killed in ‘crossfire’. Chowdhury’s remarks only substantiate that the saga regarding RAB’s ‘crossfire’ is fabricated at best. He has apparently acknowledged that those who are killed in the so-called ‘crossfire’ are actually targeted beforehand.
There were no cases filed with the police against most of the Awami League leaders and activists who were branded as ‘terrorists’ and killed in ‘crossfire’. Despite repeated appeals from international human rights watchdogs to stop such extra-judicial killings, the coalition government has continued to allow these to happen. Besides, by awarding the ‘Independence Award’ (2006) to RAB, the government has encouraged the killer agency to continue killings and repressions at an even faster pace.
Since coming to power, the coalition government has created a reign of killings and tortures and none from top political leaders, intellectuals and professionals to workers from factories and peasants from the village – has been spared. In an attempt to propitiate foreign masters and hold on to power, the coalition government has shut down hundreds of mills and factories including the Adamjee Jute Mills, thereby pushing thousands of workers on the verge of vagrancy. Farmers are being shot and killed like birds while demanding supply of fertilizers, power and irrigation. Hundreds of workers are meeting tragic deaths from fires in factories and building collapses. The coalition government is least concerned about all this.
The May Day (2006) issue of the Daily Bhorer Kagoj published a report under the banner headline Four-fifth of the 45-million-strong labour force outside the purview of the Labour Law saying that more than 500 workers were killed and more than two thousand injured and disabled only in the garments sector during the tenure of the coalition government. It seems that the costliest things are essentials and the cheapest human lives during the reign of Khaleda Zia and Motiur Rahman Nizami.
In a country where human lives have little or no value at all, demanding basic human rights and dignity is a cry in the wilderness. Although the demand for an independent human rights commission as well as separation of judiciary from the executive has gained momentum at home and abroad, the government has turned a deaf ear to it.
Various international human rights watchdogs including the Amnesty International have repeatedly urged the government to improve the country’s human rights situation, but to no avail. Way back in December 2002, Prime Minister Khaleda Zia promised Amnesty supremo Irene J Khan that a commission would be constituted to investigate the incidents of repression on religious minorities. Ironically, the promise has yet to be materialized and the repression continues unabated.
Anti-liberation Jamat-e-Islami has got a share of power thanks to the power-hungry ruling BNP. The former is squarely to blame for the genocide, rape and all sorts of vandalism committed during Bangladesh’s war of liberation in 1971. The state has failed to try top Jamat leaders charged with war crimes in ’71. Unless those responsible for genocide are brought to justice, they will, in all likelihood, feel tempted to continue killing people. In Jamat’s vocabulary, ‘genocide’ is only an ordinary word that does not invoke much awe. The culture of exoneration of killers and tyrants in Bangladesh traces its root to the failure of the state to try the perpetrators of the ’71 genocide. As a consequence, it was possible to pass the Indemnity Ordinance, which was aimed at saving the killers of the nation’s founder Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. For the same reason, four top national leaders who had played pivotal role in the country’s war of liberation were brutally killed in government custody inside the prison and the killers easily got away with it. So long as the killers and perpetrators continue to be relieved of the charges, killing and torture will continue to be on the rise day by day.
With the coalition government in power, it will be virtually impossible to arrest the trend of deterioration of the human rights situation in Bangladesh.
We have demanded from time to time that the real perpetrators both inside and outside the administration, and not the state or the government as a whole, be identified and brought to book, if incidents of human rights violation including killing and torture were to be brought to an end. Compensations for the victims have to be realized from the perpetrators. If the state or the government takes it upon itself to compensate the victims, field-level offenders’ conducts and attitudes are least likely to change. perpetrators from top to bottom of the administration should be brought to book.
As the 9th parliament election is near by both religious and ethnic minorities are apprehending more persecution than what we had witnessed during the last election. Repression, mass-arrest and torture on oppositions’ meetings and demonstrations are increasing alarmingly. Even members of the parliament are not spared from swooping of police. When constitutional ways and means of political agitation is barred with terrorism, unconstitutional form takes its own course.
Four Party Alliance (FPA) government has completed all preparations to manipulate next election in order to ensure its victory. A strange voter list was published by the most controversial election commission, which included a few million ghost names excluding almost the same number of genuine voters, mostly belong to minority communities and secular democrats. Nearly hundred thousand Rohinga refugees’ names are included in the voter list, that reported in national dailies. Most of the political parties demanded to form a new election commission comprised with neutral persons and reform the system of ‘Care-taker Government’, till now FPA Govt. has not taken it seriously.
The European Union and NDI already expressed dissatisfaction on performance of the election commission and overall political atmosphere. Strong obstinacy of the FPA Govt. leading Bangladesh towards a civil war and Islamic militant organizations are counting days to take advantage of that situation. We apprehend killing, abduction and repression on free thinkers, activists of opposition parties and members of minority communities will increase much more than we witnessed in the past. Before it is too late human rights defenders of this planet should come forward to protect human lives and humane values.
Forum for Secular Bangladesh
South Asian People’s Union against Fundamentalism & Communalism