Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Hasina, the ODI and human rights in Bangladesh

Is the reputable, and supposedly independent, Overseas Development Institute helping the Bangladesh government to enforce here in London the draconian restrictions that journalists experience in Bangladesh?

And is it, in light of how ODI dealt with a question from a Channel Four News journalist at the meeting itself, protecting the prime minister from having to respond to tough questions?

It certainly appears so.

ODI Vetting?
When I applied a week ago to attend the ODI event at which Sheikh Hasina, the Bangladesh Prime Minister, was due to speak. I got a very welcoming response. from Ben Tritton, the event organiser. "We'd be delighted to welcome you to ODI" he said. 

So I was rather astonished to receive an e-mail on Monday morning, the day before the talk, disinviting me from the event.
"Apologies but over the weekend we have received a large number of high level responses and this event is highly over-subscribed. We will therefore be unfortunately not able to welcome you to the event"
This seemed rather odd and I therefore immediately responded with this e-mail
"Could you please clarify whether you have allowed the Bangladesh delegation/government/representatives to vet the list of those who can attend the talk."
I received no response. 

On Tuesday, the morning of the talk, I called Mr Tritton and asked him why I had been disinvited. He kept me holding for about a minute and then repeated what he has written in his e-mail. I asked him how many people, like me, had been disinvited and he said 15 people

I then asked him the same question I had earlier e-mailed - about whether he allowed the Bangladesh government or representatives to vet the list of those who could attend the talk. If the ODI had not allowed vetting, one would have expected the answer to be a direct "No." Indeed one would have expected an independent think-tank to immediately respond in this way. However, he said:
"I am afraid I cant comment at all on that"
This is as close to a confirmation as you will ever get without the ODI saying "yes". If they hadn't allowed the Bangladesh government an ability to vet the invite list, the ODI would surely have just denied it.

In Bangladesh, media censorship has become increasingly restrictive. The government refuse to allow journalists from certain independent newspapers to attend government press conferences; the military intelligence agency has ordered large companies not to advertise in two major newspaper's reducing their advertising income by over one third; the prime minister has denounced a newspaper editor for publishing stories that were seeking to "destroy the country.” Government party activists have filed dozens of criminal cases against the same newspaper editor; dozens of journalists and editors have been arrested under the vague and arbitrary Information, Communication, Technology and Communication Act; and there is a high degree of censorship and - rather obviously - self-censorship. Televsion is particularly controlled.

The ODI must know about all this so why would it participate in apparently allowing the Bangladesh government to dictate who could and could not come to the meeting?

Channel Four News*
In addition, of course, and more significantly, the ODI did everything to prevent Channel Four News to ask a difficult question to Sheikh Hasina about human rights issues in Bangladesh. 

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Boris Johnson and British man secretly detained in Bangladesh

When late last year, the UK foreign minister Boris Johnson visited Iran, a country at the centre of various military conflicts and diplomatic controversies, the only issue that concerned the British media was his conversations with the Iranian government about Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a british-Iranian woman convicted on trumped up charges of plotting to “topple the regime”.

The dual British-Iranian national, initially detained in April 2016 as she sought to return with her daughter back to london following a family holiday, is now languishing in a Tehran jail after she was sentenced for five years.

Boris Johnson arrived in Bangladesh on Friday, but it looks like that the release of a British-Bangladeshi man who was picked up by law enforcement authorities in July 2016, and has been secretly detained ever since, was not on his agenda.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Tulip Siddiq, her mother and links to the Awami League

Tulip Siddiq in parliament
The failure of Tulip Siddiq, the West Hampstead and Kilburn labour Member of parliament, to help seek the release of those secretly detained and disappeared in Bangladesh, a country ruled by her family members, including her Aunt, the prime minister, has resulted in sharp criticism from her normally loyal local newspaper.

In a by-lined article in the December 2017 edition of the Ham and High, the editor states that a Channel Four News program, “raises questions as to exactly how deep her political involvement with her family really goes” and that the MP appears to have “misled” her and her readers in claiming that she has no political contact with her Aunt, the prime minister of Bangladesh.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Released ‘Secret Detainees’ in Bangladesh

A cartoon on secret detentions in Bangladesh. Credit: credit Mehedi Haque/The New Age
A cartoon on secret detentions in Bangladesh. Credit: Mehedi Haque/The New Age

The Bangladesh government has blocked The - and so am publishing this recent article to make it available to those in Bangladesh (until of course this website is blocked!)
- read the article that caused the blocking
- read about the government's blocking of The Wire

We Shouldn’t Expect Released ‘Secret Detainees’ in Bangladesh to Talk About What Happened

Three men recently released have denied that they were in law enforcement custody. That’s not surprising, given the threats and intimidation involved.
Representative image of Bangladesh police. Credit: Reuters/Adnan Abidi
Representative image of Bangladesh police. Credit: Reuters/Adnan Abidi
Last week, academic Mubashar Hasan, allegedly held in secret detention by Bangladesh’s military intelligence agency for 44 days, was released blindfolded onto the streets of Dhaka. This followed the release a day earlier of journalist Utpal Das, also believed to have been in secret custody for over two months. In the same week, another disappeared man, Aminur Rahman, was also ‘released’, again apparently from secret detention, though this time he was brought to court and ordered back into state custody after police accused him of involvement in a bomb attack.

Bangladesh Government Blocks The Wire

Following this article, the Bangladesh government blocked the Indian news website The Wire.

Bangladesh Government Blocks The Wire

The move came after The Wire published an article on the role of Bangladesh’s military intelligence agency in the illegal pick-up and detention of academic Mubashar Hasan.

Academic Mubashar Hasan. Credit: Twitter
Academic Mubashar Hasan. Credit: Twitter
The Bangladesh government has ordered the blocking of internet access to The Wire a day after it published an article on the role of the country’s military intelligence agency in the illegal pick-up and secret detention of the university academic Mubashar Hasan.
On Thursday, the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) e-mailed all international internet gateway (IIG) operators ordering them to “block the domain …”
The instruction stated that this requirement was “urgent” and that “the commission will take necessary steps  against those IIGs who will not comply with the instructions of BTRC.” (sic)

The article blocked by the Bangladesh government

The academic, Mubashar Hasan has now been released, but a month ago, the Bangladesh government blocked the website The Wire, a day after this article was published.

Bangladesh Academic Mubashar Hasan “Held by Military Intelligence Agency”

Academic Mubashar Hasan. Credit: Twitter
Academic Mubashar Hasan. Credit: Twitter
Bangladesh’s military intelligence agency, the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI), is secretly detaining academic Mubashar Hasan, security and political sources have told The Wire.
According to the sources, the DGFI picked up Hasan, who works as an assistant professor at North South University (NSU) in Dhaka, soon after he attended a meeting at the United Nations headquarters in the city on November 7.
This information, which contradicts pro-government media who have sought to portray Hasan as a ‘militant’ who went into hiding, confirms the fear widely held by his colleagues and friends that he had become another victim of the increasingly widespread practice in Bangladesh of “enforced disappearances”.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Disappearances since 2016 - the men subsequently killed

Below are the details of 28 people picked up by Bangladesh law enforcement authorities since 2016, secretly detained for different periods of time, and then subsequently killed.

To see the main page on disappearances, and see the list of those who remain missing since 2016, click here.

The information below is based on information from the human rights organisation Odhikar direct interviews with families as well as media news reports.

Out of over 90 reported disappearances in 2016, 21 people were subsequently killed (12 of them being opposition Jamaat-e-Islami activists). The information about these 21 people was first published in the recent HRW report

Out of over 80 reported disappearances in 2017, 7 people were subsequently killed

These figures do not include examples of militants allegedly picked up and allegedly killed - in cases like this. These are allegedly widespread, but are difficult to verify.

If you have any further information on these or other enforced disappearances in Bangladesh, please e-mail Bangladesh Politico

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Disappearances in last two years - the men still missing

Updated: January 22, 2018

Disappearing people has now become a well known practice undertaken by Bangladesh law enforcement agencies - a systematic technique by which a person is secretly detained for varying periods of time totally outside the law, their whereabouts unknown with the state denying any knowledge of the person.

After spending a period of time in secret detention - usually weeks or months - there are four possible outcomes:
  • the person is killed. In 2016, out of over 90 disappeared, 21 were killed; In 2017, out of about 80 disappeared, 7 so far have been killed
  • the person is simply released on the streets. This happens, but it unusual
  • the person is taken to the court and 'formally arrested' with the police concocting a story that they were arrested the previous day. They are then, "legally", sent to jail. This is what happens to most people.
  • the person remains disappeared. In 2016, out of over 90 disappeared, 8 remain missing; In 2017, out of about 80 disappeared, 17 remain missing
The people picked up and secretly detained fall into a number of categories of people. There are:

- those that are linked to opposition politics, sometimes at a senior level;

- those the authorities suspect, rightly or wrongly, are involved in militancy in some way;

- those who for one political reason or the other, it is useful for the state to secretly detain;

- those involved in conflict within the Awami League;

- those involved in other kinds of private conflicts where one of the parties to the conflict has the power to obtain the use of a law enforcement agency to do his bidding;

The pick ups are primarily undertaken by the Detective Branch of the Police, the Counter Terrorism Unit (which has emerged out of the DB), or by the para-military organisation, the Rapid Action Battalion - though RAB's involvement seems to be declining in recent years. The ordinary police are also involved, as are sometimes the country's intelligence agencies in particular the country's military intelligence agency, DGFI.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Inter-parliamentary union in Dhaka: Is this really going on?

Prime minister meets with speakers of 19 ipu member states
One must have more than a sneaking regard for how the Awami League government has managed to persuade the Inter-Parliamentary Union to host its assembly in Bangladesh this week with more than 650 MPs from 132 countries apparently attending.

The IPU may not have a high threshold of standards for membership, but one would expect - or at least hope - that since the organisation’s constitution suggests it is concerned about ‘representative institutions’ it would scrutinise the parliaments of the countries which sought to host its assemblies.

Well, in relation to Bangladesh, it seems it did not.

At the last election, in 2014, a majority of the parliamentary seats were uncontested and the remaining ones remained mostly uncompetitive. Even though polls showed that a free and fair election would have resulted in a close contest, possibly with the BNP alliance winning, just about every seat went to a member of the Awami League or its alliance of parties.

Not quite so representative.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

UN's 14 key demands on Bangladesh government human rights record

The United Nations Human Rights Committee - which assesses state parties' compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights - published its report on Tuesday setting out its observations on Bangladesh government 's compliance with the convention.

This report followed the government providing to the committee written and oral evidence of its claimed compliance.

Below are 14 key demands made by the committee along with extracts of what the committee stated.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Bangladesh government at the UN Human Rights Committee

Anisul Huq, the Bangladesh Law Minister, responding to
questions at the UN Human Rights Committee
17 years ago, in September 2000, Bangladesh's Awami League government ratified the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Under the treaty, within a year, the government was required to provide the UN Human Rights Committee a report on its compliance. But it failed to do so, as did the subsequent BNP 2001– 2006 government, the 2007 to 2008 emergency caretaker government and the 2009 to 2014 Awami League government.

A year into its new term of office, and 15 years after the initial ratification, the Awami League government did finally submit its first report which earlier this month came up for consideration before the Human Rights Committee.

Though the Committee has no teeth, it was nonetheless refreshing to see the committee put the Bangladesh government though its paces on two separate days - something which one does not see much of these days inside Bangladesh, as the country has a parliament without a proper opposition, and an increasingly restricted (and nationalist) media unwilling (or unable) to ask hard and concerted questions.

So what did we learn from the law minister, Anisul Huq, who represented the government in Geneva? Here are my 8 most notable inaccuracies – other people will no doubt find others - along with four other interesting government comments.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Daily Star, Padma Bridge and Canada's Federal court

Over a month ago, the Daily Star published a front page news article on a Canadian court decision dealing with the admissibility of wiretap evidence in a trial involving three men alleged to have been involved in a conspiracy to corrupt a Padma bridge consultancy contract.

The Daily Star is one of Bangladesh's great success stories. It seeks to be an independent and fearless newspaper, and though it may not always succeed,  it often does, and for its efforts it has been roundly punished by the government - in advertising bans, attacks by the prime minister and her son, and an organised effort to file criminal cases against its editor.

On this occasion, however, the Daily Star failed to report independently or accurately about this judgement and gave further steam to a false narrative widely propogated by Bangladesh's governing party spokespersons - which has indeed now resulted in a High Court order seeking the establishment of a commission of inquiry. 

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Disappearances in last two years - list of men still missing

This page links to the '2016 disappearances' main page, which is here.

Below are the details of 19 people whose families claim a relative was picked up by law enforcement authorities in 2016 and they remain disappeared - that is to say they have not been released, shown arrested, or their dead bodies have not been found. The information below is based on media news reports, human rights organisations and in some cases direct interviews with families.

Please note that it is not uncommon for men, who have been picked up to subsequently be shown arrested after some time, so this is an ever-changing situation - and some of these men may be released or shown arrested.

Also please note that it is very likely that are more people who are disappeared - but whose cases have not been reported.


Abdullahil Amaan Azmi
Picked up on 22 August

According to his family, Azmi was picked up on 22 August from his family house in Mogh Bazaar in Dhaka. Azmi is the son of Ghulam Azam, a Jamaat-e-Islami leader, who died in jail in 2014 after an earlier conviction for crimes against humanity during the country's 1971 independence war. Azmi was dismissed from the army in May 2009, five months after the Awami League government came to power.

Mir Ahmed Bin Quasem
Picked up on 9 August

According to his family, Quasem was picked up late at night on 9 August from his home in Mirpur in Dhaka. Ahmed is the son of Mir Quasem Ali, a Jamaat-e-Islami leader, who was executed on September 4 (whilst his son remained disappeared) following conviction for crimes committed during the country's independence war,

Hummam Quader Chowdhury
Picked up on 4 August

According to his family he was picked up on the morning of 4 August when his car was stopped at a crossing close to Dhaka's District court. Chowdhury is the son of former opposition BNP leader whose father was executed in 2015 following conviction for crimes committed during the country's 1971 independence war.

Yasin Mohammad Abdus Samad Talukdar
Family claim picked up on 14 July

According to his family, Yasin Mohammad Abdus Samad Talukdar, who has no political affiliation, was picked up on 14 July from the DOHS Benani railway crossing in Dhaka by law enforcement authorities, whom local people thought were from Rapid Action Batallion.

Binchar Ali and Benjir Ali
Family claim picked up around 5 July

According to their mother, the two men were picked up from their house in Jhenhaida along with their father, former army sergeant Kawser Ali who is alleged to have owned the mess where Nibras Ali, one of the Holi restaurant attackers, is said to have lived. The father was shown arrested on 26 July, but the whereabouts of the two sons is not known.

Kamrul Islam Sikdar Musa
Family claim picked up on 22 June

His wife claims that on 22 June, a group of plainclothes policemen went to the house of a friend in the Kathgar area of Chittagong where she and her family were then staying and arrested her husband, a sand trader who also sells bricks, close to the house. The police say that they are still trying to arrest Musa who is suspected of involvement in the killing of the wife of a senior police officer.

Rashidun Nabi Bhuiyan Tipu
Family claim that picked up on 19 May

According to the family, Tipu was picked up on May 19 by men claiming to be from the detective branch of the police from his house at Betagaon in Nangolkot in Comilla.

Abu Sayeed (35)
Claimed that picked up on 11 May

Abu Sayeed, a garment worker is alleged to have been picked up by law enforcement officers from Gazipur on 11 May.

Bivas Sangma (25)
Family claim that picked up on 14 April

Sangma was a second year graduate student at Tinani Adarsha Degree College in Jhinaigati. His family members claim that sometime after 4:00 am on April 14, men who said that they were law enforcement officials, with some of them wearing RAB uniforms, came to their house and took Sangma away. He is related to Probhat Marak and Rajesh Marak who were picked up on the same day (see below)

Probhat Marak (60),
Family claim that picked up on 14 April

Family members claim that Marak, a day labourer, was picked up in by law enforcement officers from his home in Gajni village in Sherpur. He is related to  Bivas Sangma and Rajesh Marak who were also picked up on the same day (see above)

Rajesh Marak (22)
Family claim that picked up on 14 April

The family of Marak, a student at a private university in Dhaka, says that her brother was picked up, by men claiming to be members of law enforcement agency, from his elder sister’s house located near Bhaluka College in Mymensingh.

Nur-e-Alam (22)
Family claim that picked up on 12 April

The family of Alam, a 3rd-year student in the Chemistry department of Nilphamari Government College alleged on 12 April that plainclothes dressed men, who identified themselves as people from the administration, picked him up from his house.

Hadidul Islam (30), Johirul Islam (26), Ismail Hossain (32), Ibrahim Hossain (25), and Amir Hossain (22)
Families claim five men were picked up on 24 March

Family members claim that on 24 March, law enforcement officials, who said that they were from RAB (Rapid Action Battalion), picked up the five men from two villages in Bhaluka upazila. About 30 to 35 people arrived in a number of vehicles including two microbuses at Kashor Village and picked up Hadidul Islam,30, and his younger brother Johirul Islam, 26 and the same group then entered adjacent  Jamirdia Dubaliapara village and picked up Hadidul's brothers-in-law Ismail Hossain and Ibrahim Hossain, 25, and their staff member Amir Hossain, 22

Sheikh Mohammad Moyajjem Hossain Tapu (28)
Family claim picked up on 26 January

Tape was president of 22 Ward of student wing of the governing party the Awami League in Rampura in Dhaka and General Secretary of the student wing of Awami League of Rampura Police Station unit. His family claim that on January 26 at around 11.00 pm, men who identified themselves as DB police picked Tapu up from a flat in Bashundhara residential area, Dhaka.

Bangladesh's Enforced Disappearances 2016

An 'Enforced Disappearance' is defined in international law as an:
“arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the State…followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty…which place such a person outside the protection of the law.”
In Bangladesh, disappearances result in three different consequences:
  • those who are picked up, kept in secret detention, and then (a) released (b) formally 'arrested' and remanded in police or prison custody or (c) pushed into India;
  • those who are picked up and then killed;
  • those who are picked up and their whereabouts remain unknown (either dead, or remaining in secret detention).
This page and others linked to it provide information on the claims made in 2016 by families in Bangladesh that a relative has been picked up by the law enforcement authorities (where the authorities deny that this is the case) and one of the above possible consequences has occurred. It is updated until 20 September 2016

To read about those cases where the person was kept in secret detention and 
then shown arrested, click here.

Picked up in 2016 and then killed (the most recent, first) 

Below are 15 cases reported to the media and to human rights organisations where families have alleged that a relative has been picked by state agencies and - presumably whilst in the secret custody of law enforcement authorities - killed.

These can be divided into 9 of those where the police say that the men were in fact killed in a so called police 'gunfight' and 6 where the dead body, often with bullet wounds or with signs of torture, are found.

Out of these 15:
- 10 of the men were activists of the Islamist political party, the Jamaat-e-Islami or its student wing
- 1 of the men was a post holder in the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist party
- 2 of the men were suspected of the murder of the wife of a police officer
- 1 man was suspected of being a militant
- 1 man is an alleged criminal

(Please note that there are other alleged extra-judicial killing, which do not involve a disappearance, which are not listed here)

Idris Ali, 60
Family say he was picked up on 4 August. Dead body found on 12 August

Idris was a teacher of Raghunathpur Hossain Ali Alim Madrassa and competed twice, as a Jamaat-e-Islami nominee in the Raghunathpur Union Parishad elections. His family claim that at about 8 pm on August 4 he was picked up by law enforcement officers as he was returning from his local bazaar on a motorbike. On 9 August, the family held a press conference. Early morning on August 12 the family heard from local people that Idris Ali’s body had been found in the Jorapukur area of Jhenaidah Police said that he had died in a road accident though Idris’s family has alleged that there were many marks of torture on his body.

Oliullah Molla, 40
Family say he was picked up on 9 July. Police say killed in gunfight on the following day

Molla, a supervisor at a garments factory in Dhaka was the General secretary of the Kashimari Union Bangladesh Nationalist Party in Shyamnagar upazila in Satkhira. According to his family, Molla was picked up by law enforcement officials whilst travelling on a bus travelling from Kaliganj in the district of Satkhira back to Dhaka on 9 July. The next thing the family heard was the police claiming that he had been killed in a gunfight near his home. According to the police, at 3.30 am on 10 July, a number of people were speeding through the area on bikes, but when the police asked them to pull over they started to throw bombs and shoot at the police. When the police retaliated, one of the attackers - who was found to be Molla - was found on the ground. According to the police, Mollah had a number of criminal cases lodged against him.

Faruk Hossain
Family say he was picked up on 1 July. Police say killed in gunfight following day. 

According to his wife, Mollah who worked as a farmer, was picked up at 11 am on the morning of 1 July by police officers whilst he was cleaning jute fibres in an area close to their home. Police deny this and claim he was a member of a gang of robbers who on the following morning were involved in a gunfight with the police as they tried to stop the gang committing a rover at Kanaitala on Rajarhat-Chuknagar Road in Jessore at around 2:30am.

Saiful Islam Mamun, 22
Family say he was picked up on 1 July. Police say killed in gunfight on 19 July.

Saiful, a final year student of Arabic literature department at the Islamic University, Kushtia, was also an activist of the student wing of the Jamaat-e-Islami. His family claim that plainclothes police officers picked up Saiful from a student mess in Pabahati village in Jhenidah town on July 1. The police deny this and say that he was killed following a gunfight at around 3:00am, when a group of criminals hurled crude bombs at a police van which was patrolling on the Dhaka-Jhenidah highway near Madhupur-Aruakandi graveyard and Saiful was killed in the resulting "gunfight".

Nurul Islam (Rashed) 27 and Mohammad Nurunnabi (Nabi) 
Families say that they were picked up on 23 June. Police say killed in gunfight on 5 July

Both men, Rashed and Md Nabi were suspected by the police of involvement in the murder of a senior police officers' wife. According to Rashed's father his son and Nabi were picked up from a mutual friend's house in Chittagong on June 23. On 2 July, he held a press conference setting out what had happened. The police deny this and say that three days later, on 5 July, they received a tip that the two men were in a particular place and conducted an operation to find them at 3.30 am. The police said that when they reached near MBW Brick field, the two men opened fire on them forcing a gun battle which resulted in the two men being killed.

Ibnul Islam Parvej, 27
Family says he was picked up on 16 June. Police say he was killed in a gunfight on 2 July

Parvej was a former president of Jhenaidah district unit of the student wing of Jamaat-e-Islami. According to his father, on June 16 plainclothes law enforcement officers picked up his son from a house in the Mohammadpur area of Dhaka. The police deny this and say that at about 3 am on 2 July when they were patrolling near the Madhupur graveyard near Porahati village in Jhenaida district, some criminals opened fire on their vehicle, and the police returned fire triggering the "gunfight". Parvej was caught in the line of fire, the police say, and died on the spot.

Anisur Rahman, 28
Family says that he was picked up on 17 June. Police say he was killed in a gunfight on 1 July

Anisur was president of the Jamaat-e-Islami's student wing at Jhenidah Polytechnic Institute. His family claim that on 16 June Anisur was picked up by plain clothes law enforcement officers from a house in the Mohammadpur area of Dhaka. The police deny this and say that he was killed in a gunfight on 1 July (along with Shahid Al Mahmud, see below) when a police team was patrolling the Tatultala-Naldanga road and some criminals at about 3.30 hurled four or five bombs at the police vehicle and the police returned fire. The police say that they were suspects in the murder in May of the Hindu priest Ananda Gopal Ganguly

Shahid Al Mahmud, 25
Family say that he was picked up on 13 June. Police say he was killed in a gunfight on 1 July

Shahid was the president of Jamaat's student wing's Jhenidah Alia Madrasa unit. The family claim that on 13 June some plainclothes police detectives picked up Shahid from his home in Badanpur village in Jhenakdah district. The family held a press conference five days later concerning the  disappearance. The police deny any involvement in the pick up and say that the two men were killed in a gunfight on 1 July (along with Anisur Rahman, see above) when a police team was patrolling the Tatultala-Naldanga road and some criminals at about 3.30 hurled four or five bombs at the police vehicle and the police returned fire.

Sohanur Islam
Family say that he was picked up on April 10. Dead body found on April 20

Sohanur Islam, a student at Shaheed Nur-Ali College in Kaliganj, was an activist of the Jamaat-e-Islami. According to his family, on April 10 four law enforcement officials picked him from Ishwarba village in Kaliganj in Jhenaidah. Ten days later, on April 20, his bullet-ridden dead body was found at Pannatola field, Kharagoda upazila, Chuadanga Sadar.

Shamim Mahmud
Family say he was picked up on March 25. Dead body found on 13 April

Shamim Mahmud, a student of Sarkari Keshab Chandra College in Jhenakdah, was an activist of the Kaliganj Pourosova unit Jamaat-e-Islam student wing in Jhenakdah. His family claim that on March 25 at around 5.30 pm four plainclothes men, who identified themselves as being from the administration, picked up Shamim from a furniture shop near Mahtab Uddin Degree College situated close to the Jessore-Dhaka highway. A few days later the family held a press conference. On April 13, his dead body, with bullet wounds, was found near the Bahrampur cremation ground in Jessore Sadar upazila (along with the dead body of Abuzar Girafi, see below)

Abuzar Girafi
Family claim that he was picked up on March 18. His dead body was found on 13 April

Giraffe, a student, was president of the Kaliganj Pourosova unit Jamaat-e-Islam student wing in Jhenaidah. According to his family, on March 18, 2016 at around 2:00 pm, Abuzar Girafi, was picked up close to his house by four armed men claiming to be from the Detective Branch (DB) of Police, handcuffed and put on a motorcycle. He had been returning home from a mosque situated 400 yards away after having conducted Friday prayers. On April 13 his dead body, with bullet wounds, was found near the Bahrampur cremation ground in Jessore Sadar upazila (along with the dead body of Shamim Mahmud, see above) 

Sharif alias Saleh alias Arif (Mukul Rana)
Family say that he was picked up on 23 Feb. Police say he was killed in a gunfight on 19 June

Mukluk Rana's family say that four days after getting married he was picked up at about 11 am on 23 February from Bashundia intersection in Jessore by 10 to 12 people in a microbus as he was returning home to Satkhira from his in-law's house in Jessore along with his newlywed wife. The police deny this and say that they had received information about the presence of Mukul, who was suspected of involvement in the killing of the writer Avijit Roy, at Meradia in Dhaka and during the operation to arrest him, three people on a motorcycle sped away from the seance and opened fire on the police who responded. Mukuk died in the gunfight.

Mohammad Jasim Uddin (24)
Family say he was picked up on 12 Feb. His dead body was found on 2 March.

Uddin, a student at Jhenaidah Aliya Madrassa, was the Jamaat-e-Islami student wing president of Ganna union unit in the district. According to his family, on February 12, Uddin was returning home from Sylhet by bus when a group of men who identified themselves as members of the detective branch of the police picked him up. On March 2, 2016 local people found his dead body, with bullet wounds, in a field at Hingerpara village, Horinakundu upazila, Jhenaidah.

Abu Huraira (55)
Family say he was picked up on 24 Jan. His dead body was found on 29 Feb

Humaira, a teacher at the Kuthi Durgapur Madrassa, was a senior member of Jhenaidah Sadar upazila Jamaat-e-Islam. According to his family, on January 24, some men who identified themselves as being from the detective branch of the police picked Humaira up from the Madrassa where he worked. The police say that they found his dead body on February 29 on the Jessore-Jhenaidah road.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Kerry's visit to Bangladesh

Kerry at the house where Sheikh Mujib was murdered
The significance of the current trip to Bangladesh of the US Secretary of State, John Kerry remains unclear.

There is much talk about the visit seeking to strengthen the country's relationship, and no doubt there will be some announcements of increased cooperation.

It has been widely trailed that a key component of the visit will be discussions about counter-terrorism assistance. 

Whilst, it is important for the US government to find ways to assist Bangladesh to counter the continuing threat  of militancy - one would hope that the US government is cautious as to whether the Bangladesh government can be trusted to use any new tools provided to them without misusing them against the political opposition and without violating basic human rights

The issue of human rights is likely to be part of Kerry's message - which the Awami League government will not like. In a recent US state department fact sheet, it is stated that:
 "We believe the existence of viable political parties and ensuring freedom of media and speech are essential for Bangladesh to fulfill its true potential as a vibrant, secure democracy."
It is however unlikely that Kerry will voice any stronger public criticisms concerning the lack of democracy and the human rights situation in Bangladesh. The US needs the cooperation of the Bangladesh government - and public criticism does not go down well here.

Any concerns will be made in private meetings - though I would not be surprised if Kerry does not talk more publicly about about the need for increased freedom of expression. He is giving a speech today at the EMK centre, so it will be interesting to hear what he says.

However it has been announced that Kerry will visit Khaleda Zia, the leader of the opposition - though not the leader of the so-called parliamentary opposition - who may well soon be convicted for corruption. The very fact that he is meeting Zia, is significant; the visit is part of the public messaging of the US government's support for a multi-party democracy in Bangladesh.

If Kerry had not met Zia, this would really have put a further nail in the death of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party. The visit is a shot in the arm for the BNP, which is reeling from state repression and its own disorganisation and lack of focus.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The ten fictions of the ‘TerroristObserver’ website

When I made a film about 1971 war crimes, people alleged that I had taken money from the Awami League; when I wrote about the International Crimes Tribunal, it was alleged I was paid by the Jamaat-e-Islami; and when I wrote about the recent detention of the journalist Shafiqur Rahman, it was alleged that I had received money from the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, from Tareq Rahman no less!.

Quite a clean sweep, some may argue.

Of course these were all total fictions - false and defamatory allegations which appear to be simply the price of writing on Bangladesh politics. In Bangladesh, when someone can’t attack the substance of the writing, they simply attack the person who wrote it.

Now there is a new allegation against me made by which makes further false, defamatory and unfounded allegations. It comes in response to this article that I wrote about the detentions of Hasnat Karim and Tahmid Khan, two men dining at the time of the attack on the Holey Artisan Bakery.

The website was set up 7 July 2016, and the editor in chief is Riana Trina. According to her Facebook page, she studies or studied law at King College in London, works at the International Crimes Research Foundation, and is a presenter at Harbour Radio. I doubt that she has a career ahead of her in any profession requiring the determination of facts – though she may well have one in fiction and propaganda.

The allegations made by the website in an article widely shared on social media are total fiction – and I really mean fiction. They suggest that I have had meetings which I have never had, received money I never received, spoken to people I never spoke to, did things I never did and said things I never said.

There are at least ten major lies and falsehoods contained in this article, which are set out below

1. “Three days prior to the Gulshan attack, David Bergman and Mir Kashem’s son Arman held a meeting where a man named Nurul Islam was also present.”

This is total fiction. No such meeting took place. I was in London from the middle of June to the middle of July on a family holiday. I don’t know who this Nurul Islam is supposed to be.

2. “David Bergman was given 35 crore Taka to free Hasnat and Tahmid, and to do a campaign in the media.”

A total falsehood. Specifically, I never received any amount of money from any person who wanted me to do anything to ‘free Hasnat and Tahmid, and to do a campaign in the media’. The only money I ever receive for my writing are the professional fees from the publications who publish my writing.

3. ‘The majority of this amount was transferred to Bergman’s friend Samantha’s Natwest Bank account.’

I don’t have a friend called Samantha. And certainly no money (which in fact I was never given), was paid to any account of any person, yet along someone called Samantha.

4. “David Bergman was affiliated with Hasnat Reza Karim from a long period of time. We get the proof from the Twitter account of Hasnat Reza Karim, where he is following and sharing the writing of David Bergman.”

I never met Hasnat prior to the Holey attack, and so am in no way affiliated with him. My first and only interaction with him was at the magistrates court when he was remanded for the second time on  14 August (see below). I have 17,000 followers on Twitter; I am affiliated with only very few of them, and that does not include Hasnat Karim

5. “According to a source, in recent times David Bergman communicated with Arman, the son of Mir Kashem, and Hummam, the son of Saka Chowdhury. In that meeting they decided to take all the steps to do campaign on behalf of Hasnat and Tahmid, and to publish it in all the media in Bangladesh and abroad."

Pure fiction. No such meeting took place, and there was never any agreement of any kind made with these people or with anyone else to ‘campaign on behalf of Hasnat and Tahmid’. I have not met or spoken to Hummam for about two years, since well before the execution of his father.

6. ‘According to the source, Tahmid’s father also joined the meeting through Tele conference.‘

Since no such meeting took place, no one could communicate through Tele-conference. I have never met or spoken to Tahmid’s father.

7. “Our Investigation team tried to contact David Bergman a number of times, but his phone was switched off. He picked up his phone once and told our reporter in a snubbing tone that he will not say anything on this regard.”

I never received any calls, or miss calls, from this website and never spoke to anyone from this organisation, and never spoke to anyone about this subject.

8. ‘[At the magistrates court] David Bergman was seen to whisper something into the ears of Hasnat Karim, and as a reply Hasnat Karim shook his head.

I did not whisper to Karim. I asked him a question, ‘How are you being treated’? And he replied, ‘Things are fine’. At the same hearing, there were dozens of reporters inside and outside the court.

9. ‘He has been working really hard to stop the trials and to question the procedure of justice of the war criminals. … In the last six years, David Bergman has written more than 500 blogs against the tribunal.

Inaccurate. I have never written any article suggesting the stopping of the trials at the International Crimes Tribunal. Over 900 posts have been published on the Bangladesh War Crimes Tribunal blog, but almost all of them, 90 percent I would guess, are simply narrations of what happened at the Tribunal (see here for example). The rest are not ‘against the tribunal’ but are commentary about the tribunal.

10. “He is one of the leading persons to be involved in the skype scandal.”

I was never involved in this in any way.

Monday, May 2, 2016

The '$300 million plot?' - lies, damn lies and Bangladesh political parties

In Bangladesh politics, there is minimal - if any - respect for basic facts.

This is particularly evident by the way in which politicians and the media have written and talked about the United States case involving the conviction and sentencing of three men involved in a bribery plot to obtain confidential information from the FBI.

The Awami League's difficulty with the truth
On the Awami League side, we first had the basic misrepresentations made by Sajeeb Wazed, the son of the Bangladesh prime minister in his various Facebook posts. 

Second, we have the way in which pro-Awami Leaguers - and the media - have written about the case

Thirdly, most recently we have the prime minister herself. The Bangladesh Observer, reported the following:
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Saturday vowed to bring to justice those who conspired both at home and abroad to abduct and kill her son Sajeeb Wazed Joy in the USA.

"The conspiracy has been proved in the USA court," she told a civic rally arranged at Kotalipara Sheikh Lutfar Rahman Ideal Government College ground in the afternoon.

Referring to a USA court judgement, Hasina said an FBI official and a BNP leader have been sentenced to jail for their involvement in hatching a plot to abduct and kill Joy, also the PM’s ICT Affairs Adviser.
Assuming this to be an accurate news report, what the prime minister said was completely inaccurate; any claim that the US court had held or had ruled that there was a conspiracy to abduct and kill Joy is simply untrue.

The court convicted and sentenced the three men on bribery charges and there was never any charges relating to attempting to kidnap/hurt/kill any person. It is correct that the FBI had some evidence that Rizvi sought to kidnap and hurt Wazed, but the court, in the course of sentencing, ruled that it did not believe the evidence and dismissed it. It is also the case that the FBI did not present in the court any evidence that Shafiq Rahman or any other person was involved in any plan of Ahmed's to hurt Wazed.

If the prime minister wanted to use the US case to justify its investigation into the so-called 'plot to kill Joy', this is what she should have said - if at least she wanted to be accurate about the US case.
'A man in the United States pleaded guilty to bribing an FBI agent to obtain financial and other information about my son Sajeeb. During the investigation, the FBI found evidence that suggested that one of the reasons this man sought the information was to kidnap and harm him. The man was never prosecuted for this offence. Moreover the Judge during sentencing ruled that he did not believe that particular evidence. However, there was some evidence, and the Bangladesh government wants to look into this matter to see if there is any further evidence to support the claim that Ahmed planned to hurt my son, and see whether other people were involved.' 
However, it is my calculation that the reason why the Awami League leaders have to misrepresent and misconstrue the US case so much is because they have no further evidence to support its claim of a plot to kill the prime minister's son

The BNP's difficulty with the truth.
But of course it is not just the Awami League. The BNP have now got into the act.

On Sunday, May day, Khaleda Zia , the leader of the BNP, is reported to have said:
“The [US] case files say there is $300 million, which is equal to Tk 25 billion, in an account of the prime minister’s son. 
Where did this money come from? What is the source of this money? ... 
The court had its suspicion over $300 million or Tk 25 billion in his (Joy’s) account. The FBI found the money in investigation.

If you do not release [Shafik Rehman and Mahmudur Rahman], if you are the true prime minister of the people, then your son Joy needs o be questioned in custody about where he got this $300 million or Tk 25 billion.”

“Is this money legal?” 
Well, the case files do not state that there is '$300 million' in the 'account of the prime minister's son'.

The case records only say that there was an FBI memorandum relating to Sajeeb Wazed in which the words '$300 million' were written. It does not say anything more than that. Whilst it is possible that Khaleda is right that the document states that this money is in Wazed's account, it is much more likely not to be the case.

The reason for this is that  had Wazed's accounts really contained this amount of money, the US authorities would surely have taken action against him. Moreover, if is was written in the FBI memorandum that Wazed has this money in the bank, Shafik Rehman would immediately have published it - since this clearly would be sensational news.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

'Plot to kill Joy' - The article that refused to publish

Toufique Khalidi, Editor in Chief
Yesterday, I was told that had refused to publish an op-ed on the the alleged 'plot to kill' the prime minister's son.

My article was written in response to the news website's own op-ed which had criticised my article written for The Wire, as being 'selective’, ‘misleading’ and ‘confusing’.

'Dear David,' the rejection e-mail stated. 'The editorial board has decided to not carry your piece. We hope you will continue writing for us in the future'. No reason was given.

When I submitted the article on Monday I had every expectation it would be published. Bdnews had previously carried another article critical of me - does it seem this is becoming a bit of a habit? - and it published my rejoinder, no questions asked. However, this time, I was told on Tuesday that 'The editorial board is in the process of deciding whether to publish your rebuttal.' I then responded by saying that I was happy to remove the last paragraph as I thought perhaps 'the editorial board' would find it untoward. This morning I heard that website would not carry the piece at all.

So here it is - in full (including the last para). In a separate post I will write why bdnews24 might have refused to publish it -but would be interested to hear any of your ideas why this might be the case.


Omission and conjecture: A response to Shah Ali Farhad

David Bergman

It takes quite some nerve to write an article about the sentencing of Rizve Ahmed and two other men for bribery offences in the United States and fail to mention the most relevant part of the judge’s ruling - and then to go on to claim that my article is ‘selective’ and its title ‘misleading’ and ‘confusing’.

But that is what Shah Ali Farhad - Assistant Secretary (Central Sub Committee) of Bangladesh Awami League who is employed at a pro-Awami League research organization – has managed to do in his recent article.

Lets start with Farhad’s problems with the title of my article in The Wire, ‘US Court Dismissed Claim of Plot to Injure Bangladesh PM Son.’

Farhad argues that the title ‘tends to denote that a “claim” was made in court about the plot to abduct and kill Sajeeb Wazed by the US government which was then dismissed by the US federal court,’ which he claims did not happen.

Well that in effect is exactly what happened.

As part of its written submission to the court seeking sentencing enhancements, the Department of Justice argued that one of Rizve Ahmed’s objectives in seeking the documents was to physically harm Wazed, and it set out its evidence in support of that claim. (It should be noted that the Department of Justice never claimed at any point in its submission that there was an intention ‘to kill’).

During the hearing the Judge Vincent L. Briccetti considered this evidence and then explained why he thought that it did not support the conclusion claimed by the Department of Justice. (To see the detail of the Department of Justice evidence and the court’s view on it, read ‘Evidential Chasm: The Case Against Journalists Accused of Plotting to Kill Bangladesh PM’s Son’ also published in the The Wire.)

The Judge said, ‘I don't believe that there's sufficient evidence that [Ahmed] really did seek to kidnap and physically harm [Wazed]’.

He also said that on the basis of all ‘the the text messages and the other things that I've seen,’ it was his view that Ahmed’s seeking the confidential FBI information was not about causing Wazed any physical harm but ‘about furthering Ahmed's political aims, getting confidential information to expose what Ahmed apparently thought was corrupt behavior by the ruling party and otherwise embarrass [Wazed].’

Indeed, according to Department of Justice’s submission, the key information obtained from the FBI was, and I quote, “an internal memorandum (the ‘FBI Memo’) that referred to Individual 1 and a sum of $300 million, and a confidential report, known as a Suspicious Activity Report (the ‘SAR’) that also referred to Individual 1.” Individual 1 refers to Wazed.

In his article, Farhad does not refer to or quote a word from the reasons given by the Judge for believing that the evidence was not sufficient to support the Department of Justice’s conclusions. Nor does he quote anything from court’s ruling on this matter.

Since, in relation to the Bangladesh authority’s claim about a ‘plot to kill’, this is the single most relevant part of the sentencing judgment, his failure to do so is bizarre, to say the very least.

Farhad is entitled to disagree with the Judge’s ruling. Indeed, he could well have written an article setting out why he thought the judge was wrong in coming to his conclusions (though interestingly he did not).

However, Farhad is not entitled to set out the ‘evidence’ in one long section of his article, and then seek to pretend to his readers that the US district judge made no negative ruling about it.

Having totally ignored the judgment of the District Court judge, near the end of his article, Farhad then writes the following passage, ‘There should remain no credible doubt as to whether or not there was any cross-border conspiracy to obtaining confidential information on Sajeeb Wazed with the aim of abducting and harming/killing him in the US in light of the information already available in the public domain.’

How he comes to that conclusion - with ‘no credible doubt’, no less - I don’t know.

If we put to one side the US Judge’s comments about the evidence, there remains a huge chasm between the evidence that is currently in the public domain – concerning Ahmed’s criminal purchase of the FBI information, his sale of that information to a journalist (possibly Shafik Rehman), the meeting between the corrupt FBI officer and some Bangladesh associates, and some evidence that Ahmed sought to use the information to harm Wazed – and the claim that there is a ‘cross-border conspiracy’ with ‘the aim of abducting and harming/killing [Wazed] in the US’?

The US Department of Justice may well have further evidence that is not in the public domain which closes this evidential chasm – but at the moment on the basis of evidence in the public domain to make such a conclusion is, one has to say, politically motivated conjecture.

I would suggest that Farhad give up his day job at his Awami League think tank, and look into opportunities with the Bangladesh police, where – with his abilities in analyzing court records and assessing evidence – I am sure he will make a perfect fit.