Archive for the 'Censorship' Category

Bangladesh – Five months of Emergency, and our responsibility to speak out.

[This has been cross-posted in The Guardian’s ‘Comment Is Free’ section here.]

Monday 11th June marks the fifth month since the military took over and imposed a State of Emergency in Bangladesh. Through the civilian caretaker administration, which the military ‘support’, some level of social stability has been achieved, much-needed reforms set in motion, and with the newly empowered Anti-Corruption Commissioner labelling ‘at least 99%’ of Bangladeshi politicians corrupt, hundreds of senior Bangladeshi political figures have been jailed.

Yet this security has come at the cost of many essential freedoms, including the suspension of all political activities, and the intimidation of the domestic media against meaningful scrutiny. The military is essentially operating with total impunity. The most recent report by the Bangladeshi human rights organisation Odhikar stated that during the first 130 days of the State of Emergency, 96 people were killed by law-enforcement personnel, including 14 deaths through torture, seven of which were committed by the Army or ‘Joint Forces’.

Continue reading ‘Bangladesh – Five months of Emergency, and our responsibility to speak out.’


Himal Magazine special on Bangladesh

Last month the Bangladeshi government censored the regional affairs Himal Magazine (based in Nepal) for publishing two articles critical of the military.

This month they’ve gone and done a special on Bangladesh, with some really excellent essays. Needless to say it’s completely banned here. But it’s a must-read if you’re interested in this sort of thing. Link.

(Disclosure – they also have published a small piece by me, although unfortunately it’s not very good in comparison to everyone else’s).

End the media intimidation in Bangladesh

[This has been cross-posted in The Guardian’s Comment Is Free section. You can access it, and see comments here.]

General Moeen U Ahmed, who led Bangladesh’s military coup in January and is widely seen to be pulling the strings of the interim government, stated on May 22nd that he had no wish to enter politics formally, and did not intend to implement martial law. He also admitted to journalists that there had been cases of media intimidation, but called them an ‘aberration’, adding that “the government can learn from its mistakes, if there is any, from media criticism.” The paradox is that there isn’t strong media criticism because the military have blocked or banned it, so it would appear that they’re not making any mistakes. And so the State of Emergency continues, and we all remain none-the-wiser.

Continue reading ‘End the media intimidation in Bangladesh’

Tasneem Khalil arrested – UPDATED

UPDATE – Sunday 13th May 2007

Tasneem was released on Friday, 24hrs after being picked up in the night by the army.

At the moment, no-one seems to know why he was detained. Apparently it was not to do with his journalistic activities. His editor at The Daily Star, Mahfuz Anam has kept very quiet about the whole thing, and his paper has scarcely mentioned it, which totally goes against their Liberal credentials, ‘The People’s Right to Know’ etc…

This looks like it’s much more than just a ‘freedom of the press’ issue. When the dust settles and the facts are available over the speculation, I’ll write a bit more.

The army have really made a mistake this time. Just when their puppet leader Fakhruddin Ahmed has been making assurances not to limit the freedom of the press, last night a prominent investigative reporter, Tasneem Khalil was arrested and taken from his home. Already there is uproar

They picked on the wrong journalist, as Tasneem is also a consultant for Human Rights Watch and a news representative for CNN.

Here is the press release HRW have just issued:

Bangladesh: Release Journalist and Rights Activist

Army Arrests Tasneem Khalil of Human Rights Watch

(London, May 11, 2007) Bangladeshs military-backed care-taker government should immediately release Tasneem Khalil, an investigative journalist and part-time Human Rights Watch consultant, who was detained by security forces late last night, Human Rights Watch said today.

Khalil, 26, is a journalist for the Dhaka-based Daily Star newspaper who conducts research for Human Rights Watch. According to his wife, four men in plainclothes who identified themselves as from the “joint task force”came to the door after midnight on May 11 in Dhaka, demanding to take Khalil away. They said they were placing Khalil “under arrest” and taking him to the Sangsad Bhavan army camp, outside the parliament building in Dhaka. Continue reading ‘Tasneem Khalil arrested – UPDATED’

Yunus enters politics, and is wrong

On Sunday Professor Yunus, the 2006 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize and consequently seen by the people here as both their pride and saviour, finally decided to get his hands dirty and enter politics.


Over the last four months it has struck me as strange that the Nobel Peace Prize recipient should travel the world receiving accolades and free dinners whilst back home his country falls to pieces, but I suppose he’s decided that now is the time to actually do some peace-keeping.


He’s chosen his moment well, because currently, with no legal government, all political protests banned, some fundamental human rights suspended, he can enter the political vacuum and fill it with his beaming smile, use his moral authority to force the interim military-backed administration to hold elections at some point this year (which otherwise would not be likely), and win with a landslide. Easy.


Of course, I only want Bangladesh to develop as a country, with a legitimate democratic government that rules in the best interests of the people with their consent. This is what Yunus might be able to achieve. But he would achieve it in a most unusual fashion, and is starting from the wrong position.

Continue reading ‘Yunus enters politics, and is wrong’

Bangladesh Emergency Powers Rules of 2007

When I left Bangladesh, on the night of the January 8th the last images I saw of the country, through TVs at the airport, was of police beating back protesters and firing rubber bullets in to mass crowds. The quiet departure gate rang to the sounds of screaming women, broadcast across a near airport. So long, and thanks for the memories.

By the time I came back, on the 22nd, much had changed. To give a very brief run-down: to avert a potential bloodbath, on January 11th President Iajuddin Ahmed resigned from his controversial position as head of the Caretaker Government (CTG), and, as President, postponed the elections that were due to be held on the 22nd of January.

The final straw was the UN, EU, and USA all by this point stating that with a flawed voter list and the boycott of the main opposition, the election couldn’t be international acceptable – in effect also legitimising the Awami League’s allegations against the BNP.

Iajuddin declared a State of Emergency and handed power to Fakhruddin Ahmed, a former central bank governer and World Bank official, and placed him in charge of an ‘interim government’, as now, constitutionally the 90-day tenure of the CTG has expired. We’re in uncharted territory.

Far from there being panic across the country, everything is eerily calm. The interim government has an urgent priority to clamp down on the most corrupt officials (hence the current mass flight to India of ‘ senior businessmen’), clean up the partisan civil service, fix the power crisis, keep food prices in check, and most urgently, create a new, legitimate voter list with a functioning id system, and then finally hold elections. Already the national security chief, the top civil-servant in the power ministry, and the attorney general have been ousted. The head of the Electoral Commission has also finally resigned, and efforts are being made to separate the judiciary from the executive.

But to set up a new Electoral Commission and create a new, error-free voter list is a mammoth task in a country with nearly 150 million people, and it needs to be done before the monsoon season starts in July. When the country starts to dry out again in September, it would be almost a year without a democratic government, and it is difficult to predict whether by that time another credible one could still emerge. Why is the interim government suddenly able to make such sweeping changes?

Why is the country so calm, with no protests or media furore? Because of the Emergency Powers Rules of 2007.

Continue reading ‘Bangladesh Emergency Powers Rules of 2007’