Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Crushing the opposition in Bangladesh

Zoglul Husain, UK

London 4 July 2010. Bangladesh plunged into a new and deep political crisis as the government deliberately set itself on a collision course with the opposition, which many presume to be prompted from across the border. The overt objective of the government seems to be to crush the opposition for perpetuation of its power and its covert aim being to remove the obstacles in serving the Indian interest at the cost of the country.

According to some opposition quarters, the government thus acting as the obsequious minions of a hegemonic neighbouring country is bound to bring upon Bangladesh untold peril and dire consequences and, as poetic justice, upon itself too, which would be reaping a bitter harvest and, as such, it could be quite harsh and unkind too. Obaidul Quader, a Bangladesh Awami League (BAL) leader, vented out the recognition of this realisation when he said on 2 July 2010 that the present political confrontation could be “suicidal” for both the government and the opposition.

Repression of the media:

The daily Amar Desh, a popular and powerful voice of the opposition, not belonging to any particular political party, was conspiratorially shut down as the National Security Intelligence (NSI) nabbed its publisher for six hours to get him to sign a few blank papers, which were then converted to complaints, framed by the NSI, to arrest the editor-in-charge, Mahmudur Rahman, at about 4 am on 2 June 2010 with a 200-strong police force, on ridiculously flimsy charges. After arrest, new charges of conspiracy against the state and of patronisation of Hijb-ut Tahrir, an Islamic organisation, were lodged against him, again conspiratorially.

Defying the concerns of the US and the UK embassies for freedom of the press and also defying the court order not to torture, which is forbidden by the constitution, the police later forcibly undressed him at midnight in remand, tortured and beat him up leaving him unconscious, while the paper was closed down by the supreme court for a month, within which time, new orders may be issued. In the circumstances, the future of Mahmudur and the daily Amar Desh are uncertain at this stage.

As regards the vague allegations against Mahmudur of his connections with “Islamic terrorism”, it needs to be remarked that, according to many, whatever there were in Bangladesh in the name of “Islamic terrorism”, were created in the main by India (such as JMB) and Israel (such as HuJI-B) for their ulterior motives of imparting blemish of “terrorism” and “failed state” to the country and thus making it a target of some foreign powers with the aim of subjugating the country by India in the common interest of those countries.

The hegemonic neighbouring country has continued with the same heinous conspiracy unabated, with malicious propaganda by their powerful media and pockets of influence worldwide. But it would not be out of place to mention here that the evil US-Israel-India axis of the Bush era, seems to be in the process of gradually being down-graded and dismantled in the present Obama era, in spite of defiance and circumvention by both India and Israel, which may not yield their desired result, albeit definitive conclusions cannot yet be reached for lack of unequivocal official statements backed up by discernable actions.

As to the present government’s attempt to gag the media, already previously, it closed TV channels, such as Channel-1 and Jamuna. By now, all the newspapers, indeed all print and electronic media, including online publications and websites, of Bangladesh are being controlled by the government through autocratic actions and intimidations, the TV talk shows being prevented from any dissensions and these shows are being directed to eulogies only for the government and its foreign allies. The government seems to be taking directions churned out of powerful computers of foreign lands.

“Persecution” of the BNP:

Irrespective of whether anyone supports a particular party or not, it is in the interest of the citizens in a democracy to see that human rights, democratic rights and rule of law are respected and practised and that justice prevails in matters of governance and all walks of social and political lives. Any incumbent autocracy should also learn from the history, for today’s power can evaporate tomorrow, as it generally does.

The countrywide general strike called by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) on 27 June 2010 on their 11-point demands and supported by many opposition parties, including the Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami (BJI), was hugely successful and the picketing and processions of various groups of the opposition were also peaceful. But the Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL), police and the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), according to reports, resorted to violence as they went on attacks, which were clearly seen to be unprovoked and premeditated. In particular, certain government-sponsored acts of brutality drew public condemnation, as well as international criticism, such as, of Amnesty International.

The brutal beating up of BNP students’ affairs secretary Shahiduddin Chowdhury Annie MP jointly by BCL members and the police and later, as a total disgrace to medical profession, by BAL elements of hospital doctors and staffs when Annie was taken to hospital, was a case in point. Similarly, thoroughly condemned was the joint attack of members of BCL and RAB in the peaceful house of the BNP standing committee member Mirza Abbas, a former Mayor, who was earlier arrested the same day. The people, who gathered in the house after his arrest, were beaten up brutally including women, among them were his wife and his 85-year old mother and, as stated by his wife, about 50 people were arrested.

BNP claimed that more than one thousand of their leaders and workers were arrested on the day and more than five hundred injured. Prominent among them, in addition to the two above, were Vice-Chairman Shamsher Mobin Chowdhury, Khaleda’s advisers Prof M A Mannan and Adv Ahmed Azam, and Rajia Begum, secretary of women’s organisation, Bangladesh Jatiotabadi Mohila Dal (BJMD).

Clearly, many of these arrests were targeted in order to weaken and demolish the BNP organisation. The arrest of Mirza Abbas and filing of case against Mayor Sadek Hossain Khoka, who may be arrested later, are aimed at weakening the BNP in Dhaka. MP Annie was arrested to weaken the student organization the Bangladesh Jatiotabadi Chhatra Dal (BJCD), while BNP adviser, former foreign secretary and former ambassador to the US, Shamsher Mobin Chowdhury, to weaken foreign lobbying and Rajia Begum to weaken women’s organisation, BJMD. Similarly, the arrests of the secretaries of volunteer organisation Jatiotabadi Swechhasebok Dal, Fishermen’s organisation Motshojibi Dal etc. were targeted. The BNP termed these targeted attacks as “political persecution”.

At this present tempo, any leader of the BNP, including Khaleda, may be arrested and the BNP should have no illusions of any kind about that. The government seems to be cutting off the twigs and branches of BNP, before felling the tree. Even today (4 July 2010) Hasina claimed that Khaleda was involved in the bombing of August 21, 2004 at Hasina’s meeting. Is it a hint?

Arrest of BJI leaders:

The government previously arrested many members of Hijb-ut Tahrir, including its leader, and later banned the organisation. Previously also many of Jamaat and Shibir activists were arrested. In the RU (Rajshahi University) BCL leader Faruk murder case in February 2010 alone, more than two hundred Jamaat and Shibir activists were arrested. And now comes the crunch, the top three leaders of BJI were arrested.

On 29 June 2010, Nizami, Mojahid, and Sayedee were arrested on most laughable charges of hurting Islamic sentiments. But that this was only a ploy was apparent next day when a raft of cases, such as murder of Freedom Fighters in 1971, implication in RU BCL leader Faruk Hossain murder case, torching of vehicles during the general strike of 27 June 2010, malicious propaganda against the image of the country and its foreign friends, etc. were brought against them. And then each of them was given a remand of 16 days, which is a record number.

Today (4 July 2010), according to reports, Law minister Shafique Ahmed said that the 1971 war crimes tribunal could have the three top Jamaat-e-Islami leaders shown arrested for crimes against humanity on the basis of witnesses and evidence.

The government seems to be aiming at meting out capital punishment to a number of BJI leaders and destroying the organisations of BJI and Shibir. When the Jamat-Shibir activists demonstrated today throughout the country to protest the arrest of their leaders and workers, about one hundred activists were arrested, as reported.

According to many, Jamaat was an ally of BAL and Ershad, during the Ershad regime of 9 years, until at the end when both BAL and BJI joined the movement to bring down Ershad. Again BJI along with Ershad was an ally of BAL, during Hasina regime of 1996-2001, when at the end of it, the BJI switched sides to join a coalition with the BNP and won two ministries for Nizami and Mojahid during Khaleda regime of 2001-06. The BJI has since become a target of the BAL, while Ershad became an ally of the present BAL government.

So, which way is the political pendulum swinging?

The writing seems to be on the wall for the government. The complaint of the opposition against the government include: rampant corruption, armed terror, murders, grabbing, misrule, oppression of citizens, repression, partisan control of administration, judiciary, Anti-corruption Commission (ACC), law enforcing agencies, educational and other institutions etc. The people’s discontent and swelling rage are gradually cutting the ground from under the feet of the government.

Additionally, its declared intent to serve Indian interest at the cost of the country has added fuel to the fire. The total silence of the Hasina government against Indian border atrocities such as killing of nine hundred innocent unarmed Bangladeshi villagers in ten years by contravening the Geneva convention, and incidents such as forcible intrusion and occupation of Bangladeshi agricultural lands in the Jaintapur border area are not going unnoticed. The people are getting further enraged.

No wonder Indian media are hinting at a possible military coup in Bangladesh. Coup or not, the government is already finding itself in a tight corner. Within one and a half years of its coming to power, the government seems to have started tottering.

It is in this charged backdrop that the BNP emphatically won the Chittagong City Corporation (CCC) election held on 17 June 2010. It is the first time since 1/11 2007 that the law enforcing agencies did not interfere in the balloting system. What internal and or external influences were there at work is not crystal clear, but the returning officer Jasmine Tuli set an example of acceptable, free and fair election, just as the general elections of 1991, 1996 and 2001 were acceptable.

In the recent Bhola-3 by-election, the loser BNP candidate Maj (Retd) Hafiz complained of the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI), NSI, Special Branch (SB) etc. campaigning against him. About the general election of 29 December 2008, former BAL secretary Abdul Jalil said that the Hasina government came to power through understanding with the army. Gen (Retd) Ershad also said that without the help of the army, this government would never come to power. These three leaders summed up the situation of these rigged elections. Thus, the people who termed the CCC election a turning point are more than justified. It boosted up the spirits of the BNP camp.

The highly successful general strike of 27 June 2010 called by the BNP camp is indeed a notice served on the government. And the more the government resorts to repression and persecution, the more the people will be mobilised against it. What is more, if the repression exceeds the level of tolerance, some sections of the BNP and the BJI, which are involved in constitutional politics for the last three decades, may be driven underground along with sections of other opposition parties, as the opposition did during Mujib regime of 1972-75.

In order to play a good role in history, the political parties need to learn from the history.

Writer: Zoglul Husain
Email: zoglul@hotmail.co.uk

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