Sorry state of press freedom in Bangladesh, rise of religious extremism and the case of an anti-militancy journalist

by Tajuddin Tipu

Bangladesh affairs researcher at Amnesty International in a report released on May 2, 2017 wrote: “Between the violence of armed groups (radical Islamic terrorists) and state repression of the state, secular voices in Bangladesh are being consistently silenced. Not only is the government failing to protect people’s freedom of expression, it has been blaming them for the threats they face and criminalising the work of bloggers and journalists through a slew of repressive laws.

“The crack-down on dissent and secular thought in Bangladesh must end. The very first steps must include providing protection to those who are threatened for raising their voices, and to repeal or reform the draconian laws that are used to punish anyone voicing inconvenient (and unpopular) opinions.”

It should be mentioned here that Amnesty International stands at the forefront of those anti-Semitic groups that has never uttered even a word in support of imprisoned anti-militancy journalist Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, as Amnesty International has clear bias towards Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas and anti-Israel bloc including Iran.

Since 2003, radical Islamic terrorism is on rise in Bangladesh. Initial threats were posed by Jamaatul Mujahidin Bangladesh, Harkat Ul Jihad (a jihadist outfit led by Afghan war ‘veterans’) Hizbut Tahrir, Khatme Nabuwat Movement, Hezbollah Bangladesh, Hizb Ut Tawheed, Al-Aqsa Solidarity Front (funded by Iran), Palestine Solidarity Front, and Lashkar-e-Toiba. But taking the advantage of state’s denial of existence of any jihadist outfit in the country, radical Islamic terrorism continued spreading wings especially capitalising people’s anti-Semitic sentiment. Madrassas in particular turned into breeding grounds of jihadists. There were around 84 thousand Qawmi madrasas in the country at that time.

In recent years, especially since 2015, Bangladesh has been facing threats posed by jihadist outfits such as Ansarullah Bangla Team (now rebranded as Ansar Al Islam), which is believed to the Bangladesh chapter of Al Qaeda in the Indian subcontinent (AQIS), and the so-called Neo JMB (as mentioned by the authorities concerned and the law enforcing agencies), which is reported as the Bangladesh part of Islamic State. On several occasions, Islamic State,through its publicity wings Amaq news Agency, and Dabiq has uploaded videos and released statements claiming responsibilities of dozens of jihadist attacks in Bangladesh. Similarly, AQIS too had claimed credits through its websites.

SITE, an US-based organization monitoring activities of the radical Islamic terror outfits too had tracked several statements and contents released by Islamic State, and Al Qaeda about their existence in Bangladesh. But, Bangladeshi authorities have been consistently denying existence of Islamic State or Al Qaeda or AQIS in the country.

In Bangladesh, writing against anti-Semitism or confronting Holocaust denial though officially are not banned, but, internationally known anti-militancy journalist Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury has been languishing in jail since 2012 in Bangladesh, serving rigorous imprisonment in a false sedition, treason, and blasphemy case for the ‘crimes’ of confronting radical Islam and militancy (jihad), for denouncing anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial, and for advocating interfaith harmony.

In 2007, the US Congress passed a bipartisan resolution (HR-64) in defence of Shoaib Choudhury thus calling upon the Bangladesh authorities to Immediately drop this ridiculous case and refrain from harassing him.

Bangladesh authorities did not pay any heed to the House Resolution of the US Congress and international outcry. They are holding Shoaib Choudhury inside prison for years, clearly proving the country is not against radical Islamic terrorism in reality – instead they are making frantic bids in suffocating anti-jihadist voices.