Muzaffar Ahmad Noori Bajwa
Since the December 30 general election took place peacefully and international communities are gradually conveying congratulatory messages to the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Awami League and renewing their pledges of continuing cooperation with Bangladesh, post-election behavior of some foreign news agencies already are generating doubt and anger in the minds of the people of Bangladesh. It seems, being totally bogged-down in the election, BNP, Jamaat and their Pakistani masters are now shifting their attention to media with the ulterior motive of starting media assaults on the newly elected government. It is known to all of us, Pakistani ISI has placed millions of dollars in getting BNP and Jamaat victorious in the election. They even have tried to use some individuals and groups in maligning the image of the government and the Election Commission with the goal of misleading the international community. But, the secularist people of Bangladesh has completely tattered such evil actions.
In the anti-government propaganda, Western news services like Reuters and the Associated Press (AP) are particularly active. They are regularly distributing imaginary “news” contents, which unfortunately, many of the foreign news media are re-publishing without verifying the credibility of such contents.
Misleading “news” by AP:
On January 2, 2019, AP catered an item titled ‘Bangladesh vote opens door for an aggressive Hasina’, where correspondents of this news agency – Julhas Alam and Rishabh R. Jain wrote:
While Sheikh Hasina is set to begin her third consecutive term as Bangladesh’s prime minister following a landslide election victory, critics say having such an overwhelming majority in parliament could create space for her to become even more authoritarian.
The Hasina-led coalition won 288 seats in the 300-seat parliament in Sunday’s election, amid allegations by the opposition that the voting was rigged. Hasina rejected the accusations at a briefing with foreign journalists a day after the vote.
The new Cabinet is expected to be sworn in by Jan. 10, but members of the opposition alliance, which won only seven seats, said they would not take the oath. In response, the ruling party’s general secretary said byelections [by-elections] would be held for those seats. This would result in a parliament with virtually no opposition.
Over her last 10 years as prime minister, Hasina took up many development projects, from power generation to the building of a seaport, but her record of maintaining human rights was widely criticized by activists and international rights groups. Some of those critics now say her new government could be even more iron-handed and aggressive.
More than a dozen people were killed in election-related violence Sunday, and the election campaign was dogged by allegations of the arrests and jailing of thousands of Hasina’s opponents.
Dozens of activists took to the streets of Dhaka on Tuesday to protest the alleged gang rape by Hasina supporters of a mother of four who had voted for the opposition.
The opposition had blamed Hasina’s government for arbitrary arrests and enforced disappearances of dissenters, while the jailing of a renowned photographer on charges of spreading propaganda against the government sparked criticism at home and abroad. The enactment of a digital security law ahead of the election was criticized by journalists and rights groups who said it would choke free speech and media freedom.
The opposition accused the security agencies and the police of intimidation and threats to prevent them from campaigning ahead of the elections, and there were allegations that the Election Commission and other departments overlooked the complaints.
“Sheikh Hasina’s government during its previous term displayed an increasingly authoritarian streak, deeming all legitimate criticism to be anti-state,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director for Human Rights Watch.
“The ruling Awami League’s student and youth groups had free rein to bully and intimidate, while civil society faced pressure to self-censor.”
“It was particularly unfortunate that senior officials refused to address concerns of victims, including families of disappeared persons,” Ganguly said.
She doubted that the next government would be more tolerant.
“We remain concerned that a government that has allowed impunity for serious violations like extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances will persist with little tolerance for dissent and constructive criticism,” Ganguly said.
Hasina trumpeted her development agenda to woo voters and said people voted her to power again for the development bonanza. She took up some big projects, including a bridge more than 5 kilometres (3 miles) long, a nuclear power plant and metro rail system for Dhaka, the capital.
But an analyst said it was not a legitimate argument.
“When you say that we’ll give you development but you have to sacrifice your rights, you have to sacrifice your voice,” said Asif Nazrul, a law professor at Dhaka University and a government critic. “Because if you look at the constitution of India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, nowhere is it written that we are going to give you development but forget your political and civil rights.”
Still, Hasina enjoys a lot of support, especially from religious minorities in the Muslim-majority nation who say she has safeguarded their rights.
At the Dhakeshwari Temple in Dhaka, Hindus poured in on Tuesday to pray and get a glimpse of the Goddess Durga, something they say was not possible under previous governments.
“She has definitely unleashed and freed us minorities,” Jayanti Sharma, a Hindu devotee who was visiting from a nearby town, said of Hasina.
While parliament could be without a practical opposition, no major opposition leaders even exist in the country to pose a serious threat to Hasina.
Her archrival, former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, the leader of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, is in jail. A court deemed Zia ineligible to run for office because she was sentenced to more than two years in prison after being convicted of corruption. Her supporters say the charges were politically motivated.
In Zia’s absence, opposition parties formed a coalition led by Kamal Hossain, an 82-year-old former member of Hasina’s Awami League who served as foreign minister under Hasina’s father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Bangladesh’s founding leader.
Hossain is a leader of his small party, Gono Forum, which does not have much popular support. Hasina and Zia, on the other hand, have much larger support bases and attract hundreds of thousands of supporters to their rallies.
On Monday, during a briefing with foreign journalists and election observers, Hasina came down heavily on the opposition. In a wide-ranging discussion, she refused a suggestion that she offer her political foes an olive branch.
“The opposition you see, who are they? The main party, BNP, it was established by a military dictator (Zia’s husband, Ziaur Rahman) who introduced martial law in this country. There were no constitutional rights for the people,” Hasina said.
She dismissed questions about the fairness of the election.
“I feel that it was a very peaceful election,” Hasina said. “Some incidents took place, some of our Awami League party workers were killed by the opposition. I’m very sorry for that, but I always appreciate our law enforcement agencies, also our people who were working hard to have this election in a peaceful manner.”
But there have been allegations of widespread irregularities with the election.
On Sunday, The Associated Press received more than 50 calls from people across the country who identified themselves as opposition supporters complaining of intimidation and threats, and of being forced to vote in front of ruling party men inside polling booths.
Those complaints could not be verified independently.
Here are my replies to the above “news” item:
- People of Bangladesh have voted in favour of Awami League which has resulted in the landslide victory. In this case, AP’s comment of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina becoming “even more authoritarian” is baseless,
- Being rejected by the people of Bangladesh, if BNP men who won the seats do not join the parliament, naturally those seats will become vacant. This is another foul attempt of BNP. Once the seats turn vacant, as per constitutional provisions, the Election Commission is compelled in holding by-elections. Is it a crime of the ruling party?
- AP has asserted, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government would be “even more iron-handed and aggressive” in tackling any attempt of terrorism of BNP, Jamaat or their darlings within the Islamist militancy groups. Isn’t it a sacred responsibility of any government to ensure safety and security of the citizen?
- AP report said the government and arrested and jailed “thousands of Hasina’s opponents” during the election. Is that fact? None of the opponents of the Prime Minister had either been arrested or jailed. Members of the law enforcing agencies had arrested only those people who were already facing warrants of arrest.
- The allegation of the woman being “gang-raped” for voting against the ruling party again is totally baseless. This is just one of the many stories manufactured by BNP-Jamaat men.
- None of the security agencies had at all threatened any of the members of BNP or the opposition parties during the election campaign. Instead, the activists of these parties were frustrated with the leadership and they did not actively participate in the campaign out of their anger and frustration on the party high-commands. Almost all of the BNP activists and even the prominent leaders of the party are greatly aggrieved at Tarique Rahman in particular for his extreme greed for money and for trading with the nomination process.
- As to the remarks of Meenakshi Ganguly [South Asia director for Human Rights Watch], it is well understood that HRW is under heavy influence of various pro-BNP and pro-Jamaat groups such as Odhikar.
- Comments of Asif Nazrul quoted in the AP report again have clearly shown its anti-Hasina bias. Otherwise, people are fully aware of the political affiliation of Mr. Nazrul.
The sole agenda of this report was to mislead the international community about the December 30 general election and the achievement of Sheikh Hasina’s government. Here AP should note United States, United Kingdom, India and China already have clearly recognized the December 30 general election as being participated by millions of people. Something AP needs to know, while India is the largest democracy in the world, United States and United Kingdom is amongst those top-most democratic nations. The December 30 general election has already received international recognition. It is well anticipated that BNP-Jamaat nexus may not stop from continuing conspiring against the people of Bangladesh and possibly many of such false reports and commentaries would appear in the international media. But of course, conscious people around the world are already aware of such false propaganda. People are already tired of fake news.
Muzaffar Ahmad Noori Bajwa is the Editor in Chief of the Eastern Herald