Saturday, July 30, 2011

Bangladesh editor Ekramul Haque arrested

Saleem Samad, RSF correspondent in Bangladesh

On July 31 dawn, plainclothes police officers raided the residence of pro-opposition news portal Sheersha News and weekly Sheersha Kagoj editor Ekramul Haque in the capital Dhaka.

Sheersha News said that police blindfolded Haque with a black cloth when he was arrested and mishaved with his family when he was dragged into a waiting van.

Police said they have arrested him and was brought to a police station. Later he was remanded for two days for interrogation on charges of demanding money as extortion from a business person. Police said that they had warrant of his arrest, but failed to show it to the journalist.

The sub-inspector Shariful Islam of the Kalabagan police station said the editor was arrested after an unknown Giasuddin Talukdar on July 28 filed a complaint with a court, saying Haque demanded BDT 2 million (Euro=18,577, USD=26,738) in extortion from him. Later a case was filed with the police station upon a court order, he said. Details of Talukdar's identity were not available.

Sheersha News after investigation of the background of the business person, discovered that the addressed mentioned In the case is false. No such person by the name Giasuddin Talukdar or any office mentioned in the case exist in the address in the capital Dhaka.
However, Sheersha News instead blames the government for intimidation against its editor Ekramul Haque for "writing against the government's corruption" for past several months. The sheershanews.com claims that they were harassed for publication of alleged corruption by different ministries was the reason for the arrest.

Earlier the press information department (PID) on July 17 cancelled the accreditation cards of all the 10 journalists including the editor of Sheersha News and Sheersha Kagoj.

Further development, please click: http://sheershanews.com/

Friday, July 29, 2011

Bangladesh social safety nets reduce poverty despite challenges

SALEEM SAMAD

BANGLADESH, ONE of the poorest among the least developing nations, has been able to provide social safety nets despite inadequate interventions, helping to elevate significant portions of the population from poor to non-poor status.

The safety nets that reach the poor have elevated their living standards, increased their average income and enabled them to buy cattle and to lease farm lands.

The conclusions are part of a study commissioned by the Bangladesh government and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). The report, “Social Safety Nets in Bangladesh,” presented Thursday by development economist Dr. Hossain Zillur Rahman, portrays a scenario that gives hope to the 56 million living in poverty in both rural and urban areas.

However, government officials lamented that reaching the hard-core poor in remote villages was the biggest challenge, despite efforts to plug "leakages" in the distribution of food aid to stabilize the safety nets of the vulnerable population.

Weak accountability of elected representatives responsible to ensure the safety nets and poor monitoring system has encouraged such leakages, said Dr. Abdur Razzaque, minister for Food and Disaster Management at a forum discussing the report.

Leakage has been attributed to pilferage, corruption and malpractices with food aid. Razzaque squarely blamed the members of parliament and grassroots administrative bodies. Various leakage-proof methods were adopted, he said, but were dodged by the bad guys.

Despite the leakage, the government promised to continue with its anti-poverty strategy with the financial support of the multilateral donors European Union and UNDP, which have pledged $1.63 billion to reach 35 million who are in extreme poverty, the study reported.

The study recommends scaling up social investment to ensure gradual adoption of “safety ladders,” an innovative project by a nonprofit organization that has demonstrated positive results in moving people out of poverty.

Despite their positive benefits, infrastructure projects have often been considered administratively demanding and subjected to large leakage of resources if they are not well monitored and effectively administered with unbiased attention to the poor, said Rahman.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Rights group urges Bangladesh to ensure fair trial for mutineers

SALEEM SAMAD 
Photo: Mutineers commands the rebellions


A WESTERN rights group has urged Bangladesh to stop mass trials for the hundreds of paramilitary border guards accused in the February 2009 mutiny that left 74 dead, mostly army officers.

New York-based Human Rights Watch on Tuesday said that those responsible for the deadly mutiny should be held accountable, but in military and civilian courts that meet international fair trial standards.

The international rights watchdog expressed concern regarding the mass trial completed on June 27, in which 666 members of the 24th Border Guards Battalion were tried before a military court. All but nine were found guilty and sentenced to terms ranging from four months to seven years in prison.

In February 2009, soldiers of the Bangladesh Rifles staged a mutiny against their commanding officers, took over the main barracks in the capital city of Dhaka, looted weapons and killed dozens of people, including senior army officers. The mutineers defended their revolt over long-standing pay and work condition demands.

On Wednesday, a court in Dhaka indicted 310 guards on charges such as arson and murder. More than 800 are accused and the court is set to resume next month to indict the remaining guards.

More than 2,000 border guards are accused of crimes associated with the mutiny, including murder, looting and arson.

"It is impossible to try hundreds of people at the same time and expect anything resembling a fair trial," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "The massacre shocked Bangladesh, but each of the accused should only be found guilty if the government provides specific evidence against them."

The accused have been held and prosecuted in violation of Bangladesh's obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, HRW charged in a statement. Many were detained without charge for several months. The government has not produced individualized evidence against each detainee.

Human Rights Watch said the detainees' lack of access to legal counsel remains a serious concern. The rights group says many guards were detained without charge for several months.

Rights groups documented the deaths of some of the accused in custody, including as a result of torture, in the first few months after the mutiny.

"The border guard’s mutiny was brutal, but the current approach appears to be a witch hunt against a group rather than an attempt to identify the individuals responsible for specific crimes," Adams said.

HRW's concern was heightened because of the possibility that some of those convicted could face the death penalty. The rights watchdog opposes the death penalty in all cases as a fundamentally cruel and irreversible punishment.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Rights groups urge India to probe deaths, torture at Bangladesh border

SALEEM SAMAD

A LEADING United States rights group has urged the government of India to investigate fresh allegations of killings, torture, and other abuses by the Border Security Force (BSF) at the border with Bangladesh.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said on Sunday that those against whom there is credible evidence of wrongdoing should be prosecuted as part of an effort to end longstanding impunity for abuses along the border.

In December, HRW in a report, "Trigger Happy," documented extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detention, torture, and ill-treatment by the BSF. In the past decade, the BSF is alleged to have killed hundreds of Indians and Bangladeshis.

Indian authorities in March assured Bangladesh officials that the killings would be stopped. The government announced that it would order restraint and encourage the use of rubber bullets instead of more lethal ammunition, which was recommended by HRW.

"Despite orders from New Delhi to end killings and abuse and to exercise restraint in dealing with people crossing the border, new deaths and other serious abuses are being reported," said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director for Human Rights Watch.

The group stated that the government has issued some positive new directives, but it needs to prosecute those who commit abuses so soldiers will understand they can't act with impunity.

The number of deaths reduced significantly in 2011. The Bangladeshi non-governmental organization Odhikar has documented at least 17 alleged killings of Bangladeshis by the border force and other instances of severe abuse since January.

Local rights groups in India have documented several cases of deaths as a result of severe beatings of suspects by the BSF. Indian residents in the border area, while expressing relief that the indiscriminate shootings have stopped, have complained about aggressive intimidation and beatings.

"The excessive use of force and the arbitrary beating of people along the border are unjustifiable," Ganguly said. "These abuses call into question India's stated commitments to the rule of law."

People routinely move back and forth across India's frontier with Bangladesh to visit relatives, buy supplies, and look for jobs. Others engage in petty and serious cross-border crime.

In many of the cases investigated by HRW, however, the victims were cattle rustlers, farmers, or laborers who said they were hoping to supplement their meager livelihoods by working as couriers in the lucrative but illegal cattle trade that is rampant at the border.

The Indian government needs to do more to ensure accountability for violations committed by the border force soldiers and to ensure compliance with the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, said the HRW statement.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Bangladesh superior court halts ship scrapping operation

SALEEM SAMAD

BANGLADESH'S SUPREME court on Sunday overturned a lower court's ruling that allowed a ship scrapping operation until October. The court will review the case on Thursday.

Last week the high court allowed conditional importation of toxic ships and their dismantling. It extended the time on grounds that importers and ship dismantlers must ensure the safety and environmental protection of the public and workers.

The Bangladeshi Environmental Lawyers Association had appealed a previous ruling on the extension with the supreme court.

Attorneys of the Bangladeshi Shipbreakers Association, which is engaged in a $1.5 billion ship recycling trade, are scheduled to be at the hearing to ensure the original decision is upheld.

On March 7, the high court permitted import of hazardous ships and their scrapping for two months on several conditions, saying that no ships can be scrapped without cleaning toxic gas, and asbestos and toxic materials must be removed by experts before the ships are dismantled.

The high court relaxed the ban after leaders of the world's largest shipbreaking industry guaranteed it would adopt strict strictly rules to protect workers, such as an age limit of at least 18, training and proper safety gear, and cleansing of toxic material from ships prior to arrival.

It ordered the Department of Environment (DOE) to form a three-member committee to monitor whether the importers and ship breakers are complying with the given conditions.

Bangladesh's main source of 4 million tons of steel for construction is from the dismantling of cargo ships.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Mumbai blast mastermind believed to be hiding in Bangladesh

SALEEM SAMAD

INDIAN SECURITY agencies believe that the mastermind of last week's serial bombings in Mumbai is hiding in Bangladesh.

Mumbai police say they suspect the bombs to be the work of the Indian Mujahideen (IM). The serial bomb blasts last week killed at least 19 people and injured more than 130.

The suspect, Abdullah Khan, of the Indian Mujahideen is alleged to have orchestrated the Mumbai blasts and is now hiding somewhere in Bangladesh. His movements had been tracked over the past few months, the daily Times of India quotes the National Investigation Agency, India's top unit to combat terror, as saying.

Khan is now "operating the IM module which is assigned to maintain liaison with the Bangladesh based Harkat-ul Jihad Al Islam (HuJI) and, in a joint venture, has recruited a few new jihadist for their outfit," according to the Times of India report.

Investigators said about six months ago, Khan was stationed in Nepal and shuttled between Bangladesh and Pakistan. The IM had started conducting training camps in Bangladesh, the newspaper mentioned.

The report also mentioned that the National Investigation Agency was homing in on IM members across India and was already questioning suspected operatives.

IM terrorists find it easier to penetrate through the porous India-Bangladesh border with support from the HuJI, the source said in the report.

In the first week of November last year, Bangladesh detectives foiled a plot to attack the U.S. Embassy and Indian High Commission in Bangladesh. Several terrorist sleeping cells were smashed simultaneously in India and Bangladesh with intelligence tips from the CIA.

In a bid to combat such cross-border terrorism, organized crime and the drug trade, during Bangladesh prime minister Sheikh Hasina's visit to India in January 2010 the countries decided to form a coordination committee comprising representatives of law enforcement agencies and the two countries' intelligence wings to "deal with international terrorism and drug smuggling, investigation and completion of trial in such crimes."

India and Bangladesh are highly likely to sign an agreement during a planned visit to Bangladesh by Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh in September. Security analysts predict the pact will significantly reduce terrorism in the region. However, the analysts said it will be difficult to drag troubled Pakistan into a regional cooperation agreement to combat terrorism, so it will be an incomplete effort.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Thursday, July 21, 2011

American's demands Bangladesh extradite Taliban-trained militants

SALEEM SAMAD

THE UNITED States has demanded extradition of Bangladesh-born militants who were recruited and trained by the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina raised the issue Wednesday with the ruling Awami League’s central working committee. She also hinted at external pressure to hand over the suspects.

Hasina assured U.S. officials that her government would take necessary steps to nab the suspects, who are still at large.

The suspected jihadists, according to intelligence sources, returned to Bangladesh through clandestine routes soon after the U.S. and British-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

Hundreds of Bangladeshi recruits have joined the jihad in Afghanistan that overthrew the pro-West Mujahideen government.

Senior Pentagon officials, through diplomatic channels, have submitted a list of Bangladeshi militants and demanded the extradition of those suspected militants now living in Bangladesh.

Since the government led by the pro-secular prime minister swept to power more than two years ago in Bangladesh, scores of self-proclaimed Jihadists who boasted to have fought with the Taliban have been arrested.

Earlier, Bangladesh pledged to the United States and Britain to support the “war on terror” and have received high profile counter-terrorism training.

Afghanistan-trained militants are a security threat to Bangladesh's tolerant and secular Muslim majority, according to political scientist Professor Imtiaz Ahmed of state-owned Dhaka University.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Bangladesh has reservations about cholera vaccine trial

SALEEM SAMAD

Bangladeshi authorities and officials of an international cholera research center are at loggerheads over the proposed trial of an anti-cholera vaccine, health terminology and the actual prevalence of diarrheal diseases.

Senior government health officials on Tuesday argued that the government does not see any reason for a trial of the oral vaccine, as the mortality rate of diarrhea is less than 1 percent (0.6 percent). Instead, Health Services official Dr. Khondhaker Shefyetullah said the vaccine trial needs government's public policy, based on a detailed technical study and the opinion of stakeholders.

The vaccine trial was launched in 2009 and was limited to low-income people in the capital Dhaka, where incidents of diarrhea are common during peak monsoon seasons, which occur April through May and August through September. The trial, being conducted on children under the age of 5 by the International Center for Diarrheal Disease Research, Bangladesh (ICDDR,B) is set to end in September.

The government for more than three decades has avoided using the terms vibrio cholerae or cholera to describe the disease breakout. They insist that hospital doctors and the media describe the outbreak as diarrheal disease and dysentery.

Bangladesh deliberately avoids using the word cholera to prevent a ban on the export of fresh vegetables and freshwater fish, which are sold in markets in Australasia, Europe and North America, Shefyetullah told a seminar on the introduction of cholera vaccine.

Steve Luby, a researcher with ICDDR,B echoed statements by government officials that an affordable vaccine would provide only partial protection from diarrheal diseases. He stressed that social behavioral change and dissemination of health information could prevent 30 to 50 percent of the prevalence of diarrheal diseases, which mostly occur among disadvantaged populations in both urban and rural areas.

The government also disputes the prevalence of the disease. Professor Mahmudur Rahman of the government Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR) sets the annual figure of cholera outbreak at 450,000. The international health research institution estimates the figure at 1.2 million cases in its research journal.

Government officials have urged ICDDR,B to review its estimate and said that the government stands by its figure, which it said had been documented after obtaining information from the field over the last several years.

ICDDR,B executives agreed to review their data. They also said they will wait for the government public policy on clinical trials of cholera vaccine to protect child mortality and morbidity.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Bangladesh opposition threatens election boycott, hints of overthrow

SALEEM SAMAD

BANGLADESH'S MAIN opposition party has threatened to boycott the election if the government refuses to hold polls under non-partisan neutral government.

“We will not take part in the elections under a partisan government, as people will never accept the scrapping of the caretaker government system,” the head of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), former prime minister Khaleda Zia, said Wednesday.

She urged her supporters to overthrow the government through a popular uprising such as those that have occurred in some Middle East countries since the beginning of the year, a definite shift of strategy of her anti-government campaign launched two weeks ago.

Criticizing the government that has been in power for two and half years, Zia said should her party win the election, she would scrap the recently overhauled constitution that dropped the impartial non-party caretaker administration to ensure holding of a credible general election.

The opposition fears that the election would be rigged and manipulated, which would further marginalize their share in the 300-member parliament. The next election is scheduled in 2013.

“Election without caretaker government cannot be held in the country and any election without participation of BNP will not be acceptable,” she warned.

The ruling Awami League has amended the constitution, which not only prohibited the interim government from holding a general election, but also included a Koranic verse in the constitution. In a radical shift from secularism, the government has adopted an Islamic constitution.

The ruling party vehemently opposed the argument and said the election commission would hold the election independently after it is significantly strengthened.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Friday, July 01, 2011

Indian prime minister comments on Bangladesh raises eyebrows

SALEEM SAMAD

IN AN unwarranted comment, Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh on Thursday said Bangladesh political landscape can change anytime.

Speaking at the capital New Delhi to a select group of Indian newspaper editors he frankly said his neighbours worries him a great deal. “So a very uncertain neighbourhood.”

He blames Pakistan’s dreaded spy agency Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) having nexus with the terrorist elements in Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami may change the political regime in Bangladesh, India’s eastern neighbour.

The prime minister also said that he reckons that at least 25 percent of the population of Bangladesh motivated by the Jamaat-e-Islami are diehard anti-Indian, and are working for Pakistan spy agency.

The branding of a quarter of Bangladesh's population as “anti-Indian” by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has raised diplomatic eyebrows here.

However, Bangladesh senior government official who does not wish to be names scoffed off Indian prime minister comments and said it was out of context. The official on Friday, of course said that Bangladesh would seek clarification from New Delhi regarding the sensitive comments.

Professor Nazmul Ahsan Kalimullah of state run Dhaka University said his comments came when Indian and Bangladesh senior officials are frequenting visits into each other capital prior to the visit of prime minister Singh’s visit to Bangladesh, like in the end of this year.

Since Shiekh Hasina returned to power nearly three years ago, has initiated steps to nab wanted Indian insurgent leaders who were sheltered in Bangladesh for decades. Most of anti-Indian leaders were unofficially extradited, despite both countries does not have any treaty to handover each others most wanted persons. Scores of camps of northeast guerrilla groups and were operating from inside Bangladesh territory have been busted.

India's former High Commissioner in Dhaka Veena Sikri was more forthright. “I don't think it is proper to describe people of another country in this manner,” she said while contextualising the BNP's stand. “The BNP says the interests of Bangladesh are not served by India. Sheikh Hasina on the other hand seeks to promote friendship because she feels friendship with India is in Bangladesh's interest.”

“I do not agree that 25 per cent population of Bangladesh supports the Jamaat-e-Islami. If you look at the votes they had polled in the last elections, it does not reflect so, although they contested elections along with the right-wing Bangladesh Nationalist Party of Begum Khaleda Zia,” said a close observer of politics in Bangladesh.

The influence of the ISI, which has been trying to regain its hold since the early days of an independent Bangladesh, was strong under earlier regimes. But institutions such as the Bangladesh Army or the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence, unlike the Pakistani ones, are very sensitive to public opinion.

Singh mentioned that Bangladesh government has gone out of its way to help India in apprehending anti-Indian insurgents operating from inside Bangladesh for a long time, he said. “And that is why we have been generous in dealing with Bangladesh.”

The former Indian ambassador Dev Mukerjee, who was posted in Bangladesh echoed with the Bangladesh official and said he does not fear that Jamaat-e-Islami is capable of undertaking any action, when he does not have significant people support, which they failed to demonstrate in the electoral regime in past polls.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com