Monday, October 26, 2009

A Letter to Bangladesh.

Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina was here in Sweden to join the European Development Day summit at Stockholm. The day 22th of October, Thursday, while she was attending the opening ceremony at the venue, I have been informed by my colleagues from Dhaka that the elite force named Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) with its name and fame for Extra Judicial Killing in Bangladesh, has picked up the New Age journalist from his residence for torture. Nothing strange and new for me as it happened many time in Bangladesh. Even under the democratic government! What was distressing for me is, our Primer Sheikh Hasina was attending a summit ‘European Development Day’ for a better world and at the same time RAB personnel picked Masum up from his residence for no reason on Thursday, tortured him severely and rubbed salt into his wounds in public, and then held him in custody for 10 hours and a half and tortured him mercilessly. He had to be rushed to Dhaka Medical College Hospital after he was released from custody at about 10:30pm on Thursday. He had marks of injury all over his body and his feet were swollen when he was released. He is now being treated in a private hospital. He has written numerous reports on the violation of human rights, especially by the RAB. That was the back ground scenario of my country’s freedom of expression while my premier was attending such a summit (EDD) where the Human Rights and the right for the Freedom of Expression are ensured by the European Union’s constitution. And this European Development day where it is being celebrated is in Sweden, such a country where Freedom of expression is ensured by the constitutions and country itself is the president of the Union. My Prime minister is here and back in home a famous journalist is being tortured. What a terrifying shadow under the candle itself!!

Rapid Action Battalion (RAB): The Rapid Action Battalion, commonly known as RAB, is Bangladesh’s elite anti-crime and anti-terrorism force. Since its creation in March 2004 this special unit has been implicated in the unlawful killings of at least 1000 people in custody, and the alleged torture of several hundreds more.

Many of the deaths for which RAB is responsible resulted from summary executions. Others came after extreme physical abuse. RAB’s torture methods include beatings with batons on the soles of the feet and other parts of the body, boring holes with electric drills, and applying electric shock.

What They Do? The government in power until I was writing this article yesterday defended the killings by saying the victims—people it called “wanted criminals” or “top terrors”—died when they resisted arrest or when they were caught in the crossfire during an armed clash between RAB and a criminal group (“crossfire” killings). But witnesses, family members, and journalists frequently reported that the victims died in RAB custody, either in the station or outside where an extrajudicial execution took place.

According to the Human Rights Watch, an US based human rights monitoring organization report –“Even Bangladesh government officials recognize that RAB is killing detainees”. “In private conversations some admit the government gave RAB a mandate to kill as a way to combat the country’s endemic crime.” According to a yearly report published in 2008, one top official told the international human rights organization Human Rights Watch that the government drafted a list of most-wanted criminals for RAB to kill. Many news reports on the national Bangle and English daily news paper says that deputy minister for the home affairs Shamsul Haque Tuku denied the role of RAB about Crossfire. And Added that these death incidents happens when the law enforcement Agencies are being attacked and they defend them self. In a report published in a national bangle daily newspaper name Jaijaidin, Transport Minister Shajahan Khan says -if a terrorist dies in cross fire then there is no violation of Human Rights. Several National Daily Newspapers reports the same. Minister for home affairs Sahara Kahtun denied the role of RAB and other law enforcement agencies involvement in Extra Judicial Killing, report published in several national daily news papers. During her visit in USA September, Premier Sheikh Hasina denies the role of RAB and other agencies on involvement of the extra judicial killing and said the same. “These death incidents happened -while they were being attacked by the terrorist”! Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina answered the same story while a visiting European Union human rights delegation consist of The three-member team comprising human rights envoys Arjan Hamburger from Norway, G√ľnter Nooke from Germany and Arnold de Fine Skibsted from Denmark visited her in the PM office. “She said that these deaths are the results of the grenade attacks of the terrorists toward the law enforcement agencies”! It could be noted that the delegation team meet the RAB chief Hassan Mahmud Khandaker informed them about the activities of his elite law enforcement agency. Dutch ambassadors Alphons Hennekens, representatives of the German and Danish embassies, were also present in the meeting.

I wonder, being informed from the highest level of the organizational protest still the so called “Cross Fire”, Extra Judicial Killing is going on in Bangladesh! “The joint special drive of police and Rapid Action Battalion in the outlaw infested southwestern region of Bangladesh has seen 63 deaths in "crossfire" and "shootouts" in 58 days as of yesterday” A report published on the Daily Star most renowned national English daily newspaper, on 21th October, Wednesday. It says “Out of 63 criminals that died in such incidents in 10 districts of Khulna division, 25 died in Kushtia alone as of October 18, the highest number of deaths in a district, says RAB statistics. Interestingly, only 11 deaths in shootouts occurred in the region during January 1-August 21 before the drive began on August 22. Since the drive began, police and RAB have claimed that these incidents of shootouts took place between them and accomplices of alleged criminals, most of whom are members of different banned outfits.” It was just before the opening ceremony of the European Development Day!! A student named Kaysaer Mahmud Bappi was killed by the RAB and the next Day Masum was picked up by the RAB because of his writing. These were the back ground scenario of the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina left back home to attend the development summit “European Development Day” in Sweden, the country for the EU presidency. Report says Kaysaer Mahmud Bappi was an innocent student, who didn’t have any record of criminal activities that was filed in police registrar! Neighbors and relatives demanded the same that Bappi was an innocent person and was the victim of conspiracy. RAB arrested Masum a renowned journalist and Human Right Activist, from his residence and the RAB 10 team on Thursday had tortured severely Masum in his rented house and in detention in the unit’s headquarters for about 10 hours and a half. According to Masum - Masum about 10:30 on Thursday was getting out of his flat on the second floor of the six-storey building at 167, Dakkhin Jatrabari in Dhaka.

Journalist and Human Rights Activist FM Masum

When he walked out, he saw some people were torturing the wife of the owner of the house, where he lives as a tenant, in front of the gate. The people in plain clothes asked him to open the collapsible gate and he refused to do so. The plainclothes men then said they were RAB personnel and Masum immediately opened the gate. The RAB personnel instantly started beating him for being late in opening the gate. The battalion personnel, led by Fight Lieutenant Anis, took him on the floor where the house owner lives and started beating him with iron rods and with the back of machetes. They also snatched away the keys to his flat and took him inside his flat after torturing him for an hour. They kept six bottles of Phensidyl (codeine) syrup in his bed and videoed the arranged sequences.

The meeting also said after torturing him for half an hour more in his flat, the battalion took him to the RAB 10 headquarters at Dhalpur handcuffed. The RAB personnel tortured him in the unit headquarters and threatened to have him killed in ‘crossfire.’ He was videoed in the unit headquarters with a piece of paper reading ‘Drug peddler’ pinned on his T-shirt, he said after his release late into Thursday night.

Different battalion officers were coming up with different stories as reason for his detention. Some claimed Masum had been found in possession of Pethedrine, some said with Phensidyl syrup while some others said they found him with prostitutes. New Age journalists had to sign an undertaking in which it was written that he had been picked up and was being handed over to his colleagues ‘in good health.’ After being admitted to Dhaka Medical College Hospital, physicians advised CT scan and X-ray for him. The tests were run on him early Friday.

It could be mentioned that, this is not the first case of Journalist abusing in Bangladesh. According to the reporters without borders 29 Journalists was murdered in last 15 years. The highest rate of Journalists death incidents was recorded in Jessore, the south western District of Bangladesh are in number 05 in last couple of years.

Many journalists were brutally tortured by the DGFI of army, RAB, Police and other law enforcement agencies. Even cartoonist Arifur Rahman of the Prothom Alo was arrested, due to pressure from Islamic groups. Tasneem Khalil of the Daily Star, presently exiled in Sweden, was brutally tortured by the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence. And Jahangir Alam Akash of the Daily Songbad, was also illegally arrested, detained, and inhumanely tortured by the RAB in last year. Still, Jahangir Alam Akash is facing two false and fabricated cases. He was victimized by four fabricated and politically motivated cases under the caretaker government.

I understand that some cases of journalist assault happened when it was the state of emergency what is happening now even after a democratic regime started through a free and fair election on 29th of December 2008. Freedom of the press and the law and order situation has been detorriated terribly. Human Rights have been abused by the present government itself.

In a report published in the daily Prothom Alo, a widely circulated national Bangla daily newspaper, dated on October 12, 2009 says that Deputy Minister for home affairs Shamsul Haque Tuku informed the parliament during a question answering session that 2107 Bangladeshi people was murdered and 1479 case of Rape was filed in Bangladesh during the last 09 months just after the election and the present government took over the power. But this is the government’s statistics. Media says a different story! According to the American Chronicle, A report published dated on July 08, 2009, “More than four thousand people were killed during the first 180 days of the Awami League led ´Grand Alliance´ government, which is an unique combi of Islamists, Seculars and Leftists. According to newspaper reports, official sources have even confirmed that more than 1800 people were killed during this period, which means on an average 10 murders every day!” wrote Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, the Bangladeshi correspondent of American Chronicle.

This is the situation of Bangladesh, after a political party form the government through a free and fair election was held in January 2009. Under this circumstances while I got the news of the abuse of my colleague Masum I got little bit emotional but took care of myself immediately thinking that this is a democratic regime and run by a political government. A political party that took the citizens mandate by promising them to stop this extra judicial killing. I tried to find out the difference between the situation among these government, nothing! Made me helpless!! Thought to protest about the situation but could not due to many reasons. I was watching the opening ceremony of the European Development Days and thinking 10 more Human being in Bangladesh is going to die today in Bangladesh, journalist Masum, who work for the people, is being tortured in a democratic country, where the so called freedom of expression is ensure by its constitution at article 39. And the same constitution enacted the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) law in March 2004, which organization kills its citizens without the Justice. Then declare that the citizen (dead person) ‘was a terrorist’ and died in an encounter or so call crossfire!! Shame on me I cannot do anything to protect this. After the opening ceremony was over I came to T-Crtntralen, the central point of Stockholm and found that United Nation is campaigning there inside the station. They are asking people how we can make a fair world. I did not answer first! Made the idea of writing a banner right the moment. Bought a white bed shit from ‘Hemtex’, a chain cloth store and a wide black tape from ‘Class Olsson’ a machine tools selling chain store located in Stockholm, Sweden. And made my Banner and went to the Pavilion with some friends. They asked me how we can make a fair world. I have shown my banner to them and answered to them. The lady working there immediately recognized us that we, the same student have protested just 22 days ago in front of the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon while he was visiting Uppsala University and delivered lecture before the Student, Journalist and high officials. After the session, while he was leaving the premises student house we have shown a banner like this. She asks us if we are the same student or not that she saw there in Uppsala. We admit. Then she asked why we are protesting like that. We explain our self. Does it work? Again thirsty question of Monica Lorensson. We do not know the answer… but we console our self that we tried as much as possible. When the promised elected government does not keep the promise and continues the same…

@nwar, October 26, 2009

Anwar Hossain

Journalist from Bangladesh.

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