#878 – Mohammed Fahimul Islam: Democracy Crisis in Bangladesh

Pre-Note, Dick Bernard: Today is Law Day in the United States, a tradition begun in 1958 with President Eisenhower, still part of U.S. Law, now little known or remembered.
Beginning in 1964 Minneapolis businessmen Stan Platt and Lynn Elling set about developing a new tradition called World Law Day which went on for many years.
The following contribution seems appropriate for this years World Law Day.
There are 193 countries in the United Nations. Bangladesh, an Iowa-size country halfways, around the world from Minnesota, with a population more than half that of the United States, is one of those countries. Indeed, then as part of British India, it was one of the original 50 signers of the United Nations Charter in 1945.
Ruhel Islam, who operates the deservedly popular GandhiMahal Restaurant in Minneapolis, is always about peace. So, when he sent a recent detailed e-mail from his cousin, former Bangladeshi diplomat M. Fahimul Islam, about democracy problems in his native Bangladesh, I paid attention. Rather than interpret his words, and those of his cousin, they are here presented as written.
But first, Bangladesh.
It was, long ago, East Pakistan, part of the British Empire on which, at one time, the sun was said to never set. It is seldom in the news, and my first need was to find it on the map. Here’s from the 1987 Readers Digest World Atlas, the clearest rendition I could find here at home:
(click to enlarge)

Bangladesh (in green) surrounded by India.  1987 map.

Bangladesh (in green) surrounded by India. 1987 map.

Here’s what the CIA Fact Book says about Bangladesh. The country is slightly smaller than Iowa in geographic size, but its population is more than half that of the United States. In geographic location and general climate the country is much like Florida.
Without other elaboration following is, first, how Ruhel introduced the item he sent about the political crisis in his country; then the post, which is quite long, with links.
Obviously, Ruhel would like this shared broadly, and he would like actions by individuals and groups to call attention to his nations dilemma.
April 9, 2014
Dear Friends,
As a United States citizen of Bangladesh origin, I am deeply concerned at the turn of events that have been taking place in Bangladesh and would like to bring these to your notice with the objective of gaining due attention of the United States Government.
Attached with this letter, are documents outlining severe atrocities unleashed on political opponents, civil society and media personalities by the current Bangladesh Awami League regime headed by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed. Current government’s wanton violation of human rights with absolute impunity is a huge slap to international conscience and obligation to international law. Current Bangladesh government stands accused of crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court at the Hague by a European human rights group.
I believe a strong intervention by the international community will assist in countering this anarchy and bring back democracy and rule of law in Bangladesh. The inalienable rights enshrined in the US Declaration of Independence, the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are in great jeopardy in Bangladesh. I seek your assistance in this movement. Being the most important and trusted friend of Bangladesh, I believe, the United States can play a significant and effective role in reversing the downward slide of democracy and human rights condition.
Sincerely yours,
Ruhel Islam
Background included with above letter, from Fahimul Islam:
The Biggest Rigged Election in Bangladesh (1)
The current Bangladesh Awami League (BAL) regime of Bangladesh headed by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina claiming to be liberal and secular has unleashed a harsh crackdown on whoever opposes the policies of her Government. Her Government itself is plagued by severe legitimacy issues. Her political opponents, civil society, media or even distinguished personalities like Nobel Peace Prize Winner and founder of Grameen Bank Muhammad Yunus have not been able to escape the wrath of her Government. (More, here.)
Though a fully participatory election is considered as a cornerstone of a functioning democracy, BAL regime has imposed a Government which has sprang out of a farcical election on 5 January 2014 boycotted by major opposition parties. Of the 300 seats up for grab, 153 were declared unopposed disenfranchising more than half of the registered voter and with a parliament with virtually no opposition party since they have become part of the government. (Source: from 7:30 to 8:20 min here)
The 5 January election was the most bloodiest one in Bangladesh’s history with more than 20 people dead only on the election day and hundreds more leading upto the election. Influential UK magazine The Economist commented that “….her country’s democracy is in a rotten state…..It does not give Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League, ……much of a basis for another term.” (Source here)
United Nations (UN) as well as western democratic Governments including United States (US) have expressed their disappointment at the 5 January election. Their rejection to the whole election process was manifested in their refusing to send any observer to monitor the election. Soon after the election was over, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed his outrage at the election related violence. US State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf expressed Washington’s disappointment with the parliamentary elections. (Source here).
Opposition boycott and all the uncertainty regarding general election in Bangladesh is rooted at a controversial fifteenth amendment to the Constitution by the previous BAL dominated Parliament that scrapped the constitutional provision to hold general elections under a Non-party Caretaker Government (CTG). According to an International Crisis Group report this amendment ‘…has been AL’s most controversial political act, ….’ It further states that it ‘…has made the country’s most sacred document into a casual plaything for partisan interest’. (Source page 4-5 here.)
As the government lacks legitimacy and popular support, it has embraced a policy of oppression and is gradually eliminating or maiming opposition political operatives all around the country by employing repressive measure such as extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearance, torture, arbitrary arrests etc. During the period of ‘so-called’ Interim Government installed by Sheikh Hasina which was headed by none other than herself, 267 people died of which at least 221 were killed by the security forces with another 10,000 injured.
Extrajudicial Killings:
According to Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK), a legal aid and rights group, extrajudicial killings by law enforcement agencies claimed 179 in 2013 alone. Following the controversial 5 January 2014 election, number of such killings has risen. Due to the crackdown on the media, the exact number could not be ascertained, however, according to Odhikar, the leading human rights organisation in Bangladesh,at least 39 people were killed in the name of ‘crossfire’ in January alone. (Source here)
Most ominous sign of this phenomenon is that it seems to have the blessings of the Government as one sitting Cabinet Minister termed it as ‘necessary’.
Brad Adams, Asia Director of the Human Rights Watch (HRW) has said that “We are seeing a frightening pattern of supposed ‘crossfire’ killings of opposition members in Bangladesh. …” In a statement in January HRW urged upon the government to initiate investigation into a recent spate of alleged extrajudicial killings by security forces. There has been no investigation into a single incident so far undertaken by the government. (Source here)
Amnesty international also documented targeted killing in custody in its 2013 report. (Source: .24 sec to 1:18 minute of (Source here)
Enforced Disappearance:
To avoid allegation of extrajudicial killing, the current regime has resorted to a new technique in the form of enforced disappearance that leaves no footprint to substantiate the allegation. Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) in its 2013 Report stated ‘…..complaint mechanism is simply suicidal for families of disappeared victims: police refuse to register complaints alleging atrocities committed by any law-enforcement agency and instead proceed to intimidate complainants incessantly.’ (Source: Page 8-9, ‘BANGLADESH: Lust for Power, Death of Dignity, AHRC Report 2013)
The pattern of the enforced disappearance is documented in AHRC’s Weekly Roundup 23 released on 27 March 2014. (Source: Watch 7:50 min to 10:15 min here.)
Torture and ill treatment in custody:
According to Amnesty International, “ Torture and other ill-treatment were widespread, committed with virtual impunity by the police, (Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), the army and intelligence agencies. Methods included beating, kicking, suspension from the ceiling, food and sleep deprivation, and electric shocks. Most detainees were allegedly tortured until they “confessed” to having committed a crime. Police and RAB allegedly distorted records to cover up the torture, including by misrepresenting arrest dates.” (Source here.)
Arbitrary Arrest of opponents:
Government takes into custody anyone who opposes the government in fictitious cases. As we speak, the top brass including the Acting Secretary General of the largest opposition party (legal opposition party in the last parliament) Bangladesh Nationalist Party are in custody implicating in cases of rioting in incidences where they were not even present. Their petition for bail gets summarily rejected by the partisan judiciary. Even the government appointed Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission has criticised the government for arresting the opposition leaders without any specific allegation of wrongdoing which he considered as a breach of human rights.
Crackdown on Media and Civil Society:
Government has dealt heavy handedly with the media. They are cracking down on any print or electronic media that are critical of their activities and even shutting the concerned media outlets, raiding their office, arresting the editor and/or reporters. Two Bangla (Bengali) daily newspapers and two television channels with links to the opposition, have been shut down. (Source here.)
In April 2013, police arrested Mahmudur Rahman, the editor of Amar Desh literally dragging him down from his office. He has since been incarcerated without any judicial redress or any conviction. In August, Adilur Rahman Khan of Odhikar, a leading human rights group of Bangladesh was arrested under a draconian Information and Communication Technology Act and was denied bail several times before being granted bail in October that year. Activity of his organisation has almost come to a standstill as he is under constant government surveillance. (Source here.)
The International Coalition Against Enforced Disappearances (ICAED), in a meeting in Geneva in late March 2014, called on the United Nations Human Rights Council to address the intensifying government attacks against human rights defenders in Bangladesh. (Source here.)
Politicisation of the Judiciary
Current regime has blatantly politicised the judiciary which could have been the last bastion of reprieve from government oppression. Political loyalty, rather than seniority or competence has taken precedence in appointing assistant attorneys general, judges even the in the case of Chief Justice. By mid-June 2012, 7,000 cases were dismissed under political pressure; 22 BAL members, sympathisers, or sons of ministers and leaders have been pardoned in political murder cases. (Source: p6, Bangladesh: Back to the Future, Crisis Group Asia Report No. 226, 13 June 2012)
Rigging of Election:
The BAL regime resorted to widespread rigging even in the one sided election of 5 January 2014. Evidence of rigging and widespread irregularities by the ruling party operatives in collusion of the election officials is documented and presented here.
The current regime has not let up their rigging performance in the recently held non-party local government election which was held on different stages. In the first two stages, BNP-backed candidates won in huge numbers that hardened the resolve of BAL regime to snatch people’s mandate and turn back the overall tally in their favour. Some of the evidences of rigging and irregularities are chronicled at these links: here, here, here and here.
Disproportionate use of Force:
HRW has highlighted the heavy handedness of the security forces in repressing anti-government political programs and agitations in a video here.
International Action So far:
Not a single Western democratic country including USA congratulated the new government that came out of the farcical 5 January 2014 election.
US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations held a hearing on Bangladesh on 11 February 2014 where US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs made a statement reiterating US’s call for a free and fair election. (Source here.)
UK Parliament debated the situation in Bangladesh by their Backbench Business Committee on 16 January 2014 where MP’s expressed their concern at the current situation in Bangladesh. (Source here.)
EU Parliament on 15 January 2014, adopted a resolution condemning the killings and widespread violence in the run up to and during the election and called on the government of Bangladesh to immediately halt all repressive methods used by the security forces. (Source here.)
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop in a statement of 8 January 2014 called on all sides of the political divide to make way for a ‘fully contested and transparent election as soon as possible’.
(Source here.)
Role of USA:
We acknowledge with deep appreciation pro-active US engagement in the democratic as well as development process of Bangladesh from the time of our Independence. We also acknowledge numerous humanitarian operations run by active US man and women in uniform and without uniform during dire days after natural disasters that Bangladesh is prone to.
Bangladesh has a historic tie with the US as US embraced Bangladesh with an open arms and helped rebuild the war-torn country soon after its Independence. Over the years, the tie has strengthened and diversified in different fields. The US is the biggest investor in Bangladesh and the largest single country destination for Bangladeshi apparel, Bangladesh’s largest export. Two-way trade stood at h $6.1 billion in total goods trade during 2013. The US exported $712 million. Bangladesh’s export to the US totaled a staggering $5.4 billion. (Source here.)
Bangladesh being one of the largest Muslim majority country with a democratic credential and active and vibrant civil society could have been a beacon of hope and a role model of peace and amity amidst many other Muslim dominated countries gripped with endemic violence. But unfortunately, the current BAL regime has turned Bangladesh into a killing field and a fertile breeding ground for extremism and radicalism due to the absence of an atmosphere conducive for flourishing a culture of democracy, mutual respect and tolerance. Bangladesh’s geographic location as the connector between South Asia and South East Asia makes it strategically important for the US to see Bangladesh remain stable and democratic and not supply jihadists in other parts of the world. But the current suffocating atmosphere where state sponsored terror is the order of the day, it would be just a matter of time before the oppressed population take up arms against the tyrant regime with possible regional or even global spill over effect.
Bangladeshi migrants living in the US and contributing in its society and economy strongly hope that the US Government would continue to put pressure on the Bangladesh Government in light of the US State Department statement following the farcical election and eventuate holding a free and fair election that can be monitored by international observers. We are heartened to notice that the US Government has imposed a restriction on individual officials of the notorious Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) from receiving US training and assistance. It may be mentioned that a European human rights group the International Coalition for Freedoms of Rights (IFCR) filed a case against the Government of Bangladesh on 4 February accusing it of crimes against humanity in the form of murder, torture and forced disappearances. (Source here.)
It is extremely disheartening for us when we see the personnel of the forces accused of gross human rights violations and atrocities in Bangladesh are engaged by the United Nations in its acclaimed peacekeeping operations in troubled areas of the world. It is interesting that personnel who brutalise their own people are entrusted by the UN to protect people from atrocity in other countries.
I, as a US citizen of Bangladesh origin urge you as my local representative to kindly take my case against the current oppressive regime of Bangladesh to the appropriate authorities of the US Government so that necessary and effective action can be taken by US alone or in collusion with other Western Democratic countries and international organisations to force the current Bangladesh regime to make way for political conciliation leading to a credible election without any further delay, suspension of atrocities, release of political prisoners and withdrawal of politically motivated cases against the opposition political leaders and civil society members.
The Biggest Rigged Election in Bangladesh (1)

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