Controversy over Dr Yunus, political issues ignored

by rahnuma ahmed

I HAVE recently returned from Jhalokathi. I had gone there as part of a citizens’ group to lend support to seventeen year old Limon Hossain, shot and maimed by a RAB bullet. It was a case of mistaken identity but this simple truth is denied by the government, by the ruling party’s top-ranking leaders and high-ranking police and RAB officials, who viciously keep insisting that Limon is a ‘terrorist.’ All because the government’s elite anti-crime, anti-terror force, can do no wrong. Never, ever. A state of affairs that we, as citizens, contest.
After returning to Dhaka, I flipped through news reports of our visit. Many had characterised our group as being, one of ’eminent’ citizens. Very elitist. Others, of being composed of ‘human rights leaders and activists’, implying a total disregard for its political and ideological diversity since the group consisted of members, including I myself, keenly aware of the politics of human rights. Of, for instance, Nobel Peace Prize recipient Dr Yunus’ notion of credit as being a fundamental human right. Its absurdity, sharply pointed out by anthropologist Lamia Karim who asks, if credit is replaced with the word debt, how can debt, ?a relationship of power and inequality between the loan institution and the borrower? — be construed as a human right? Continue reading “Controversy over Dr Yunus, political issues ignored”

Obama's drone wars and the normalisation of extrajudicial murder

A Pakistani protest in June 2012, after two recent US drone strikes killed 12 people. Photograph: SS Mirza/AFP/Getty
A Pakistani protest in June 2012, after two recent US drone strikes killed 12 people. Photograph: SS Mirza/AFP/Getty
In his first campaign for the presidency, Barack Obama promised to reverse the worst excesses of the Bush administration’s approach to terrorism ? such as the use of torture, the rendition of terrorist suspects to CIA-run black sites around the globe, and the denial of basic legal rights to prisoners in Guant?namo ? and to develop a counterterrorism policy that was consistent with the legal and moral tradition of the United States.?In an address at the Woodrow Wilson Center in August 2007, Obama criticized the Bush administration for putting forward a “false choice between the liberties we cherish and the security we demand”, and swore to provide “our intelligence and law enforcement agencies with the tools they need to track and take out the terrorists without undermining our constitution and our freedom”.
As a candidate, Obama also promised to restore proper legislative and judicial oversight to counterterrorism operations. Rather than treat counterterrorism policy as an area of exception, operating without the normal safeguards that protect the rights of the accused, Obama promised that his approach “will again set an example for the world that the law is not subject to the whims of stubborn rulers, and that?justice is not arbitrary.”
Four years later, it is clear that President Obama has delivered a very different counterterrorism policy from that which he promised on the campaign trail. (Full disclosure: I was an adviser on the Obama campaign’s counterterrorism expert group from July 2007-November 2008.) In fairness, he?has?delivered on a few of his promises, including closing the CIA-run “black site” prisons abroad and ordering that interrogations of all suspects be conducted according to the US army field manual, which proscribes?many of the tactics widely considered torture. And some failures were not wholly his own: Obama’s inability to close Guant?namo Bay was due more to congressional opposition and to an array of legal obstacles than to his own lack of initiative. Continue reading “Obama's drone wars and the normalisation of extrajudicial murder”

Tribunal against Torture

The session, organised on June 26, 2012 at the BRAC Centre Inn, Dhaka by Odhikar in collaboration with European Union includes statements by victims and legal expert?s analysis. Speakers include
? Abdul Matin Khasru, MP and Former Law Minister
? Haider Akbar Khan Rono, Presidium Member, Communist Party of Bangladesh
? Abu Sayed Khan, Managing Editor, The daily Shomokal
? Advocate Abdus Salam, Member, Central Coordination Committee, Gonosonghati Andolon
? Rajekuzzaman Ratan, Member, Central Committee, Socialist Party of Bangladesh
? Mizanur Rahman Khan, Associate Editor, Prothom Alo
? Kalpona Akhter, Executive Editor, Bangladesh Centre for Workers Solidarity

There is a paper presented by Adilur Rahman Khan, Secretary, Odhikar which Nurul Kabir, Editor, New Age presides over. Welcoming address given by Dr. C R Abrar, President, Odhikar
A set of posters of the exhibition on extra judicial killings “Crossfire” by Bangladeshi photojournalist Shahidul Alam of Drik is on display. Sets of the posters have been given to human rights activists to use at grassroots level. The show was recently shown at the Queen’s Museum of Art in New York. 

Dead men tell no tales

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By Vijay Prashad

21 October 2011 ??The Greanville Post ? Qaddafi, From Beginning to End
NATO?s Agenda for?Libya
gaddafi.jpgOn the dusty reaches out of Sirte, a convoy flees a battlefield. A NATO aircraft fires and strikes the cars. The wounded struggle to escape. Armed trucks, with armed fighters, rush to the scene. They find the injured, and among them is the most significant prize: a bloodied Muammar Qaddafi stumbles, is captured, and then is thrown amongst the fighters. One can imagine their exhilaration. A cell-phone traces the events of the next few minutes. A badly injured Qaddafi is pushed around, thrown on a car, and then the video gets blurry. The next images are of a dead Qaddafi. He has a bullet hole on the side of his head.
These images go onto youtube almost instantly. They are on television, and in the newspapers. It will be impossible not to see them.
The Third Geneva Convention (article 13): ?Prisoners of war must at all times be protected, particularly against acts of violence or intimidation and against insults and public curiosity.?
The Fourth Geneva Convention (article 27): ?Protected persons are entitled, in all circumstances, to respect for their persons, their honor, their family rights, their religious convictions and practices, and their manners and customs. They shall at all times be humanely treated, and shall be protected especially against all acts of violence or threats thereof and against insults and public curiosity.?
One of the important ideological elements during the early days of the war in Libya was the framing of the arrest warrant for Qaddafi and his clique by the International Criminal Court?s selectively zealous chief prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo. It was enough to have press reports of excessive violence for Moreno Ocampo and Ban Ki-Moon to use the language of genocide; no independent, forensic evaluation of the evidence was necessary. [Actually, independent evaluation was soon forthcoming from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, decisively debunking Ocampo?s charges. AC/JSC.]
NATO sanctimoniously said that it would help the ICC prosecute the warrant (this despite the fact that the United States, NATO?s powerhouse, is not a member of the ICC). This remark was echoed by the National Transitional Council, NATO?s? political instrument in Benghazi.
Humanitarian intervention was justified on the basis of potential or alleged violations of the Geneva Conventions. The intervention?s finale is? a violation of those very Conventions.
It would? have been inconvenient to see Qaddafi in open court. He had long abandoned his revolutionary heritage (1969-1988), and had given himself over to the U. S.-led War on Terror at least since 2003 (but in fact since the late 1990s). Qaddafi?s prisons had been an important torture center in the archipelago of black sites utilized by the CIA, European intelligence and the Egyptian security state. What stories Qaddafi might have told if he were allowed to speak in open court? What stories Saddam Hussein might have told had he too been allowed to speak in an open court? As it happens, Hussein at least entered a courtroom, even as it was more kangaroo than judicial.
No such courtroom for Qaddafi. As Naeem Mohaiemen put it, ?Dead men tell no tales. They cannot stand trial. They cannot name the people who helped them stay in power. All secrets die with them.
Qaddafi is dead. As the euphoria dies down, it might be important to recall that we are dealing with at least two Qaddafis. The first Qaddafi overthrew a lazy and corrupt monarchy in 1969, and proceeded to transform Libya along a fairly straightforward national development path. There were idiosyncrasies, such as Qaddafi?s ideas about democracy that never really produced institutions of any value. Qaddafi had the unique ability to centralize power in the name of de-centralization. Nevertheless, in the national liberation Qaddafi certainly turned over large sections of the national surplus to improve the well-being of the Libyan people. It is because of two decades of such policies that the Libyan people entered the 21st century with high human development indicators. Oil helped, but there are oil nations (such as Nigeria) where the people languish in terms of their access to social goods and to social development.
By 1988, the first Qaddafi morphed into the second Qaddafi, who set aside his anti-imperialism for collaboration with imperialism, and who dismissed the national development path for neo-liberal privatization (I tell this story in Arab Spring, Libyan Winter, which will be published by AK Press in the Spring of 2012). This second Qaddafi squandered the pursuit of well-being, and so took away the one aspect of his governance that the people supported. From the 1990s onward, Qaddafi?s regime offered the masses the illusion of social wealth and the illusion of democracy. They wanted more, and that is the reason for the long process of unrest that begins in the early 1990s (alongside the Algerian Civil War), comes to a head in 1995-96 and then again in 2006. It has been a long slog for the various rebellious elements to find themselves.
The new leadership of Tripoli was incubated inside the Qaddafi regime. His son, Saif al-Islam was the chief neoliberal reformer, and he surrounded himself with people who wanted to turn Libya into a larger Dubai. They went to work around 2006, but were disillusioned by the rate of progress, and many (including Mahmud Jibril, the current Prime Minister) had threatened to resign on several occasions. When an insurengy began in Benghazi, this clique hastened to join them, and by March had taken hold of the leadership of the rebellion. It remains in their hands.
What is being celebrated on the streets of Benghazi, Tripoli and the other cities? Certainly there is jubilation at the removal from power of the Qaddafi of 1988-2011. It is in the interests of NATO and Jibril?s clique to ensure that in this auto-da-f? the national liberation anti-imperialist of 1969-1988 is liquidated, and that the neoliberal era is forgotten, to be reborn anew as if not tried before. That is going to be the trick: to navigate between the joy of large sections of the population who want to have a say in their society (which Qaddafi blocked, and Jibril would like to canalize) and a small section that wants to pursue the neoliberal agenda (which Qaddafi tried to facilitate but could not do so over the objections of his ?men of the tent?). The new Libya will be born in the gap between the two interpretations.
The manner of Qaddafi?s death is a synecdoche for the entire war. NATO?s bombs stopped the convoy, and without them Qaddafi would probably have fled to his next redoubt. The rebellion might have succeeded without NATO. But with NATO, certain political options had to be foreclosed; NATO?s member states are in line now to claim their reward. However, they are too polite in a liberal European way to actually state their claim publically in a quid-pro-quo fashion. Hence, they say things like: this is a Libyan war, and that Libya must decide what it must do. This is properly the space into which those sections in the new Libyan power structure that still value sovereignty must assert themselves. The window for that assertion is going to close soon, as the deals get inked that lock Libya?s resources and autonomy into the agenda of the NATO states.
VIJAY PRASHAD?is the George and Martha Kellner Chair of South Asian History and Director of International Studies at Trinity College, Hartford, CT His most recent book,?The Darker Nations: A People?s History of the Third World,?won the Muzaffar Ahmad Book Prize for 2009. The Swedish and French editions are just out. He can be reached at:[email protected]

Crimes unseen: Extrajudicial executions in Bangladesh

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” href=”http://www.amnesty.org/sites/impact.amnesty.org/files/bangladesh-fakir-560.jpg”> Bangladeshi journalist Masum Fakir was arrested and tortured by the RAB

Bangladeshi journalist Masum Fakir was arrested and tortured by the RAB?? Masum Fakir

24 August 2011

The Bangladesh authorities must honour their pledge to stop extrajudicial executions by a special police force accused of involvement in hundreds of killings, Amnesty International said today in a new report.
Crimes unseen: Extrajudicial executions in Bangladesh also documents how the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) justify these killings as accidental or as a result of officers acting in self-defence, although in reality many victims are killed following their arrest.
?Hardly a week goes by in Bangladesh without someone being shot by RAB with the authorities saying they were killed or injured in ?crossfire? or a ?gun-fight?. However the authorities choose to describe such incidents, the fact remains that they are suspected unlawful killings,? said Abbas Faiz, Amnesty International?s Bangladesh Researcher.
The RAB has been implicated in the killing of at least 700 people since its inception in 2004. Any investigations that have been carried out into those killed have either been handled by RAB or by a government-appointed judicial body but the details of their methodology or findings have remained secret. They have never resulted in judicial prosecution. RAB has consistently denied responsibility for unlawful killings and the authorities have accepted RAB claims.
?It is appalling that virtually all alleged instances of illegal RAB killings have gone unchallenged or unpunished. There can be no justice if the force is the chief investigator of its own wrong-doings. Such investigations cannot be impartial. There is nothing to stop the RAB from destroying the evidence and engineering the outcome,? said Abbas Faiz.
Former detainees also told Amnesty International how they were routinely tortured in custody, suffering beatings, food and sleep deprivation, and electric shocks.
At least 200 alleged RAB killings have occurred since January 2009 when the current Awami League government came to power, despite the Prime Minister?s pledge to end extrajudicial executions and claims by the authorities that no extrajudicial executions were carried out in the country in this period.
In addition, at least 30 people have been killed in other police operations since early 2010, with the police also portraying them as deaths in ?shoot-outs? or ?gun-fights?.
?By failing to take proper judicial action against RAB, successive Bangladeshi governments have effectively endorsed the force?s claims and conduct and given it carte blanche to act with impunity. All we have seen from the current government are broken promises or worse, outright denial,? said Abbas Faiz.
In many cases the investigations blamed the victims, calling them criminals and portraying their deaths as justified even though available public evidence refuted that.
?The Bangladesh authorities must act now and take concrete steps to protect people from the alleged unlawful killings by their security forces .The government must ensure independent and impartial investigations into all suspected cases of extrajudicial executions and bring those responsible to justice.?
Bangladesh?s police and RAB continue to receive a wide range of military and police equipment from overseas, including from Austria, Belgium, China, Czech Republic, Italy, Poland, Russia, Slovakia, Turkey and USA. In addition, diplomatic cables from the US Embassy in Dhaka, obtained and released by Wikileaks in December 2010 alleged that UK police had been training RAB officers.
Amnesty International calls upon these countries to refrain from supplying arms to Bangladesh that will be used by RAB and other security forces to commit extrajudicial executions and other human rights violations. Any country that knowingly sends arms or other supplies to equip a force which systematically violates human rights may itself bear some responsibility for those violations.
RAB was created in March 2004, to much public acclaim, as the government?s response to a breakdown in law and order, particularly in western and central Bangladesh.
In Rajshahi, Khulna and Dhaka districts, armed criminal groups or powerful mercenary gangs colluded with local politicians to run smuggling rings or extort money from local people. Within months of its creation, RAB?s operations were characterized by a pattern of killings portrayed by the authorities as ?deaths in crossfire?, many of which had the hallmarks of extrajudicial executions.
They usually occurred in deserted locations after a suspect?s arrest. In some cases, there were witnesses to the arrests, but RAB authorities maintained that victims had been killed by ?crossfire?, or in ?shoot-outs? or ?gunfights?.
Bangladesh?s two main political parties ? the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and the Awami League ? have shown no commitment to limiting the powers of RAB.
In the first couple of months of coming to office, the Prime Minister spoke of a ?zero tolerance? policy toward extrajudicial executions. Other government authorities repeated her pledge. These hopes were dashed in late 2009 when the authorities, including the Home Minister, began to claim that there were no extrajudicial executions in the country.
Related links:
An exhibition on extra judicial killings by Shahidul Alam
Guardian report on torture by MI5 in collaboration with RAB
Rahnuma Ahmed’s column on the shooting of Limon Hossain by RAB
Amensty’s Abbas Faiz on RAB impunity
Rahnuma Ahmed’s column on militarisation and the women’s movement
Rahnuma Ahmed’s column on the ‘death squad’
Guardian article on ‘death squad’ being trained by UK Government
Guardian claim of Briton being tortured in Bangladesh
Representing “Crossfire”: Politics, Art and Photography

Attack on "Solidarity for Limon" rally


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The regular weekly “Solidarity for Limon” rally had been steadily attracting bigger crowds, despite the monsoon rains. The gathering this Friday the 24th June 2011 was especially large. The street plays were popular and since this was not an event aligned to either of the main political parties, it attracted ordinary people who came to express solidarity, or merely to enjoy the performance.
This week’s performance, a drama called Khekshial (Jackal), performed by Aranyak Natyadal in front of the National Museum at around 4:30pm, was however disrupted when two men burst through the surrounding crowd and began wrecking the props.

Screengrab from video: 9 mins 0 secs?

Screengrab from video: 9 mins 06 secs


Attack visible from 8 mins 58 secs onwards.
The audience, intially slow to react, as they thought it was part of the play, soon went after the men, but they disappeared into the crowd. Later a young man called Al-Amin was caught by the crowd and accused of being one of the attackers. The man was taken away by Shahbag police, who arrived sometime after the event. The police are reported to have released Al-Amin as he was an innocent by-stander.
The organisers have pledged to continue their protests until the government withdraw the false cases against Limon Hossein and provide adequate compensation for the loss of his leg.
`Attack on demo for Limon,’ bdnews24
Fri, Jun 24th, 2011 8:23 pm BdST
http://www.bdnews24.com/details.php?id=199289&cid=2
and, `Goons attack demo for Limon,’ New Age, 25/06/2011 00:42:00
http://newagebd.com/newspaper1/frontpage/23806.html

Meeting Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina

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By Abbas Faiz ? South Asia researcher for Amnesty International

It was a welcome opportunity to meet Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina during her official visit to the UK. Three of us, Lord Eric Avebury of the UK House of Lords, Brad Adams of Human Rights Watch and I met the Prime Minister on 30 January at her hotel suite in London.
Bangladesh Foreign Minister, Dr Dipu Moni and the Bangladesh High Commissioner to the UK, Dr Sayeedur Rahman Khan were also present at the meeting.
We began with a discussion on the war crimes trials, restrictions on human rights groups visiting Chittagong Hill Tracts, and the continued delay in implementing the Chittagong Hill Tracts Accord (CHT) that was signed in 1997 during Sheikh Hasina?s previous tenure as Prime Minister.
The Prime Minister said she was committed to implementing the CHT Accord and had set up a committee to advise her on how to implement it.
The Foreign Minister said the government was aware of the concerns the International Bar Association had raised about the law under which war crimes will be tried. She said the government had sought the opinion of legal experts on those concerns and that the amended law incorporates their advice. She said the process is to heal wounds, and the government is looking at all issues in relation to the trials, and the rule of law would be followed.
The law denies, among other things, the right to challenge the jurisdiction of the Tribunal and the right to the possibility of bail but it was not clear if the government would move to amend the law.
I told the Prime Minister that Amnesty International welcomes the government?s move to make the National Human Rights Commission permanent and asked for her assurances that it would remain independent and well resourced. Also, the government?s move to try Bangladesh Rifle mutineers in civilian courts, as against courts martial, was welcome.
I expressed concern that the government?s move to address some of the human rights concerns appear to favour only members of her own party, the Awami League. There is a long, unwelcome legacy in Bangladesh for governments to go soft on the criminal activities of members of their own party and harsh on the opposition. I asked why the only known cases of the government pardoning death penalty convicts were 20 convicts, 19 of whom were members of the governing Awami League. I also expressed concern about the activities of the Bangladesh Chattra League (BCL), the student wing of the Awami League, and the serious allegations of human rights abuses by this grouping, which have gone unpunished.
The Foreign Minister said the deaths sentences had been politically motivated and for that reason the prisoners have been pardoned. I was dismayed as I had hoped to hear a commitment to pardoning more death penalty convicts and the exercise of utmost impartiality in choosing who to pardon.
The Prime Minister said she had taken action against the BCL members. Some have been arrested for committing crimes and some have been expelled from the Awami League.
I explained that torture continues to be widespread and asked the Prime Minister if her government would consider implementing the 2003 Supreme Court ruling that provides guidelines for torture free investigation of suspects. This question remained unanswered.
I referred to statements the Prime Minister had made before and after the 2008 elections that extrajudicial executions would end. Yet, they continue and nothing seems to be done to stop them.
The Prime Minister said extrajudicial executions have been happening since 2004 and she has been very vocal on the issue from that time. She said they could not stop overnight. She said all incidents are investigated, and if any officer is found to have committed a crime ?immediately we take action against it?.
I agree that extrajudicial executions cannot stop overnight, but work to stop them can begin straight away. While the Prime Minister?s comments generate the hope that the government might be prepared to address the issue, the Home Minister?s comments last week that extrajudicial executions were not happening undermines that hope.

WikiLeaks cables: Bangladeshi 'death squad' trained by UK government

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Rapid Action Battalion, accused of hundreds of extra-judicial killings, received training from UK officers, cables reveal

By Fariha Karim and Ian Cobain
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 21 December 2010 21.30 GMT

The British government has been training a Bangladeshi paramilitary force condemned by human rights organisations as a “government death squad”, leaked US embassy cables have revealed.

Members of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) have received training in 'investigative interviewing techniques'. Photograph: Abir Abdullah/EPA

Members of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), which has been held responsible for hundreds of extra-judicial killings in recent years and is said to routinely use torture, have received British training in “investigative interviewing techniques” and “rules of engagement”.
Details of the training were revealed in a number of cables, released by WikiLeaks, which address the counter-terrorism objectives of the US and UK governments in Bangladesh. One cable makes clear that the US would not offer any assistance other than human rights training to the RAB ? and that it would be illegal under US law to do so ? because its members commit gross human rights violations with impunity.
Since the RAB was established six years ago, it is estimated by some human rights activists to have been responsible for more than 1,000 extra-judicial killings, described euphemistically as “crossfire” deaths. In September last year the director general of the RAB said his men had killed 577 people in “crossfire”. In March this year he updated the figure, saying they had killed 622 people.
The RAB’s use of torture has also been exhaustively documented by human rights organisations. In addition, officers from the paramilitary force are alleged to have been involved in kidnap and extortion, and are frequently accused of taking large bribes in return for carrying out crossfire killings.
However, the cables reveal that both the British and the Americans, in their determination to strengthen counter-terrorism operations in Bangladesh, are in favour of bolstering the force, arguing that the “RAB enjoys a great deal of respect and admiration from a population scarred by decreasing law and order over the last decade”. In one cable, the US ambassador to Dhaka, James Moriarty, expresses the view that the RAB is the “enforcement organisation best positioned to one day become a Bangladeshi version of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation”.
In another cable, Moriarty quotes British officials as saying they have been “training RAB for 18 months in areas such as investigative interviewing techniques and rules of engagement”. Asked about the training assistance for the RAB, the Foreign Office said the UK government “provides a range of human rights assistance” in the country. However, the RAB’s head of training, Mejbah Uddin, told the Guardian that he was unaware of any human rights training since he was appointed last summer.
The cables make clear that British training for RAB officers began three years ago under the last Labour government.
However, RAB officials confirmed independently of the cables that they had taken part in a series of courses and workshops as recently as October, five months after the formation of the coalition government. Asked whether ministers had approved the training programme, the Foreign Office said only that William Hague, the foreign secretary, and other ministers, had been briefed on counter-terrorism spending.
Continue reading “WikiLeaks cables: Bangladeshi 'death squad' trained by UK government”

… for the missing

From Groundviews

By Gypsy Bohemia

A solitary lamp perched on a desk top lights a room. A man scribbles feverishly on paper, hunched over the light as if he?s jealously guarding what little he has. His desk is cluttered with cartoons and drawings ? some of a President, others of two small children. He holds down his paper with one hand and writes with the other, so violently that other loose papers and articles shuffle with his movements.
He is breathing hard, as if he?s run to his desk from sleep, taken by wild inspiration. He has forgotten to switch on the fan, and the heat of that December night hangs in the air, thickening like spoiling milk. Small explosions of sweat begin to burst from the pores of his forehead, drip darkly onto his fast-moving hand, and trickle onto the paper, blotting the ink. This frustrates him but he doesn?t stop to soak up the liquid, just writes on, faster.
His wife lies in bed in the next room. She is awake, some inexplicable worry vaulting the sleep away from her eyes whenever it threatens to close them. She watches the empty space next to her, willing her husband to come back to bed but knows he won?t. She wonders what he felt the need to write about in the middle of the night, leaping out of bed as if possessed. She was afraid he?d knock something over in the dark and wake the children, but that walk from bedroom to desk is so familiar that he doesn?t.
It is only when he feels that familiar cramping in his fingers that he pauses. He looks around the room, fighting to make out familiar shapes in the blackness outside his little circle of light. His house is modest and unadorned for the most part ? the only exceptions are the sketches of his children that he has been drawing since they were born. Some have been framed; others lie strewn around the house ? on bits of furniture, stuffed carelessly into vases by the children, folded within the pockets of well-worn wallets, dog-eared between the pages of story books.
He wiggles his fingers to give them a stretch and picks up one of the drawings on his desk. His little boy is growing up quickly and sometimes he feels like he?s missing it, so caught up is he in his work. Sometimes he sees print in his sleep. Sometimes he finds himself talking to his little ones about his work and has to stop mid-sentence, realizing they don?t understand most of what he?s saying. He shoots a guilty glance in the direction of his bedroom, knowing he woke his wife in his mad midnight rush to get to his desk. She worries for him, he knows. He doesn?t take enough time to relieve her of those worries, to comfort her. He resolves to, as soon as he finishes this article.
After this brief pause, he goes back to his article, crossing and re-crossing the lines, scribbling out careless mistakes, cursing his own pen which writes far slower than the thoughts run in his head. He longs for the computer at his office but knows it is too late to go there now and besides, to leave now would be to disrupt the flow of his writing. The flow in tonight?s case is a torrential storm of words, figures and damning evidence.
His wife gives up a losing battle and comes to the doorway of the bedroom, which is always open ? just in case. She leans against the frame, appreciating the cool wood against her hot skin, and watches her husband as he works. She knows every telltale movement of his obsessive inspiration so well. Watching him from behind, he looks the same as he did when they first married. He would stop every now and then to shuffle through printed sheets of information and look up to stare unseeingly at some point on the wall, piecing parts of it together in his head. His back would periodically straighten and then fall into that characteristic hunch every time he was struck by something new that he simply had to write down. Even through the dull ache of worry in her stomach, she can?t help but smile.
She knows the value of what he does, but it isn?t the easiest thing to live with. The warnings, the childrens? questions, her own engulfing fear. When they came with ropes and iron rods to take him away she expected that fear to kill her on the spot. It stuck in her throat and seemed to expand outwards, threatening to burst vocal chords already strained with soundless screams. There was an awful moment before he was dragged away, when she looked from her husband?s eyes, smoldering with helpless anger, to the terrified ones of her children. Seconds later, she caught sight of her own in a mirror and saw only naked panic. 4 pairs of eyes, a thousand different emotions. Darting urgently from one to the other, trying to comprehend, trying to rebel, trying to say goodbye. Moments later, he was gone and they were alone.
When he came back, she couldn?t believe it. She wildly kissed each purpling eye, each ugly bruise and held him tightly against her, not caring even as he cried out in pain when her arms circled sensitive, injured skin. She tried to make him swear never to put himself in danger again. For her. For their children. He refused. The truth is more important, he kept insisting, and his eyes suddenly became distant and withdrawn and she knew he was already thinking of something to write. At that moment she felt a mixture of searing frustration and aching love so strong, she almost choked.
Today, as she watches him write, she feels a similar emotion. She looks down the hall to her children?s shared room, listening in the stillness for any indication that they?re awake. Her little girl has been having nightmares of late. She never says what they?re about, but insists on crawling into bed with them for the rest of the night. She only falls asleep when her head is nestled safely against her father?s chest.
He?s been writing so hard and so long, he doesn?t notice she is standing behind him. Suddenly though, in a rare lapse of concentration, he feels the pressure of her stare on his back and the weight of her worry cloaking his skin ? another layer of heat on an already hot night. He turns around and looks for her in the darkness, finding her barely visible in the shadows of their bedroom doorway.
?Come to bed? she says quietly and her eyes linger on him for a moment or two before she turns to go back inside.
He looks at his unfinished article for a moment, hesitating. Then he wonders how many times he will get to hold her after this article comes out. He lives under no illusions ? they came before. They will come again.
He puts down his pen as if putting down a heavy weight. The truth can wait for a few hours, he thinks. The truth can wait until morning.
He gets up, switches off the lamp, and as the room dissolves into darkness around him, walks that familiar path back to bed.

Authors note: Journalist and cartoonist Prageeth Ekneligoda went missing on the 24th of December, days after writing several critical articles regarding election malpractices by the Government. He remains missing to this day. Like him, hordes of journalists have been arrested, abducted, jailed, tortured and murdered for reporting the truth and expressing dissenting views. Some have been returned to their families. Others, like Ekaneligoda, have simply vanished without a trace, leaving their families with the horror of not knowing whether to hope or grieve.

These attacks are not simply hits against the media. They are a direct violation of our rights: the right to know the truth of what is out there, the right to ask questions of those who should answer to us, and the right to simply have a different point of view.
For every voice that is silenced, more must shoulder their burden, wear their courage and take their place to end this cycle of insidious violence. This is my tribute, for The Missing.

RAB's Photo Sessions and the Visual Construction of Criminality

By Rahnuma Ahmed

The title of my column is somewhat misleading, I think it’s best to state that right away. Intrigued by the press briefings that RAB (Rapid Action Battalion) offices hold every so often where `criminals’ are displayed alongwith crime artefacts laid out on long rows of tables?guns, machettes, grenade-making equipment, stolen cash?as evidence of their criminality, images which are served up on the news of all private TV channels, which are printed a day later in the newspapers, I had thought of conducting research on these photo op sessions. I had wanted to examine these as `sites’ that are organised and arranged by the organs of the state, by the functionaries of the state, ones that construct criminality through visual means, i.e., still photos and video recordings of criminals, their tools, the loot. RAB, for the few who may not know, falls under the jurisdiction of the ministry of home affairs, its members are seconded to the battalion from the army, navy, air force and police, a measure which, according to its critics, eases in the carry-over of its culture of gross abuses and impunity to other parts of the security forces.

RAB photo opRAB Photo Session

My interest in RAB and its activities, as many of my readers probably know, is not new. It re-surfaced recently, however, because of several incidents which gave rise to thoughts, ones that not only refused to go away but dug deep into the soil and grew shoots.
It surfaced as I poured water over a waterproof camera that Shahidul Alam, my partner, held underneath. He was working on re-creating images of water-boarding for his upcoming photo exhibition on torture. I concentrated on carrying out his instructions, on not thinking about how I would have felt if an actual head had been in the bucket. It surfaced languidly as I heard Nurul? Kabir ask third year students of photography?he is currently teaching a course on Media and Politics at Pathshala?to reflect on how the Bangladeshi media participates in non-violent means of ruling. On how it seeks and gains people’s consent to ideas which work against their interests. Drawing instances from how the media had significantly contributed to making Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia, women with no political experience, into `national’ leaders, on how intellectuals, writers and journalists gratuitously offer the view that the nation’s problems would be solved if only the two women would meet and talk to each other, Kabir moved on to a discussion of ideological state apparatuses (the ISA’s, as those familiar with the French Marxist theorist Louis Althusser’s ideas, know). While listening to him, I thought of RAB’s crossfire deaths and how it had simultaneously constructed, and cashed in on an idea of meting out instant justice in a situation of deteriorating law-and-order and a failing criminal justice system, a situation for which the government, of course, was ultimately responsible. I then thought of how it was increasingly becoming difficult for crossfire deaths to garner public support, even of people who supported the government on all other counts. But what about RAB’s press briefings? What did they construct, and what did we consume by watching images of these on television, or through seeing printed pictures?
Mug shots, or photographic portraits of arrested people, taken by police photographers at the police station is not something that is practised in Bangladesh. The genre of photography and framing that has developed since RAB (inaugurated in March 2004) began its press briefings seems unique to Bangladesh, and to its visual history. Through my network of photographer friends I got hold of about sixty photographs, and sat looking through these, scribbling notes while I did: RAB officials conducting security searches on buses. Squad dogs snarling at each other. A pair of startled eyes of a young man, the alleged criminal, in front of whom lay a table full of machettes. He seemed to have been hauled up and planted in front of the table. Three young men, guarded on either side by two RAB officials, but although they seemed to be in the middle of a forest, strangely enough, they had A-4 sheets with their names, computer-composed and printed, hanging on their shirt fronts.
I then turned to dozens of photographs of press briefing sessions. These invariably, with one or two slight variations, had `criminals’ standing behind a long table, covered with a white table cloth, a banner behind announcing the number of the battalion (twelve in all), the alleged criminal or criminals guarded by armed RAB members on either side, criminal artefacts in front. The names of those caught, `Mohd Rafiqul Islam, illegal woman trafficker,’ a meticulous description of what was recovered, `125 bhori gold ornaments,’ `ten thousand US dollars,’ often neatly affixed. To the person. To the object. Reminiscent of colonial inventories.
I spoke to a photographer who has covered nearly a hundred RAB events in the last 4 years. He spoke to me on condition of anonymity. So what happens, I asked. Well, the press, from the channels, from the dailies, we all go at the appointed time. We go to a large room, a hall room. There are chairs for us. It takes about half an hour, the criminals are brought, we are briefed on the crime, what happened, who was caught, with what. We take photographs. I prodded and he said, well, what the RAB official says, and what the alleged criminal says seem to be based on the same script. Does anything ever untoward happen? Have you seen any such thing happen? Oh no, he replied. It’s all very neat, very well-organised. No ruffles, none whatsoever. So, why do they do it? Why do they go to the trouble? I think because they get free publicity. I wondered to myself whether it had made crime reporters and investigative journalists lazy. So, you mean, it’s a package? Yes, his eyes lit up. It’s all pre-packaged, you get everything all at once. Sometimes, he said, I think, it is arranged to divert attention. Whose? Well, the media’s, and thereby that of the public. For instance? If you remember the whole Yaba thing, when it blew up, most of those who were paraded before us were Yaba addicts, there was such a big circus over it but none of the really big fish were caught. So, what makes you think it’s stage-managed? Well, two things. If we see something happening on the street, and RAB is there, in action, and we go up to take photographs, they behave very badly. They’ll snarl and say, `Do you have any permission?’ They beat up a Jugantor photographer once. But then the next thing you know, they’ll organise this elaborate press briefing at their offices and parade these so-called criminals with ten-or-so Phensedyl bottles laid out on the table. And they also offer us tea, snacks. We don’t want their nasta, we want to work, I want to take photographs because I think I am accountable to the public. As he spoke I thought to myself, surely, these staged photo ops violate constitutional rights? What does one call them, a sort of media trial, held in what, RAB’s court? Aloud, I asked, what strikes you as most odd about these sessions? Well, when they put on their sunglasses, I mean we are inside the building, inside a room, there’s no sunlight but these guys put on their dark glasses just before we start taking photos.
I return to examining the photographs. There is one set missing, I think. A set that none of us will probably ever get to see. Those that RAB officials are said to have taken of New Age’s crime reporter F Masum after they beat him up outside his house for failing to open the gate with alacrity. According to him, they later dragged him into his bedroom, placed six Phensedyl bottles in his pillow case, stood him beside it. The camera clicked.
First published in New Age on Monday 16th November 2009.
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