Obituary of a Democracy

In an interview with Shahidul Alam from his hospital bed, Chief Coordinator of Ganosamhati Andolon, Zonayed Saki, talks about the attack by police which left over fifty of his comrades injured. General Secretary of Biplobi Workers’ Party Saiful Haq was also injured. They were protesting the rigged elections on 30 December 2018. Opposition activists remember 30 December  for the ‘Death of Democracy’.

I am Zonayed Saki. I am the chief coordinator of Gonosamhati Andolon.
Gonosamhati Andolon is a political party in Bangladesh working for the rights of people.
You all know that in Bangladesh on the 30th December 2018, the election that took place was a vote robbery.
There has never before been an election like this in Bangladesh. Most ballots were stamped the previous night, and they filled up the ballot boxes.
And the entire state machinery was used towards this vote robbery.
There has never been a previous instance where this has happened in Bangladesh, because the Prime Minister had, prior to the election, had discussions with all political parties of Bangladesh. Continue reading “Obituary of a Democracy”

The Guardians: Time Magazine Person of the Year 2018

Shahidul Alam, one of the journalists collectively considered the Time Person of the Year 2018. Photo Moises Sam/Magnum for Time

This year brought no shortage of other examples. Bangladeshi photographer Shahidul Alam was jailed for more than 100 days for making “false” and “provocative” statements after criticizing Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in an interview about mass protests in Dhaka Continue reading “The Guardians: Time Magazine Person of the Year 2018”

RESISTING RAMPAL

‘Go back NTPC, get out India’
rahnuma ahmed

Dhaka, Bangladesh, August 20, 2016. ? Taslima Akhter
Dhaka, Bangladesh, August 20, 2016. © Taslima Akhter

Of all the slogans raised in protest against the coal power plant being built at Rampal in Bagerhat, this one’s the best. Continue reading “RESISTING RAMPAL”

South-South Coope Award: Reality or imagination?

M. Shahidul Islam in Toronto

“Propaganda must be planned and executed by only one authority,” said Adolf Hitler’s chief propagandist, Joseph Goebbels (1897-1945). In today’s cyber world, such a strategy holds little water given that the ordinary people too have access to what is deemed as secrets by the ruling coterie.

No wonder whispers and whining have begun to echo around the world about the news that Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was honoured with a ‘poverty reduction award’ during the UN General Assembly’s (UNGA) 68th session by the UNDP’s South-South Cooperation (SSC).

The controversy follows publication of news in the Bangladesh media, quoting Bangladesh’s official news agency BSS and the private news agency UNB as sources, that the award was given for the PM’s commendable role in poverty reduction.

South South Award AL 1000 pix

A picture captioned “For her special contribution in poverty alleviation, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina receives an award from South-South News Honorary President Ambassador Francis Lorenzo at the headquarters of International Organisation for South-South Cooperation in New York on Monday (September 23)” added much fuel to the fire.
The South-South News is an appendage of the SSC, launched in February 2010, to distribute news of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) among the members of the Southern (developing) nations.
Award: an investigation
An exhaustive investigation reveals that the news of the Bangladesh PM receiving such an award is either false or twisted. In a press statement issued on September 19 by the SSC in its official websites the organization declared that “The 2013 South-South Awards ceremony will be held on Sunday, September 22 at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City. The awards recognize governments and private and public sector leaders who have made significant contributions to sustainable development.”
The statement added, “This year’s Global Governance Leadership award recipients include: Her Excellency Laura Chinchilla Miranda, President of Costa Rica; His Royal Highness Khalifa bin Salman Al – Khalifa, Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Bahrain; and His Excellency Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama, Prime Minister of Fiji.”
The Press Release further states, “The Global Governance Leadership Awards are presented to individuals who have made distinctive contributions to sustainable development, the youth, e-governance, and information and communications technology. Other award recipients this year include His Excellency Nelson Mandela, Madame Graça Machel, and Mr. David Paich.”
Nowhere the name of the Bangladesh PM is found, either in the Press Releases, or by any other searches; except in the news published by Bangladesh media outlets.
New York-based News One reported on September 23 that: “The 2013 South-South Awards were held in Midtown Manhattan’s Waldorf-Astoria hotel Sunday evening. The awards honored global leaders who’ve made contributions to sustainable development in their countries, with a particular nod to technology and innovation. The award recipients included Fiji Prime Minister Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama, President Laura Chinchilla of Costa Rica, and Bahrain Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, but the primary focus was on Nelson Mandela, who, along with Madame Graca Machel, was honored with a Humanitarian Award for his decades-long struggle against apartheid in South Africa.”
Confusion confounded
Confusion and controversy relating to the Bangladesh PM having received the award arose due to some other obvious reasons. First: The PM flew for New York on September 22 and arrived on September 23, a day after the awarding ceremony’s conclusion. Second: Viewers failed to find the name of the Bangladesh PM in this year’s recipients list, as well as in the pictorials made available in http://southsouthawards.com/southsouthawards. The third reason is: Neither the SSC and its affiliates’ websites, nor any other internet searches, yielded any result of the Bangladesh PM receiving the SSC’s poverty reduction award, except in the cited Bangladesh media.
Concerns are growing why the Bangladesh media not only did not verify the authenticity of the news, quoting the UNB and the BSS as the main sources, while one of the leading English language dailies of the country published on September 25 that, “Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has received an award for Bangladesh for its stellar performance in poverty reduction during the present government’s tenure. The International Organisation for South-South Cooperation (IOSSC) gave the award at a function at its headquarters in New York on Monday. Ambassador Francis Lorenzo, president of the South-South News, handed over the award to Hasina, PM’s Press Secretary Abul Kalam Azad said.”
For sure, the award given by the South South Cooperation’s main body and the South South News are quite different in content and context, and, Ambassador Francis Lorenzo, who’s shown in the published picture as giving the award to the Bangladesh PM, is a Honorary President of South South News (SSN), not South South Cooperation (SSC). The picture published in the Bangladesh media too clearly shows the background banner reading, “South South News.”
Yet, the State-owned news agency, BSS, reported that, “The International Organization for South-South Cooperation (IOSSC), an initiative of the UN to advance the implementation of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals through the sharing of best practices in the area of South-South and Triangular Cooperation, handed over the award to the Bangladesh Prime Minister at a function at the IOSSC headquarters here in the evening.”
Spinning wheel?
From such published reports, one is tempted to surmise that the spin has been primed by the PM’s own aides. Especially the UNB’s quoting of the PM’s Press Secretary, Abul Kalam Azad, as the main and the only source of the news makes such an apprehension likely. It also seems surprising and surreal that, of the five journalists who comprised the PM’s 140-strong entourage, none was present in the reported award winning gala which was perhaps the most important event of the PM’s eight- day- long tour to New York.
In order to control the flow of information, something else also happened. The UNB-sourced report claimed, “PM’s son Sajeeb Wazed Joy, her daughter Saima Hossain Putul, AL leaders Amir Hossain Amu, Tofail Ahmed, and Workers’ Party President Rashed Khan Menon, among others, were present on the occasion.”
Upon being contacted to shed lights on the swirling confusions, an SSC official referred to the Press Releases available on their official websites and refused to make any further comment. Asked about the news already published in the Bangladesh media, the official responded: “We’re not answerable for what the Bangladesh media writes or says.”
The SSC itself being silent on the issue, analysts can hardly be blamed for sprouting wild and imaginative theories about what exactly happened. That suspicion has been heightened by the publication by the Dhaka Tribune newspaper, along with its news item titled ‘AL to celebrate Hasina’s South-South Award,’ a 2-year old photo, instead of the one reportedly taken during the latest UNGA session.
Others say, it may as well be that the PM was awarded by the SSC in the sideline for her contributions in other fields of MDG’s targets, not for poverty alleviation in particular. A survey of the SSC literature revealed that such a plausibility does exist; given that the SSC had already recognized Bangladesh as a ‘high achiever’ of MDGs and supported a proposition earlier to establish an ‘International Institute on Southern Development’ in Bangladesh.
In making that recommendation the SSC opined, “Bangladesh’s success in achieving many of the MDGs is internationally recognized. Bangladesh deserves a right position in the SSC as it has got many good practices to offer especially in the areas of disaster management, adaptation of climate change, women and child development and using IT for public service delivery at grass-root level. People are resilient and innovative here. Therefore, the proposed international institute on southern innovation would certainly add new dimension to the innovative efforts of Bangladesh in managing the development challenges and moving forward.”
None of such admiration can help overcome the budding conjectural assertions and the swirling of hyperbole around. The SSC and the Bangladesh government can do themselves better services by clearing the obfuscations that have begun to taint their respective images.

A 40-Year Quest for Justice

By Shahidul Alam for New York Times

Bangladesh’s Winter of Discontent
Published: February 28, 2013. DHAKA, Bangladesh

Rashin Kheiriyeh
More than four decades after independence, protesters in Bangladesh are demanding that leaders of the Jamaat-e-Islami political party, as well as others, finally be punished for war crimes.Puppets of the alleged war criminals dangle from nooses in Shahbagh Square in Dhaka. © Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

FOR the past month, tens of thousands of Bangladeshis have filled Shahbagh Square here, demanding justice for crimes committed in 1971, when Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan) attained its independence from Pakistan.

Thousands of protesters gathered in Shahbagh Square for the funeral of Ahmed Rajib Haider, a blogger who was rumored to have been murdered for his criticism of the Jamaat-e-Islami party. © Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

Continue reading “A 40-Year Quest for Justice”

An Attack on Grameen Bank, and the Cause of Women

By?DAVID BORNSTEIN? New York Times

This month, the Grameen Bank, the organization that won the Nobel Peace Prize for extending small loans to impoverished village women, has come under renewed attack from the government of Bangladesh. Last year,?I reported?that the government was attempting to forcibly remove the bank?s founder, Muhammad Yunus, from his position as managing director on the pretense that Yunus, then 70, was beyond the official retirement age. The government prevailed.

Nobel Prize Laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006. He initiated the Grameen (rural) Bank, the bank for the poor, which gives loans to poor people (generally women), who do not have collateral. The Grameen Foundation has also initiated innovative companies such as Grameen Phone, a commercial telecommunication company which also provides phones to rural women for setting up their businesses. 1988. Mirpur. Dhaka. Bangladesh. ??Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

Now it has struck again. On Aug. 2, the cabinet of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed?approved?a proposal to amend the 29-year-old law that governs the Grameen Bank so the government can bypass the bank?s board of directors and handpick Yunus?s successor. This is a brazen step to seize control of an institution that serves 8.4 million poor villagers across Bangladesh and provides inspiration to social entrepreneurs around the world. Sadly, it is occurring in a country where the government has been consistently ranked as highly?corrupt. Just this past June, the World Bank?canceled?$1.2 billion in financing for the much-needed Padma Bridge because of corruption at a high-level within the government. Continue reading “An Attack on Grameen Bank, and the Cause of Women”

Padma. A bridge too far.

Cartoon: New Age

He did resign in the end. And the resignation was accepted. Minutes before the announcement, it was still being debated on the talk shows. Would this be another hoax? Would she accept the resignation? Had we finally gotten rid of him? Regardless, it was too little, too late. Continue reading “Padma. A bridge too far.”

De-energising Bangladesh

by rahnuma ahmed

In the end, treachery will betray even itself.
Roman proverb
When the prime minister, the finance minister etc., not known for being democratically-oriented, feel obliged to respond publicly according to the terms and conditions set by the National Oil-Gas Committee, it is clear that the tide is shifting.
It is clear that? the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports (NCPOGMR) has made a significant impact on public consciousness. That there is a growing national awareness of the issue of ownership of natural resources; of the terms on which production sharing contracts are signed with international oil companies (IOCs); a growing suspicion that exporting extracted gas may not be the best way of solving the nation’s energy shortfall. More precisely, of the hollowness of the government’s reasoning as to why gas blocks need to be, must necessarily be, leased out to multinational companies.? More broadly, of whether the nation’s ruling class, regardless of which political party is in power, does act in the interests of the nation, of its people.
It is clear from what top ruling party leaders are now obliged to say, to repeatedly say, we are patriotic, we are not treacherous, that they have been forced to cede ground.
It is clear that a moral battle has been won.
Continue reading “De-energising Bangladesh”