Limon Hossain, a Jhalakathi college student maimed by Rab last year, his mother and brother were injured in an attack allegedly by a source of Rapid Action Battalion in Rajapur upazila of the district on Monday.
Local criminal Ibrahim Hawlader intercepted Limon on Chhaturia-Idurbhari road when he was returning to his rented house at Kaukhali upazila of Pirojpur around 5:30pm after celebrating Eid with his family members, reports our Barisal correspondent, quoting Limon?s elder brother Sumon Hossain.
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.
Razia Haque was incensed. She was not a trendy environmentalist. Her sentences weren?t interspersed with English and she didn?t know any of the developmental jargon. She was a grandmother who lived in Elephant Road who walked through the park everyday to drop off her granddaughter at the university. But she knew this was wrong. ?Nature is for everyone. What do they think they are doing? How many years has it taken for these trees to grow? They?ve destroyed the beauty of this place. They?ve dulled our senses. It can only cause bitterness. About common people, about the government about everyone. They do as they please. How can you allow this? You should all give slogans. Who has authorised the cutting of these trees? Once the trees have gone there?s nothing you can do. Just because they?re in power they?ll cut down the trees, how can that be?? Continue reading “Getting in the way”
Opening Reception & Forum:?Sunday, April 15, 6:00 pm ? 9:30 pm, 2012 Queens Museum of Art, NYC Building, Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Queens, NY 11368? DIRECTIONS Forum & Opening Reception for Partnership Gallery Exhibition in Collaboration with Drik Picture Library, Dhaka.
Bangladeshi photographer and human rights activist Shahidul Alam?s Crossfire exhibition will open in the Partnership Gallery at the Queens Museum of Art on 15th April, 2012 and run until May 6th, 2012. The exhibition aims to gather international support for a campaign to end extra-judicial killings in Bangladesh by state forces, usually called ?crossfire.? Continue reading “Crossfire ? Photographs by Shahidul Alam”
Fig leaf of ?Press Freedom? lifted from Murdoch press
Sunday, 17 July, 2011 | THE BRUNEI TIMES A17
The Brunei Times
What does that say about printed news in the Digi-logue era?
ASKED what his priority was upon arrival in London to take charge of the unraveling of his UK newspaper, News of the World (NoW), Rupert Murdoch pointed to his red haired CEO of News International, saying ??Her??.? That gave the game away.
Rebekah Wade (before she became Mrs Brooks) was editor of the NoW when much of the celebrity phone hacking and cheque – book journalism scandal was rampant.? She was promoted to CEO by Rupert. She was in charge of the internal investigation that declared it to be the work of one rogue reporter. Some charitable commentators speculate that Rebekah Wade was covering up the scandals from the chairman who knew nothing.
Anyone familiar with how the Murdoch organisation works will know that nothing of significance is allowed to happen in any part of the global empire without direct approval of The Boss. None of his minions dare risk any initiative without express permission. After securing that, they gloat over lesser minions in turn, ordering them to charge up whichever hill.
Rebekah Wade knows too much of how high up the phone-hacking, pay-offs to police and hush money to victims was sanctioned. At the Parliamentary hearing will she confess? She has stood steadfast so far, denying any knowledge of these shenanigans. But if she were subsequently to be charged for complicity in criminal activity, will she spill the beans on her boss?? Murdoch? is? a? master of realpolitik and the mesmerising power of money. He knows only too clearly where his priority lies in this case. Will Rebekah Wade endure a term in prison with her trap shut, like Andy Coulson before her?? Let us watch this morality play unfold.? Loyalty more than competence, is prized highly infamily businesses. It plays to the insecurity of the owners. At News Corporation that is worth gold.
How did NoW & The Sun hold such influence in the digi-logue era?
Ingrained in the British polity is a free press pride of mythic proportions. Murdoch converted that to a licence to print money by feeding the prurient and voyeuristic instincts of society.? British institutional reluctance to interfere with the mechanics of a rigorous press worked to his advantage. ?Using this fig-leaf of press freedom, his gutter press outreached.
??Give the people what they want?? was his amoral justification for a diet of boobs on Page 3 of The Sun and lurid sexual peccadillos of politicians and celebrities across NoW pages. Mr Murdoch?s low opinion of his readers is amply summed-up by a former managing director: ??Most people are like sheep. Let?s shear them.??
Often innuendo was enough to ruin careers and reputations. It sold his newspapers vigorously ahead of his more inhibited rivals.? Neither Murdoch nor his editors cared about the lives they broke.? They never let facts get in the way of a good story. An editorial fund to pay off victims who initiate libel suits was just a cost of doing business.? To keep up a daily menu of startling disclosures year after year for this cynical publishing formula, required stretching beyond court hearings and crime beats (available to all newspapers). It required hacking into private telephone conversations, voicemails, sms plus paying sleuths to steal confidential banking and hospital records.
This yielded rich dividends for the Murdoch papers. They were never short of saucy leads, embarrassing photographs or helpless victims. They ??scooped?? the competition routinely.
The other tabloid rivals have shown remarkable restraint in not putting the boot into the Murdoch press. There is widespread suspicion that they are also guilty of phone-tapping and payments to police. Parliamentarians are calling for a comprehensive investigation into the links between the police, tabloids and the shadowy world of private detectives.
The toothless Press Complaints Commission (PCC) has again been unmasked as an utterly ineffective entity created not to self-regulate but to block independent investigation of errant members. Following the current NoW controversy, Parliament has pledged to scrap the PCC and replace it with a body independent of both the newspaper industry and government.
Digital disruption of news monopolies
The dominance of NoW and The Sun in the UK is all the more remarkable when elsewhere the Internet, Blogs, Facebook and Twitter have evolved a dynamic ecosystem of crowd-sourced, realtime, instantaneous horizontal distribution of news, views, opinion and debate.
It was Dr Indrajit Banerjee, a Director at Unesco in Paris who coined the term ??Digi-logue?? to describe converging analogue and digital technologies and content flows. His point was that the established academic ways to map,?study and analyse Press, TV, Radio & Online channels as parallel communication?need to be radically reframed to make sense of the new realities. The boundaries are blurred and new possibilities are enabled.
Dr Andrew Taussig and I were privileged to be invited to address the Plenary session he chaired at the recent AMIC Conference in Hyderabad – on precisely this phenomenon.
For near 200 years newspapers perfected a super-efficient cycle of news production and mass distribution in a controlled, linear process with the editor at the centre.
The editor decided what will be printed and how the story will be told. More importantly, he decided what will NOT be printed and which stories will NOT be told.? The true power of the press was its ability to hide critical matters from public knowledge. Authoritarian governments and Big Business leveraged compliant editors to mislead the public.
The digi-logue environment has broken that stranglehold on news and opinion which mainstream press and TV enjoyed. Tweets from Sohaib Athar in Abbottabad:?A huge window-shaking bang here in AbottabadI hope it?s not the start of something nasty? was the first indication of the remarkable American raid on Osama bin Laden?s hideout which left the Pakistani military clueless even after the helicopters left with his body. No reporter was there to file the story.
Nic Newman of The Reuters Institute at Oxford University says that Twitterers are ??influencers??.? ??The audience isn?t on Twitter but the news is on Twitter.?? Celebrities and politicians now regularly tweet their daily meetings and travels with a growing fan network. Sashi Tharoor, former UN Under – Secretary General and later junior minister in India?s Foreign Ministry, got into trouble for his tweets on meetings with foreign dignitaries and for lamenting travelling ?cattle-class? to conform to the Congress Party?s strictures on public travel for MPs.
Alternative media compensate for discredited mainstream media
Closer to home, Singapore?s recent elections and the ongoing Malaysian politics demonstrate the far reaching effects of social media, mobile communications and the Internet as citizens initiate, share, query and distribute information virally to groups and individuals without the agency of mainstream press or TV.
This is having interesting effects on the behaviour of journalists, editors and politicians. Mainstream press which once dismissed Bloggers out of hand, now follows the established ones closely to track the cyberchatter of posts and counter-posts. They quote Bloggers in press reports. ?The Malaysian government has invited Bloggers to press conferences. Dr Tony Tan bidding for Presidential elections in Singapore, announced his decision on a Blogging platform to reach young voters.
Governments and their intelligence agencies are vigilantly tracking cyberchatter for clues to political sentiment and the public will. The Chinese government is particularly adept at this silent eavesdropping. It has resulted in delayed statements from the Prime Minister to address public anger about rising food prices and unaffordable housing.
This crowd-sourced feedback bypasses the inefficient and unreliable network of spies and informers who filter intelligence for their political masters. In some ways this is an amplified, authentic mirror of public sentiment to governments which hopefully will reduce misbehaviour of the power structure.
What are the lessons for the business of News?
It is all out there. The news process is becoming a ??curation?? of content from formal, informal and co-opted amateur sources on mobile phones, You Tube, Facebook and Twitter. Trusted brands have an advantage in credibility on all platforms which consumers access at different times of the day, from home to office and back. The people, formerly known as the audience, now participate in the process of news creation, sharing and verification.
Digital distribution of rich media blurs the previous distinction between printed, online and broadcast channels. News producers have to become multimedia?orchestrators for consumers who want to read, see, hear and experience news. Tablet publishing is the first such integrated rich-media platform for busy citizens on the go.?The garden variety reporter will be useless. Domain experts who comment, analyse and contextualise news will be needed to add value to content. News will be channel agnostic.?Dependency on advertising will diminish as news businesses find new revenue streams from consumers, brands and transactions.
Cyril Pereira is the Co-Chairman of Asian Publishing Convention
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 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. High Court orders government to explain killings.
I?m a pessimist because of intelligence, but an optimist because of will.?
? Antonio Gramsci, Marxist theorist, politician, founder of the Italian Communist party
It was a victory for electoral democracy.
I was the first one to cast my vote. We had gone, en famille. My mother was next. Rini, my sister-in-law and Saif, my brother, had taken their precious national ID cards with them, only to be told by polling centre officials that these were not needed, that they should go to the stalls opened by political parties outside the polling centre grounds to get their voter registration number. That updated and complete voter lists were to be found there. Rini was astounded and kept repeating, even after she had cast her vote, `But it is the national Election Commission that registered me as a voter, I didn?t register with any political party?. Someone else?s photo, name, and father?s name graced the space where Saif?s should have been. After a lot of running around and long hours of waiting, he gave up. It was close to four, the polling booths were closing. He was dismayed, and perturbed.
Shahidul, made wiser by their experiences, ran off to a political party booth to collect his serial number. After quickly casting his vote, he rushed back to take pictures. A handsome young man, showing-off with a thumbs-up sign, caught his eye. He was proud. He had voted for a return to democracy.
A landslide victory for the Grand Alliance and its major partner, the Awami League. As the results emerged through the night, I remained glued to the TV screen, hopping from one channel to another, listening to election reporting, news analysis, and discussions. As votes in favour of Abul Maal Abdul Muhit tipped the scales, I watched seasoned journalists debate over whether political superstition ? whichever party candidate wins Sylhet-1 forms the government ? would prove to be true. And it did, yet again. The BNP candidate, ex-finance minister Saifur Rahman lost to Abdul Muhit by over 38,000 votes.
In the early hours of the morning, as AL?s massive victory became apparent, I watched Nurul Kabir voice strong words of caution on one of the election update programmes on a private channel: given the rout of the opposition, the biggest challenge for the incoming Awami League government would be to not lose its head. Words to be repeated by others, later. Sheikh Hasina herself, in the first press conference, pronounced it to be a victory for democracy. A victory for the nation. People had voted against misrule and corruption, against terrorism and criminal activities, and against fundamentalism. They had voted for good governance, for peace, and secularism. Poverty, she said, was enemy number one. Expressing her wish to share power with the opposition, Sheikh Hasina urged ex-Prime Minister Khaleda Zia to accept the poll results. Our government, she said, will be a government for all. It will initiate a new political culture, one that shuns the politics of confrontation.
Congratulations poured in, in both the print and electronic media. A new sun had risen over the political horizon. December 29th were the best elections ever, kudos to the Election Commission. Awami League?s charter for change was a charter for the nation. It was a charter that had enabled the nation to dream again. To wake up again. A historic revolution ? a ballot box revolution ? had taken place. Let 2009 herald new political beginnings for Bangladesh. Let darkness be banished, let peace and happiness engulf each home. Let insecurities and turmoil be tales of yester-years. Let us, as a nation, build our own destiny.
There were more cautious, discerning voices too. Promising to lower prices of daily necessities is easy, effect-ing it, is harder. Democracy is much more than voting for MPs, it is popular participation, at all levels of society. In order to change the destiny of the nation, the AL needs to change itself first. Landslide victories can herald landslide disasters.
I turned to analysts who sought to explain the victory. What had brought it about, what did it signal? It was the younger voters, a whole new generation of voters. It was women voters. It was the Jamaat-isation of the BNP, and that the anti-India vote bank, the Muslim vote bank, were now proven to be myths. Khaleda Zia?s pre-election apology had not been enough, people had not forgiven the four-party alliance government?s misrule, and its excesses. The BNP party organisation at the grassroots level had failed to perform their duties with diligence, during the election campaign, and also later, when votes were being counted. The spirit of 1971 had returned, thanks to the Sector Commanders Forum, and to writers, cultural activists, intellectuals, media. People had cast their votes for a separation between state and religion, for the trial of war criminals, for re-building a non-communal Bangladesh. I watched Tazreena Sajjad on television argue that we should not go into a reactive mode, that we should not pre-judge that the AL, since it had gained victory, would now forget the war crimes trial issue. It was important, she said, that war crimes trials be adopted as a policy approach, that the government review the available expertise, the institutional infrastructure, and witnesses needed etc. It was important, added Shameem Reza, another panelist on the programme, that the social pressure for holding the trials should continue unabated.
At a record 87 per cent, the voter turnout was the biggest ever. International poll monitoring groups, including Washingtonbased National Democratic Institute, Commonwealth Observer Group, Asian Network for Free Elections, an EU delegation and a host of foreign observers, unanimously termed the polls free and fair, the election results as being credible. There was no evidence of ?unprecedented rigging,? or of the polls having been conducted according to a ?blueprint?. But, of course, observers maintained, ex-Prime Minister Khaleda Zia?s allegations should be carefully investigated. At a press conference, the leader of the 33 member NDI delegation, Howard B Schaffer, also an ex-US ambassador to Bangladesh, said that these elections provide Bangladesh an opportunity to nourish and consolidate democracy. As I read reports of the press conference, I think, neither the US administration, nor its ruling classes are known for nourishing and consolidating democracy. The NDI delegation had also included a former USAID official, an organisation that is known for promoting US corporate interests, rather than democracy. Most of USAID?s activities are, as many are probably aware, concentrated in Middle Eastern countries. Many Arabs regard US foreign aid as ?bribe money?, offered to governments willing to overlook Israel?s policies of occupation. Larry Garber had served as Director of USAID?s West Bank and Gaza Mission from 1999-2004, a period that was partially preceded by four years (1996-200) of USAID withholding $17 million in assistance for a programme to modernise and reform the Palestinian judiciary. The Israelis did not want an independent judiciary. They were afraid it would lead to a sovereign Palestinian state. USAID obliged. And of course, there are other, much worse, US administration stories of felling rather than nurturing democracy. After Hamas won a majority of seats in the Palestinian legislature in January 2006, the Bush administration had embarked on a secret project for the armed overthrow of the Islamist government.
Will the victory for electoral democracy in Bangladesh be a victory for long-term, deep-seated democratic processes? This, of course, remains to be seen. I myself, have two serious misgivings.
A ?smooth transition?: impunity in the offing?
Reporters had asked Sheikh Hasina as she came out after her meeting with Fakhruddin Ahmed, chief adviser, on December 31: will your government legitimise the caretaker government? The reply, highlighted in nearly all newspapers, was: it will be discussed in the parliament. Parliament will decide. I have initiated discussions with constitutional experts. A committee will be formed to discuss the matter. Sheikh Hasina also added, government is a continuing process. It is the duty of a new government to continue processes that have been initiated by the preceding government, in the interests of a smooth transition. But I had watched news reports on TV, and had noticed the slip between the cup and the lip, between what was said, and what was reported in the print media: the ordinances passed by the government will be discussed, those that are good will be accepted, and those that are not…
How can something as grave, as sinister as the takeover of power by a coterie of people who were backed by the military, a government that was unelected and unaccountable, the suspension of ?inalienable? fundamental rights of the people during a 23 month long period of emergency, the abuse of the judiciary, the intimidation of the media by military intelligence agencies, illegal arrests leading to already bursting-at-the-seams prisons, custodial tortures, crossfire deaths, the destruction of means of livelihood of countless subsistence workers, the closure of mills, the havoc wreaked on the economy ? be referred to as a bunch of ordinances that need to be discussed and separately reviewed, maybe some of these are to be accepted, others not?
Diluting? Diverting? As I said, I have misgivings.
Allying with bigger terrorists
The separation of religion and politics subsumes the issue of the trial of 1971 war criminals, the local collaborators, the rajakars. But as I watch AL parliamentarians talk on TV channels, I notice a linguistic elision, a seepage occur into discussions of the trials of war criminals. The present is carried over into the past, the past slips into the present. Those who had collaborated in the Pakistan army?s genocide take on Bush-ian overtones: rajakars are religious extremists are Islamic militants are ?terrorists.? A seamless whole seems to be in the making.
And, as I read of Sheikh Hasina?s support for the US war on terror (expressed to the US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia, Richard Boucher, 25th of July 2008), and her more recent pledge to work for the formation of a joint anti-terrorism taskforce by SAARC countries, I wonder whether ?the spirit of 1971? will be cashed-in to manufacture support for the US-led war on terror, one that has killed millions, and made homeless several more. All in the name of democracy.