JANUARY 2017

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Bangladesh: Ready For The Home Run

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By Fazal M. Kamal *

Unfortunately for Bangladesh the signs were all there even during the last five-year tenure of the Awami League. If those five years were utilized for setting the stage and getting into the mode of a virtual one-party system, measures so far taken after its triumph in the January non-election clearly indicate the government’s intention to embark on a process of consolidation.

The ludicrous dispensation launched with members of the purported opposition taking their seats in the Cabinet of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s administration is a definite sign of which direction politics is headed. Certainly the new “opposition” stalwarts will enthusiastically embrace this innovation if for nothing else but solely because it spreads the smorgasbord of opportunities before them.

It was previously noted here as well as elsewhere that there could be possibilities of an understanding with all political parties if government and ruling party motormouths desisted from making provocative declarations, and if instead they displayed an unequivocal intent to arrive at a resolution that would bring peace, tranquility and progress. But the problem of sounding out from two orifices simultaneously evidently got in the way.

All doubts---if there ever were any---about the administration leaders’ intentions were dispelled soon after the non-election was over and, most mystifyingly, bodies of persons accused of violent protests against ruling coterie honchos began to surface in different locations with the causes of their deaths remaining unexplained, as happens often.

These incidents and myriad others led Human Rights Watch to state in its annual report that “Bangladesh tumbled backward on human rights in 2013 as the government engaged in a harsh crackdown on members of civil society, the media, and political opposition…The authorities often employed violent and illegal measures against protesters, and failed to initiate any investigations into credible allegations of unlawful deaths at the hands of its security forces…”

“This year has been tragic for Bangladesh, with political unrest leading to unnecessary deaths of protesters, security personnel, and bystanders,” said the Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The government has failed to stem the cycle of violence by ordering investigations into violations by security forces, and instead has become increasingly intolerant of dissent, going to extreme extents to suppress opposition and criticism.”

He went on to state, “This government came to power promising democracy and a return to the rule of law, but instead has become increasingly authoritarian and intolerant. The crackdown throughout this year on any form of dissent has been shocking, and has exacerbated the country’s human rights crisis.” The situation in the country has shown absolutely no sign of improving in spite of international concerns.

It’s not without valid reasons people are gravely apprehensive that the nation is well on the way to being shackled by an authoritarian de facto one-party system just as had been done some four decades back by the very same political party. Yet another obvious indication of this unpleasant fact is the government’s hamfisted relentless pursuit---almost like the hunt for the doctor in the Fugitive television series---of all that seems like dissonance in the media.

The very recent assault on the office of a daily newspaper---even if it was for inaccurate reporting---and the incarceration of its journalists is a case in point. Obviously there are numerous methods of correcting a report which do not involve sending in armed state security personnel as if they were raiding the hideout of a narco-chieftain. Earlier, as has already been recorded, a number of news outlets had been closed down without the slightest nod to any remnant of due process.

Now, in addition to all these acts meant to intimidate and stifle all dissenting voices, newer “policies” are being enacted to monitor the electronic media; policies that include controlling even the minutest details of discussions on the TV. Evidently all this is in line with the fears that New Age editor Nurul Kabir expressed: “Given the fact that the incumbents of the day have closed two television stations and two mainstream newspapers, it’s only natural that they are planning to control the media in general for their own political convenience. This is a clear violation of democratic freedom of expression of the media as well as of the people in general.”

Moreover, the apparent plan of the government not to provide any space to its political adversaries clearly cannot bode well for the country. A pugnacious approach, as adopted by the governing party and the administration, with the enthusiastic complicity of the state’s security apparatus, can only keep tension and uncertainty at an unnecessarily elevated level, which in turn will continue to damage the economy.

Given the extant backdrop, it won’t be incongruous to quote Brad Adams of Human Rights Watch who said only a couple of weeks back, “The situation in Bangladesh is spiraling into a human rights crisis, with the possible return of suspicious killings by security forces, which we haven’t seen in recent years. The governing Awami League complained bitterly about crossfire killings while in opposition, but it doesn’t seem to be doing anything to stop them now that it’s in power. It’s time for the prime minister to make a public statement condemning killings and torture, and hold the security forces accountable.”

What has been taking place in Bangladesh and, specifically, in view of the cavalier attitude of the administration and the ruling party there are causes of enormous worry for the nation. If these and subsequent pernicious developments are not halted and if the government refuses to alter its selected direction, ultimately and as always it will be the people of the land who will have to pay the price of the rulers’ indiscretions in their headlong rush to get what they want, whatever be the cost.

As they prepare, evidently, for their home run, it perhaps would be advisable for those who reside in the corridors of power to remember that what goes round has a penchant to come round.

* The writer has been a media professional, in print and online newspapers as editor and commentator, and in public affairs, for over forty years.

[Source: CounterCurrents]

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