Falsehoods Galore Before Bangladesh Polls

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TAHSEEN ALI |

Bangladesh is preparing for national elections at the end of the year. As usual, a concerted disinformation campaign is being waged against the government by opposition groups.

■ Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina

Opponents are crying foul in regional publications like South Asian Monitor.com over what they call an authoritarian crackdown on dissent. This is untrue. Bangladesh is home to hundreds of media outlets, each with its own point of view. Occasionally, street protests are reined in, but only when they turn violent and threaten the safety of average citizens.

The opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its allies recently hijacked a peaceful student protest about traffic safety and turned it violent. The government had no choice but to arrest the perpetrators. This wasn’t a restriction of speech. It was a common sense response to a threat to the public’s well–being. Bangladeshi photojournalist Shahidul Alam was among those responsible for this terrible turn. He was arrested for instigating violence, which, despite the facts, led to an international outcry on his behalf.

The BNP would also have the world believe that it was elbowed out of the last election in 2014. In fact, the BNP and its allies boycotted the 2014 election when they realised they weren’t going to win. Then, cynically, they blamed the governing Awami League party for their own decision and continue to do so. In 2014, instead of contesting at the polls, the BNP and its collaborators attacked them — along with houses of worship and power stations. They disrupted railway lines and used gasoline bombs against commuters going about their daily lives. Many people were killed and others were hurt. Children were not spared. The attacks were synchronised with the simultaneous violence of the Jamaat–e–Islami, a religious extremist umbrella organisation.

 

Bangladeshi photojournalist Shahidul Alam was among those responsible for this terrible turn. He was arrested for instigating violence, which, despite the facts, led to an international outcry on his behalf

 

Consumers of international media accounts would think that Bangladesh is only about such violent acts. In fact, many, mostly unreported examples of progress abound there. For instance, in the early 2000s, Transparency International ranked Bangladesh as the most corrupt country in the world. The prime minister at the time was Khaleda Zia, who was until recently the head of the BNP and is now in prison for embezzling substantial funds from, of all things, a children’s orphanage trust. Since 2008, however, Transparency International has said corruption has declined in Bangladesh as Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government clamped down.

 

 

Posted by Shahidul Alam on Saturday, August 4, 2018

Does this mean that corruption has been completely rooted out in Bangladesh ? Of course not. But substantial progress has been made.

Where corruption has existed, the opposition is often found. Khaleda Zia’s son, Tarique Rahman, the acting head of the BNP, was recently convicted for his role in a 2004 attack that targeted then–leader of the opposition Sheikh Hasina and fellow Awami League party leaders. Twenty–four innocent people were killed and more than 300 others were injured. Tarique Rahman is running away from facing justice by hiding in London. He has also been charged with numerous counts of corruption, extortion, tax avoidance and concealment of wealth.

 

BNP and its collaborators attacked them — along with houses of worship and power stations. They disrupted railway lines and used gasoline bombs against commuters going about their daily lives. Many people were killed and others were hurt. Children were not spared. The attacks were synchronised with the simultaneous violence of the Jamaat–e–Islami, a religious extremist umbrella organisation

 

Two years ago, Rahman was found guilty of money laundering during an historic case that saw a US FBI agent give testimony in a Bangladeshi court for the first time. A former US ambassador to Bangladesh characterised Rahman well when he was quoted by Wikileaks as telling the US State Department in 2009: “The Embassy believes Tarique is guilty of egregious political corruption.” Last year, Judge Henry S. Brown of the Cour Fédérale, or Federal Court of Canada, concluded that the BNP “was a terrorist organisation” for its horrific role in the firebombing of civilians in buses, the targeting of Christian, Buddhist and Hindu houses of worship and other acts of terrorism between 2013 and 2015.

■ Bangladesh Nationalist Party supporters set fire to tyres and material in the street during a clash with police outside a court in Dhaka on December 24, 2014, during a court appearance by party chief Khaleda Zia. Zia and three of her aides are accused of syphoning off 31.5 million taka (about USD400,000) from a charitable trust named after her late husband Ziaur Rahman, a former president who was assassinated in 1981 | STRDEL/AFP/Getty Images

In contrast, under current Prime Minister Hasina and the Awami League, ordinary Bangladeshis have seen tangible improvements in their lives. Women are participating in all endeavours of life. They serve in the police and armed forces and hold positions of authority in business. Girls have achieved higher gender parity in primary and secondary education.

 

In the early 2000s, Transparency International ranked Bangladesh as the most corrupt country in the world. The prime minister at the time was Khaleda Zia, who was until recently the head of the BNP and is now in prison for embezzling substantial funds from, of all things, a children’s orphanage trust

 

The World Economic Forum recently ranked Bangladesh the second–most gender equal country in Asia and the first in South Asia. In addition, the countryside is being electrified at an astounding rate.

No wonder that Hasina has an approval rating of more than 68 percent, according to international surveys such as the one conducted this year by the International Republican Institute. So does the Awami League. Hasina has fought to restore democracy to Bangladesh, despite the threats to her own life. She and the Awami League do not fear the will of the people. But Khaleda Zia and the BNP obviously — and for ample good reasons — do. And that’s a fact. ■

Tahseen Ali teaches history as a faculty member of the Houston Community College System. LOOKEAST is not responsible for the opinions, facts or any media content presented by contributors. We are reproducing a RealClear Politics reportage. In case of abuse, mail us at [email protected]

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