Unusual cheerleader?

August 29, 2007
By

Photo: Anwar Choudhury, British High Commissioner in Dhaka.

[Mashuqur Rahman, USA.]

On August 26, the British High Commissioner to Bangladesh, Anwar Choudhury, apparently went off the reservation. After meeting with the foreign advisor in Dhaka Mr. Choudhury was the only foreign envoy to face the media. He apparently had a lot to say.

He described the protests and riots last week in Bangladesh as something “sinister.” The Daily Star quoted him as follows:

“Our assessment from what we have heard is that it was initially spontaneous and then it was not. It became much more than the incident. It soon became something much bigger, something much sinister,” said Anwar to the media, adding, “A lot of money and coordination came into the equation.”

The Bangladeshi-born British envoy added, “Most neutral people could not understand why the escalation went into that dimension and that has caused a lot of question marks among the people.”

Anwar said Britain’s assessment that the incidents were coordinated, stemmed from the fact that the demonstrations continued even after the government had issued an apology and met the students’ initial demands by withdrawing the army camp from the Dhaka University campus.

[Emphasis added.]

It is striking that the High Commissioner makes the bombshell claim, a day after the Bangladesh army chief made the same claim, that “a lot of money and coordination” was involved and the protests had become something “sinister”. He claims that his government’s “assessment” is based on the fact that the demonstrations continued even after the government apology and the withdrawal of the army camp. There is a giant leap from the High Commissioner’s observation to his claim. If indeed the High Commissioner has not gone off the reservation and was representing the position of the British government, it is incumbent on the United Kingdom to back up Mr. Choudhury’s claim with some evidence. Otherwise the British government is simply spinning conspiracy theories into a cauldron that is already spilling over with rumor and innuendo.

The High Commissioner went on to comment on the detention of five prominent university professors:

Asked about the detained university teachers, Anwar quoted Iftekhar as saying that the government will release those detained individuals who will be found not connected to last week’s incidents, but it will spare no one connected.

It is notable that a diplomatic envoy from the United Kingdom did not take the opportunity to raise concerns for the safety of the detained professors — especially after news reports from the previous day about allegations that at least one of the professors was tortured. Instead, he sounded like a Bangladesh military government spokesman when he echoed the Bangladesh foreign advisor that the government will “spare no one connected.”

When asked for comments on the harassment and beating of journalists Mr. Choudhury’s stance was even more alarming:

The British envoy also condemned the reported harassment and beatings of journalists and called for an investigation, but added that the media could have exercised ‘restraint’ in their coverage for the sake of progress of the country.

Pressed for comments on the beatings and harassment of journalists by law enforcers during and between the curfews, Anwar said, “I condemn the incidents. I am really sorry to hear about that, I wish those didn’t take place. I hope the authorities will look into it and take action.”

But, when asked about the requests for ‘self-censorship’, Anwar said the media was allowed to be ‘very free’ since the state of emergency had been declared. “All parties should act responsibly so the country can progress. So if you [the media] exercise restraint then it might also contribute to the country’s progress,” he added.

[Emphasis added.]

Mr. Choudhury’s comments were not made in a vacuum. Human Rights Watch has protested the intimidation and torture of journalists by this military government. Reports of the beating and arrests of journalists are widespread and television stations have been directly threatened by this government. The Committee to Protect Journalists has expressed serious concern about restrictions on the media in Bangladesh. In light of the military government’s suppression of the news media, the British High Commissioner’s comments urging the media to show “restraint” will only add international sanction to the stifling of freedom of expression in Bangladesh.

The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), Mr. Choudhury’s employer, takes an uncompromising stand against torture and against the suppression of freedom of expression. Regarding torture, the FCO states on its website:

Torture is one of the most abhorrent violations of human rights and human dignity. Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that ‘No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment’. Yet torture continues to be inflicted on men, women and children around the world.

International action against torture has been a priority of the Government since the launch of the UK Anti-Torture Initiative in 1998. The Government’s position on torture has always been very clear. We unreservedly condemn its use as a matter of fundamental principle. The UK is committed to combating torture globally, and continues to implement an active campaign to help eradicate it. The UK is one of the most active countries in the world on this subject. We continue to work hard with our international partners to eradicate this abhorrent practice. This includes efforts to strengthen UN and other international mechanisms, diplomatic activity such as lobbying, and funding project work.

[Emphasis added.]

Regarding freedom of expression, the FCO website quotes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and states:

‘Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through and media and regardless of frontiers.’ — Article 19, Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Freedom of expression and opinion is a foundation without which many other basic human rights cannot be enjoyed. Allowing people to publicly investigate and report on human rights abuses makes it much harder for those responsible for them to hide behind a veil of silence and ignorance. Similarly freedom of expression makes a valuable contribution to other key areas of concern — good governance, rule of law and democracy. The media has a vital role in scrutinising and evaluating the actions of government, forcing them to manage resources and set policies in a transparent and equitable way. And without journalists having the right to report on court cases and legal judgements, it would be much harder to guarantee an independent and fair judicial process. Finally, the ability to hold, exchange and challenge the opinions of yourself and others is a necessary component of a functioning democracy.

Governments have a duty to eliminate barriers to freedom of expression and information, and to create an environment in which free speech and free media flourish. Media professionals should be able to work freely without fear of intimidation, violence or imprisonment. Sadly, there are still many countries around the world in which governments stifle dissent and criticism or fail to prevent other groups from targeting the media. A free and independent media requires governments to provide a fair and transparent regulatory environment, an equitable distribution of broadcasting frequencies and opportunities for all sections of society to access and contribute to the media.

[Emphasis added.]

The British government’s commitment to human rights is laudable. The British government has made “human rights a central theme” of its foreign policy and has taken the view that human rights are universal. When the British High Commissioner to Bangladesh claims to speak for the British government and fails to raise concerns about allegations of torture, when the High Commissioner encourages press censorship by asking the press to show “restraint” in their reporting in the face of mass protests in the country and a government crackdown, when the High Commissioner spins conspiracy theories as the Bangladeshi military government uses those same theories to crack down on its citizens, the British High Commissioner — and by extension the British government — is promoting the suppression of human rights, by its own definition.

The British government must clarify whether their man in Dhaka, Mr. Anwar Choudhury, speaks for the government or has indeed gone off the reservation.

Mashuqur Rahman [http://www.docstrangelove.com] is one of the highest read Bangladeshi-American bloggers. Critically acclaimed for his incisive analysis on Bangladesh, US foreign policy and dedicated advocacy of human rights.

[Read posts by Mashuqur Rahman]

13 Responses to Unusual cheerleader?

  1. Imran
    August 29, 2007 at 2:54 am

    I watched Anwar Chowdhury talking to the press after the meeting with the Foreign Affairs Adviser. I was thunder struck by what he was saying. I was confused. I was wondering if the British Government had fired him and now he had been hired by Bangladesh’s military rulers to act as their spokesman.

    I find this devoid of any diplomatic norm. Are we still a colony of the Brits? I found it outrageous for a representative of a foreign government vouching for atrocities committed by a dictatorial regime. Are we that desperate that now we have to send the foreign diplomats to express the minds of our military government. This is very sad!

  2. Sadia
    August 29, 2007 at 4:28 am

    The British government’s commitment to human rights is laudable? Since the 1960′s, 12 consecutive British administrations have forcibly deported 2000 British citizens from the chaos island just so it could be used as an American base. Till today, these people aren’t allowed to return to the land their ancestors have lived for centuries. None of this was reported in the British media until recently. Also, I don’t think i need to get into details regarding their imperialist adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan, to name just two. If anything, the “Bangladeshi-born” high commissioner is doing his job as well as his non-Bangladeshi-born counterpart would have. Also, it’s not only the British drumming support for this CTG. WWashington has given the green light too.

  3. Strawberry
    August 29, 2007 at 6:38 am

    This is absolutely unacceptable! He has crossed the line, matched his American counterpart and just ate what Iftekhar had to shove on him. It’s almost like the bloody lie Blair made up on WMD. No proof, but establish this as a fact based on intangible baseless accusations. Anwar stayed too long in Bangladesh, he needs to pack his bag and just leave for his motherland. We don’t need another burden like him to vomit on issues that’s not his concerns. Actually, he’s just been promised by CTG a justice of the granade attack on him, as I hear… Mash, a very good write-up indeed.

  4. Anon
    August 29, 2007 at 8:54 am

    This entry in E-Bangladesh is outrageous in character assassination, but hardly surprising given the

  5. Anonymous
    August 29, 2007 at 10:23 am

    Anon: I’m pleased E-Bangladesh earned some reputation… for telling the truths. Read Mash’s post again before whining away on yellow journalism. Once this man blurted out such accusations ONLY based on what Iftekher and Moin U has to say, now FCO and British Government MUST produce their investigated assessments on such accusations. Otherwise, it’s another example of their baseless witch hunting project like they tried on Iraq for an example.

  6. August 29, 2007 at 3:45 pm

    Sadia, the FCO website lays out the British government’s human rights goals as a central principal of their foreign policy. Those goals and the British government’s public commitment to them are laudable. I have simply suggested that the British government live up to them.

    Anon at #5, your charges of “character assasination” are baseless. I do not know Mr. Anwar Choudhury and I have no reason to doubt that he is a good and decent man. However, in his official capacity, he is supposed to represent the official British government position in Bangladesh. His comments run contrary to stated British human rights goals. The British government should clarify the High Commissioner’s statements because they seem to support human rights abuses and suppression of free expression.

    Already the British government has begun to distance itself from the HC’s statements. Read the news report on the British clarification here. The key line from the clarification is this: “The UK does not seek to offer its own assessment of the nature of the unrest”. In my opinion, the clarification (at least as reported in the press) needs to go a little further. It needs to also address the HC’s remarks about the university professors and needs to take a clear stand on the freedom of press by disavowing the HC’s statement asking the Bangladeshi press to “restrain” itself. Until the UK does that, it leaves on the table the impression that they are paying lip service to freedom of expression while supporting Bangladesh military’s clear suppression of it. That impression is dangerous and is a slap in the face of those who have struggled hard to fight against autocratic regimes and defend human rights across the globe.

    Finally, I don’t understand your charge of “hypocrisy”. If the UK government takes a stand against human rights abuses in Bangladesh, I will not hesitate to applaud their actions. When they do not, I will also not hesitate to criticise their inaction. That is not hypocrisy, that is consistency. Hypocrisy would be offering unconditional support even when their actions go against principles one supports.

  7. Mumin
    August 29, 2007 at 4:15 pm

    It is now proved that this military government was set up by the foreign powers. They would not give such kind of certificate if there was a elected government in power! People of Bangladesh did not tolerate any kind of dictatorship and will not in future. One good thing about this certificate that people of Bangladesh will understand better now who’s agent this government is. After such a agitation in street they did not even bother to talk with their own people but they hurriedly talked to their masters.

  8. August 29, 2007 at 8:50 pm

    Anwar Chowdhury said that

  9. August 30, 2007 at 7:00 pm

    Well put #8 response. Glad to see it highlighted. It’s not the business of a diplomat to engage in BD politics (even if they were born in BD). I wonder if His Excellency Anwar Choudary is aware that “most people” (as he refers to) are pissed off with the army’s stranglehold on the politicians and the public right now.

  10. August 31, 2007 at 4:16 am

    Yes, this really puzzled me! Why did he suddenly supported the obvious human rights violations of the army government. However, it is good that the British government doesn’t agree with this person.

  11. Global Skyhawk
    September 10, 2007 at 7:42 pm

    By legitimizing illegitimacy he is strengthening the hands of monetary dictators trying to push their agenda. Dictatorship is the opportune ripe moment for them to push through their hidden agenda. What they fear the most is accountability and transparency. Read below to find out who these unscrupulous operators are.

    The floods have come back with more intensity and swell at a time when the self-imposed military-backed undemocratic government headed by people who have once served donor agencies like WB/IMF/ADB more interested on fullfuling the directives of their former mentors. They and their former employers like the WB and IMF must realize and understand whatever this unconstitutional unelected government is doing will be massively overturned by the wrath of people power.

    Don’t tell me that this government has come into being to implement the hidden agenda of global moneymakers. I think these financial institutions act as catalysts along with their supplanted dalaals inside and outside the government to capitalize on a burgeoning exploding unskilled population to enslave us through monetary instruments. They will never want us to break out of the vicious triad of overpopulation-poverty-socioeconomic ruin feeding one another on a cyclical manner.

    New Age has a wonderful article on what this unelected forcefully superimposed government is trying to do on behalf of the WB/IMF racket.

    IMF offers policing, not policy support

    The IMF

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