I will not be silenced

Mashuqur Rahman

Mashuqur Rahman

[Mashuqur Rahman, USA.]

I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.” — Thomas Jefferson

Earlier this week CSB, the only private 24-hour news channel in Bangladesh, was shut down without notice by the military government, allegedly for having filed a “forged” document last year in its application for frequency allocation. This shutdown came on the heels of warnings from the military government that the news channel stop showing “any provocative news, documentaries, talk shows and discussions against the government.” The warnings came after television news in Bangladesh showed footage of nationwide anti-government protests. The action against CSB, condemned by Reporters Without Borders, and the intimidation and beatings of other journalists, students, and professors are part of a larger effort by the military government of Bangladesh to suppress dissent.

Ever since it dismantled democracy in Bangladesh earlier this year, intimidation and threats by the military regime have not been limited to within the borders of Bangladesh. Last week an article in the Bengali language newspaper Ittefaq, owned by the military government’s Information Advisor Mainul Hosein, reported that Bangladeshi intelligence agents had been dispatched to the United States to collect information on pro-democracy protesters.

The article declared:

It has been learned that a list is being prepared of those who are protesting the arrest and demanding the release of those arrested in Bangladesh for corruption, nepotism and massive looting with abuse of state power. In addition effective measures have been taken to identify the source of funds, the financiers and patrons of these protest events. Three officials from a special law enforcement agency of Bangladesh have already arrived in New York on a special mission. These intelligence agents are contacting professional, political and community leaders and are collecting from various sources the names-addresses as well as the immigration status of the organizers of these protests. According to a reliable source in the Bangladesh embassy in Washington, it will not be at all difficult for the intelligence agents to track a handful of expatriate Bangladeshis. Full details of these protesters will be sent to airports and respective police stations in Bangladesh. The same source also informs us that naturalized American citizens will also not be spared as their photo along with video footage will be sent to special law enforcement agencies in Bangladesh. In addition, those expatriates who under the banner of news agencies, and without any basis and with ill motive, write in our local newspapers inflammatory and negative stories that damage the image of our country will also be tracked. [translation based on Rumi Ahmed]

A similar report appeared in Jonomot, a weekly Bengali language newspaper published in London, England. The report in Jonomot claimed that a similar intelligence team had been dispatched to the United Kingdom to collect information on protesters there.

The report in a major Bangladeshi newspaper, Ittefaq, has already had a chilling effect amongst Bangladeshi expatriates and expatriate bloggers. However, this report is only the latest attempt at intimidation of bloggers and pro-democracy protesters of Bangladeshi origin. Last month, I co-authored an op-ed that examined the increasing relevance of expatriate Bangladeshis. It appeared in the leading Bangladeshi English language newspaper Daily Star. Three days later another op-ed appeared in the same newspaper that accused the same expatriates of “defaming” Bangladesh from the “immunity” of foreign safe havens and urged the Bangladesh government to put an end to these protests:

The most prominent exports from Bangladesh are readymade garments and workers. They contribute to the economy and are appreciated as the key force behind the engine of growth for the country. Less know is a third export from Bangladesh, its politics. This export costs the country its image in the international community and can be a source of embarrassment both for the government as well as other Bangladeshi migrants abroad.

Taking advantage of their immunity in the secure environment of faraway lands, Bangladeshi expatriates have become more active than the political activists within the country. They are holding demonstrations, lobbying leaders of various countries, demanding release of those arrested in Bangladesh, and even threatening to stop the flow of remittance to the country if their demands are not met. They have been successful in extracting statements of support from some second-string American, Australian, and British politicians and officials in support of their demands.

The majority of expatriate Bangladeshis are looking forward to the prohibition of these self-seeking politicians who exploit Bangladesh and harm its image for their selfish interest. If they really want to contribute to Bangladesh, they should return to the country and work under the same conditions as other leaders do. It is unlikely that these people will leave their life of comfort in foreign countries and suffer the hardship of politics in a developing country. Therefore, it will be good to see the government succeed in putting a stop to this undesirable trend. Every migrant carries Bangladesh in their heart, but this does not give them a right to defame the motherland and embarrass fellow Bangladeshi migrants.

Indeed Bangladeshi expatriate lobbying may have contributed to a letter being sent by 15 prominent and bipartisan US senators, including Hillary Clinton and Richard Lugar, to the military government in Bangladesh urging it to lift the state of emergency in Bangladesh and restore democracy. In a show of Orwellian chutzpah another newspaper owned by the military regime’s Information Advisor declared that the letter from the US senators was a hoax.

Earlier in the year, other bloggers and I were threatened for taking part in an international campaign to protest the Bangladesh military’s detention and torture of journalist Tasneem Khalil.

The latest report in the Ittefaq serves to further intimidate those in the West who are protesting the Bangladesh military government’s suppression of fundamental rights. If the report is correct and Bangladesh has indeed dispatched intelligence agents to the United States to spy on Bangladeshi nationals and US citizens of Bangladeshi origin, it is almost certainly a violation of US laws. The United States government should take immediate steps to protect the rights of its citizens against foreign government spying.

It seems that what the Bangladesh military government fears is freedom of expression. It beats students because they protest. It beats and tortures reporters for reporting on those protests. It shuts down television stations for showing footage of protests. It intimidates and threatens newspaper editors in Bangladesh. It detains and tortures university protesters. It locks up over 250,000 of its own citizens without charge. It carries out a political purge under the guise of an “anti-corruption” drive. While it suspends all fundamental rights, it declares that its goal is to return Bangladesh to democracy by the end of 2008.

Protest and dissent are fundamental to the health of a democracy. It is again Orwellian to suggest that this military regime aims to bring democracy to Bangladesh while it actively works to suppress the very pillars that prop up a democratic culture. As it snuffs out dissent and fundamental rights, it uses fear tactics on those who speak out against these acts of suppression. The military regime would be well advised to understand that it is not the reporting of human rights that is the crime; it is the violation of human rights that is the crime. It is the violation of human rights that defame the image of Bangladesh, not the reporting of them.

It is cowardice to try to silence those who protest against human rights violations. It shows the weakness of the regime. When the Bangladesh military beat unarmed students and reporters, they beat them because the students and reporters exposed the weakness of the regime.

I will not be silenced. I am just one blogger, but there are many like me. While I sit under the comfort, and yes the protection, of the United States Constitution, there are many who are today taking enormous risks from within Bangladesh reporting to the world about the human rights violations taking place there. I will not be silent and allow the military government in Bangladesh to snuff out those voices from within Bangladesh. As I’ve written before, silence is complicity.

A generation ago, Robert Kennedy spoke for those who had no voice. He said:

It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.

One hundred and fifty million people today are living under the gun in Bangladesh. I will not remain silent and watch the world turn away.


201 Responses to “I will not be silenced”

  1. ESAR

    Mashuqur Rahman

    I have been following your posts with dismay over the past few days. While I salute your zeal to fight undue process being pursued by the present government, some of your posts are loaded with misleading and misrepresentations of facts. At this point I am not certain what you are attempting to achieve by sitting in the US and posting comments with twisted facts, only strengthening hands of the very people you vowed to fight so vehemently. When the authorities in BD read your posts ( and, I am certain they do!!), it only gives them the means to prove that there are indeed elements who are trying to destabilize the country, pushing it to a point of no return by increasing the existing divisions through spread of rumors and conspiracy theories.

    In this post you wrote that CSB “..was shut down without notice…for frequency allocation”. Please do your homework. This statement is very misguided! The forgery enquiry has been going on for some days now. Even a committee has been formed pending final report. The BTRC notice served to CSB on the day of the shutdown says that, CSB needs to provide clarification about the forged document with seven days. Until such time, as the presence of the forged document is already proven beyond doubts (CSB itself has not denied of its existence; one where they forged the signature of an official of the Republic!), transmission of CSB is illegal as frequency was allocated against a forged NOC. Knowing a little bit about North American Corporate Ethics Code and the law of your land, I am confused why you decided not to condemn CSB’s for
    forgery? Echoing the view of another Diaspora blogger in yet another blog dedicated to solve all Bangladesh problems through blogsphere, I also believe that one must protest both CSB’s crime as well as condemning Army’s recent actions, (gives me faith that majority of the diaspora commenters are indeed rational and fair when acting as the judge and the jury). I hope you fall within this majority.

    The undertone of your post suggests that media and freedom of speech is strangled and we are now living is the dark ages. Yet you yourself have referred that the news paper of a sitting advisor have printed news of intelligence forces travelling to your country! How contradictory can one get? If the media was really that strangled, can you explain why the advisor allowed his own newspaper to carry such a sensetive intelligence news that will forehand warn the so called pro-democracy forces in the US, not to mention putting the present government in odds with the US administration? Don’t you find this as absurd? the As I wrote in another blog few days ago, can you please list just three news (facts not rumors and conspiracy theory by paranoid deshis), that you have read in the Internet and were not published in the BD newspapers? Trust me, many tried and failed. So lets not join, if indeed there are those out there trying to destabilize the country by spreading rumor, lies and above all fear; assuming you are not one of the handful yourself.

    I appreciate that you have decided not to be silent. But if you are a true well wisher of Bangladesh, please raise your voice to unite and not destroy whatever pride we have left as Bangladeshis.

    Cheers

  2. Afraid

    I just wanted to know why this news was not published in any other Newspapers?

    Mr. Mash has mentioned only the name of the daily Ittefaq which is owned by Barr. Moinul Hussain. And another one is Jonomat in London.

    If the news is true, it should come in evry newspapers. I think its a fake one so we should be silenced.

    Isn’t it Mr. Mash?

  3. Mash

    esar, you say:

    The BTRC notice served to CSB on the day of the shutdown says that, CSB needs to provide clarification about the forged document with seven days. Until such time, as the presence of the forged document is already proven beyond doubts

    Do you understand what “proven beyond doubts” means? Did the government get a court order to shut down CSB? As I understand the news reports, government officials arrived at CSB and shut down transmission without even giving CSB a chance to announce over the air to their subscribers that they were being shut down. That is without notice. Also, shutting down CSB a week or so after threatening it for reporting “provocative” news makes the government’s move pretty transparent.

    I also do not think you properly understand, as you put it, “North American Corporate Ethics Code and the law of your land”. The law in this country, that is the United States, demands due process. Please read the report from Reporters Without Borders that I linked.

    I also advise you to re-read my post for the overtones and not the undertones – the overtone of my post is that media and bloggers are being intimidated. It is not just me saying that, journalists and reputable human rights organizations have also said that. If you dont think beating journalists is intimidation, I am not sure you and I will agree on much else.

    You raised a very good question: Why was this news published in the Information Advisor’s paper? That is a question you should direct at the Information Advisor. The news item has certainly led to some panic amongst expatriates. Perhaps the news item has served its purpose.

    As for the “pride” of the Bangladeshis, Bangladeshis are doing quite fine. I have enormous pride in the many achievements of Bangladeshis. Criticizing the military government’s human rights record does nothing to diminish the image of the Bangladeshi people. As I said in my post, what is damaging the image of Bangladesh is the torture, detention, beatings of citizens and the utter disregard for human rights demonstrated by this military government. The best thing this government could do to improve it’s image is to stop suppressing its own people.

  4. ESAR

    Mash

    Please don’t confuse the democracy that you practise in the US with the present State of Emergency in Bangladesh. The reason for the State of Emergency is altogether a different subject addressed by many including yourself on different platforms. As such the due process, which is a fruit of democracy & I cherished by you & I unfortunately cannot be expected when a State of Emergency is in affect. This is the reality! Living in a fools paradise will only strengthen the hands of the people responsible for the present situation. If it is already time to lift the State of Emergency is also a debate by itself.

    The last time I checked, North American Corporate Ethics statures did not change much since I went to School in the US oh! so many year ago. Forging signature of an official of the Government is still a crime, even in the US! The court order that you mention, if I understand correctly, GOB did not need at this point. Pending committee report, BTRC only cancelled the frequency allocation based on the forged document found in the CSB application file for frequency allocation. BTRC did not cancel the broadcasting licence as yet!

    You wrote, “…Bangladesh has indeed dispatched intelligence agents to the United States to spy on Bangladeshi nationals and US citizens of Bangladeshi origin, it is almost certainly a violation of US laws. The United States government should take immediate steps to protect the rights of its citizens against foreign government spying”. Man, why are you even bothered about Bangladesh? You are a US citizen writing trash about my country with god knows what ill intention and if my country do take action, you hide under your constitutional rights? All of it sounds too familiar from an American!!!

    As a Bangladeshi, I also don’t like lot of the things the present CTG is doing. But that does not mean that I am about to become a propagandist against the CTG/Army & in the process rape the image of the country in the eyes of the international community. Reiterating my previous position, Diaspora bloggers should act more responsibly when commenting on the state of affairs of Bangladesh. If you already know that the present CTG is only a temporary solution where no body is certain about what fate lies ahead for BD in the coming months, leaving the country in a volatile position; when rational and general population in Bangladesh are in concensus that this governments are trying to undo wrongs of the past years inflicted by politicians through abuse of democracy, noting the spiral price increase of essential, eviction of slum dwellers, hawker issue, tortures of journalists, yet still individual actions of both Bangladeshis and friends of Bangladesh, must and should be self restrained so not to harm the overall image of Bangladesh. Protest all of you must, but lets not blow things out of proportion. Failing to do so will only help the vultures with ill motive to make the country a failed state in the eyes of the International Community.

    You are very correct, you and I do not agree on much.

  5. Bangali Colbert

    ESAR! Bagher bachchar moto kotha koiya felsen bhai. Ei rokomi to shuntey chai!

    Ei Mash beta key amader ke criticise korar? Shey to US citizen. Bangladesh niye eto matha khamay ken? Ami tomar shaathey ek mot.

    Ami shobchey khushi hobo jodi next US aar UKer ambassador der arrest kora hoy. Oi duidao amader desher citizen na, tobey shudhu bokbok koira jaitasey sharadin. UN r koyta re dhorley to kharap hoito na. Ami sure tumi amar shaathey ek mot thaakba.

    IMF ar WB banker shob gulireyo dhorley bhaala hoito… tobey ajkal to abar shuni je CTG naki IMFer logey deal korey. Jei hala deal korsey shei halarey arrest korben naki? Naam ta bair kori daran….

    Also, BBCr John Sudworth reo jeno CTG arrest korey. Apni ektu boila raikhen. Ki paisey? Amader niye kotu kotha bolbey BBCte? Shahosh to kom na…. O Bangladeshrey niya eto matha khamay ken? Mash er shada bhai naki?

    Achcha, ami to jaantaam je manush naki Bangladeshi bloggerder theika BBC beshi porey. Apnar kotha shuina to mone hoitasey ulta. Tobey apnago gaan beshi, to bishshash korlam. Bangla blogger ra BBC re defeat maarsey. Amader bhaabmurti ekhon ogo haathey…

    While we’re at it, shudhu onnoder citizen keno, nijeder manush jon jara CTGre criticise korey, taaderkeo ektu arrest tarrest koren. Ki bolen, kharap hoibo naki? Oops, Masher lekha porey money hoitasey oita already shuru hoiya gesey…. to ami bhaagi in case keu jodi abar amar kotha baarta misunderestimate (dekhsen, Amreekan na hoiyao ekta Bush joke chaarlaam! Apni kokhono nishchoi koren nai…) korey.

    Money raakhben CTG’r bondhu bandhobra like ESAR and the people he tells us are watching: ami hochi apnader shaathey, CTGr pichey. Kalkey chilaam, aagaami te thaakbo.

    Joy ESAR, Joy CTG!

  6. Concerned

    So lets not join, if indeed there are those out there trying to destabilize the country by spreading rumor, lies and above all fear; assuming you are not one of the handful yourself.

    Easer: But why not protest the stupidity of this propaganda? Why not try to question the motive behind them? And to prove their absurdity?

    I agree with the sentiment of Bangali Colbert but not the means. I am sure the foreign diplomats (aka governments) have contributed to the state of affairs, some supported CTG some not. But talking about arresting them is the stupidest of comments I have heard. Sadly these kinds of remarks fits while Bosti fights, the reality is when the Western Governments pressurize Bangladeshi Governments with these stupid incidents of human rights abuse, they cannot ignore them. So how can CTG be more powerful? Not to do the mistakes like these.

    People will have different opinions and I believe we all want to see a better Bangladesh. But intimidating and name calling should not be the way. These send a wrong message.

  7. ESAR

    Paul: Mash himself wrote, “While I sit under… United States Constitution”. I did not comment on assumption. Mash himself expressed his loyalty quite frankly when he said that he wants the US Government to take steps against a foreign country (Bangladesh) if the GOB decides to take actions to protect its sovereignty by identifying elements trying to destabilize the country.

    Zafa: Mash in his own admission wrote, “… Bangladesh has indeed dispatched… US citizens of Bangladeshi origin, it is almost certainly a violation of US laws. The United States government should take immediate steps to protect the rights of its citizens against foreign government spying”. Here he clearly stated that he considers Bangladesh as foreign country and opts for US action against Bangladesh! Based on his above statement, I can only deduct that even if he is patriotic, it is for the US. His fathers contribution towards Bangladesh democracy is not under discussion here and should not be considered as a reference for his own patriotism for Bangladesh. My questioning of Mash’s alliance and intentions are meant for him only, based on his comments that will infuriate any self respecting Bangladeshi, NRB or not. When someone projects that all he wants is good of Bangladesh because he is a Bangladeshi and then turns around to suggest that the US should go after Bangladesh for a supposed intelligence action, call me whatever you may, but as a Bangladeshi, my dignity do gets stabbed! My comments were not meant for all NRB’s. The comment, “All of it sounds too familiar from an American”, I retract.

  8. Tacit

    ESAR, what political governments could not do in 15 years, this government has done in 7 months… brought Bangladesh (according to you) to the brink of destruction, if it fails. What does that say about the competence of this military government? This blog is not about Mash vs. the military government. It’s about the military government, its mistakes, and its corrosive effect on Bangladeshi democracy and human rights. If the best rebuttals supporters of this military regime can provide are ad-hominem attacks on the governmen’s critics, then that just underlines the moral bankruptcy of this military government.

  9. Mash

    Esar, let me make one thing very clear. If, as the report in Ittefaq states, Bangladesh intelligence agents are in the US violating the law, they are subject to criminal penalties. I don’t care if they are Bangladeshi, American, martian, green or purple – they are not exempt from the laws. If defending these illegal acts makes you feel like a “patriot”, then have at it. By trying to intimidate Bangladeshis living abroad these so-called agents embarrass Bangladesh. They embarrass Bangladesh because they paint Bangladesh as an intolerant society that cannot cope with dissent, that aims to crush dissent by threats and intimidation. Surely, that is not the image of Bangladesh you want to project, is it?

    Esar, you are not qualified to judge my alliance and my “Bangladeshiness”. What you should be more concerned about is the beatings of students, the torture of detainees, and wholesale human rights violations of this military government. You should be “infuriated” that this government pulls students out onto the street in broad daylight and beats them publicly. When it does that, this government does a fine job of damaging the image of Bangladesh.

    As I’ve stated, when these human rights violations stop, this government’s image will improve on its own.

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