Cartoon image of Bangladesh Army Chief, General Aziz Ahmed’s bandit brother, Harris Ahmed. Source: Al Jazeera

On February 1, 2021 the Qatar based TV outlet, Al Jazeera aired a tele documentary, “All the Prime Minister’s Men.” The tele documentary that included several sting operations involving convicted fugitive brothers of the Bangladesh Army Chief, General Aziz Ahmed depicted multiple layers of abuse and corruption – money laundering, extortion, bribery, extra judicial killing, disappearances, and arbitrary arrests of opponents etc. – in Bangladesh(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a6v_levbUN4).

In the documentary the fugitive bandit brothers further claimed that corruption and human rights abuse in Bangladesh are not just rampant, but these occur under the patronage of the highest level of the government including their brother, the Army Chief.

The bandit brothers also revealed how their brother, the Army Chief, has politicised, and criminalized the Bangladesh Army, an institution that till him used to be a much respected and revered institution in the country.

Reaction to the tele documentary has been swift and varied. Many, especially those who have been complaining about abuses in Bangladesh for quite some time welcomed the documentary especially by the expatriates who live outside the country and thus outside the reach of the government who reacted more exuberantly than those who are inside the country.

On the other hand, the ruling party loyalists- home and abroad – have responded hysterically. They have condemned and strongly rejected the claims made in the documentary saying that these claims are outright falsehood. Some have even gone so far as to brand Al Jazeera as a terrorist organization, alleging that the “Doha-based news network is guilty of inciting violence,” thus implying that the documentary is politically biased and dangerous and thus have little or no credibility.

As could be expected Bangladesh government’s reaction has been quick and acrimonious. It claimed that the documentary is “concocted” and a “conspiracy” against the Bangladesh state and that it is work of the Bangladesh Jamaat Islami Party – an Islamic party, a one-time ally of the ruling party, now a foe. Government also claimed and without evidence that the Jamaat has funded the documentary.

In the meantime, international human rights organizations have expressed their deep concern at the revelations of corruption and about made in the documentary. Furthermore, as the documentary has shown Bangladesh Army’s involvement in corruption that has large contingents in the UN Peace Keeping Missions, Rights groups have asked the UN to investigate, more particularly,  Army’s claim that they deploy Israeli made listening equipment which the documentary has shown that they bought.  UN has issued statement expressing its concern and rejecting Bangladesh army’s claim that they ever authorize use of spy equipment in any of their missions. UN has now asked Bangladesh government to investigate and clarify these claims (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uiBagmytsAM&fbclid=IwAR20fayHqGwj_xJsd_eKKO1YWv-poBKu9DHrUekO29W49K4syFdUK-QmX5w).

In the context of these contrary views and responses, what do we make of the claims of corruption and abuse made in the documentary by the General’s bandit brothers especially that, by their own admission, they are also “Prime Minister’s Men?”

Only an independent probe into these claims would clarify the situation. However, for the time being, let us leave these claims aside and look at the scenario of abuse and malfeasance in Bangladesh from other sources.

Bangladesh’s Dossier of Abuse

Indeed, if we examine the claims of the bandit brothers as examples and not as isolated incidents and draw a picture of abuse based on reports of other credible sources, international and national agencies, scenario that emerges is quite overwhelming. The Dossier of Abuse in Bangladesh is long, deep and troubling.

All records show that in Bangladesh especially since the coming of the Awami League government in 2009, human rights abuses and corruption have reached epic proportions and are endemic, worsening by the day. Thus, what the bandit brothers have reported are mere tip of the iceberg – the claims of abuse and corruption made in the documentary by the bandit brothers neither are “concocted” nor are “conspiracies” hatched by some Islamist Terrorists but are small samples of a deep-rooted and widely spread problem that has infected the entire body politic such that these are making Bangladesh look more like a mafia state.

Indeed, Al Jazeera’s documentary has simply given, in a rather limited but a dynamic way, Bangladesh’s Dossier of Abuse (below), a visual expression!

 

 

Issue

 

 

Status

 

Trend

 

Source

 

State of Governance

 

 

 

 

 

Ranked as Hybrid Regime (This category stands below Fully Democratic and between Flawed democracy and Authoritarian regimes)

 

Recent years have seen Bangladesh regress towards authoritarian rule…The ruling Awami League (AL) government has faced little opposition in the Bangladeshi parliament and has consolidated its power with violent repression. Political opponents have “disappeared” and leaders of parties outside the ruling coalition jailed. In early 2018, for example, opposition leader and former prime minister Khaleda Zia was sentenced to seven years imprisonment on corruption charges that some claim was politically motivated. Peaceful protests by students demanding better road safety rules and equitable access to government jobs have been violently repressed, and there have been attacks on journalists and photographers covering events.

 

Source: EIU; The Conversation

Press Freedom

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bangladesh Ranks 151 out of 180

(Among bottom pile of countries with limited or no freedom of press)

Bangladeshi journalists have been among the leading collateral victims of the tougher methods adopted by the ruling Awami League and its leader, Sheikh Hasina, the country’s prime minister since 2009.                Ruling Party dominated Parliament has enacted several draconian laws that consistently stifle press freedom and punish those that dare challenge the regime. In the first 9 months of the current tenure of the government 800 journalists and civil society members have been arrested by using these lawsSource: Reporters without Borders; Amnesty International; Human Rights Watch; UN Committee on Torture
Repression of political opponents

 

 

 

 

 

 

WidespreadBangladesh Government consistently cracks down to suppress those that disagree or are critical of the ruling Awami League. These include members and supporters of the political opposition, journalists, prominent members of civil society, as well as students, and even school children. Thousands of opposition supporters, including senior leaders, faced trumped-up cases. Newspapers reported that even names of individuals who are dead or critically ill in the hospital were included in these arbitrary actions.Source: Human Rights Watch; UN Committee on Torture
Corruption

 

146 out of 180/Worsened by 1 percentage point since 2018According to all major ranking institutions, Bangladesh routinely finds itself among the most corrupt countries in the world. Corruption is pervasive at all levels of society. Corruption prevention measures such as The Code of Criminal Procedure, the Prevention of Corruption Act, the Penal Code, and the Money Laundering Prevention Act etc. that are expected to criminalize attempted corruption, extortion, active and passive bribery, bribery of foreign public officials, money laundering and using public resources or confidential state information for private gain are inadequately enforced. Facilitation payments and gifts are illegal, but common in practice.Transparency International; Bangladesh Corruption Commission; Local media

Therefore, what the government needs to do is address the messages of abuse conveyed by the documentary and other agencies and rectify the wrong, not seek death of the messenger.

Should the government fail to act, onus is on the people to rise and restore the honour and dignity of the country especially that of the army.

The author is an academic and a former senior policy manager of the UN


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