I am writing this note with a heavy heart and at a time when tyrannical rule is turning our beloved country of origin, Bangladesh, into a police state, as the regime is waging a war against democracy and against democratic institutions. Since it came to power in early 2009, the regime has been torturing leaders of opposition political parties and stifling dissent voices, which reminds the people of Bangladesh of the BAKSAL (Bangladesh Krishak Sramik Awami League) of 1975 when all opposition political parties and newspapers were banned. On June 16, 1975, the then Awami League government had closed all newspapers except four under government control and banned all other political groups. Similarly, since the current regime came to power, it has kept torturing leaders and activists of opposition political groups and threatening the journalists. It has shut down television channels like Channel-1 and Jamuna TV, and the second most widely-circulated newspaper Amar Desh. The way the government shut down Amar Desh is unacceptable by any standard. The police had abducted a man named Hasmat Ali from his home and kept him in a secret location for 6 hours. Afterwards, the country came to know that this man sued Editor Mahmudur Rahman, on the basis of which the government arrested the editor and shut down his newspaper. Moreover, the regime has been thwarting rallies of opposition parties mainly by way of intimidation and police intervention.
What we have gathered after reading different news stories on Editor Mahmudur Rahman's arrest and tortures on him is that: He was severely tortured in police custody (in ‘remand’ of several days) by unidentified people; he was blindfolded and stripped naked. While being tortured brutally, he fainted and remained senseless for many hours. The people in Bangladesh do generally believe that Mr Rahman has been the target mainly for his newspaper columns where he talked about the circumstances in which about 60 army officers were killed in February 2009 with alleged complicity of the government and also about the involvement of some very powerful persons, including PM Sheikh Hasina’s son Mr Joy, in the current polity in various financial irregularities.
On 29 June 2010, the regime arrested the three most senior leaders of Jamaat Islam on a blasphemy allegation, which the country found not only unfounded and pointless but also ridiculous and laughable. Sensing the futility of the allegation, the regime rushed to sue them on some other flimsy cases; and now they are in remand (a euphemistic term for torture in police custody in the Bangladeshi political vernacular) of many days each.
Awami League has systematically been brutal in its treatment of rival political parties. On 28 October 2006, its party men killed in broad day light nearly a dozen unarmed men on the streets of Dhaka. On the eve of the handover of power from the BNP-Jamaat ruling alliance to the caretaker government, like other political parties, Bangladesh Jamaat Islam organized a big rally in Dhaka to celebrate peacefully the successful power handover. Awami League Chairperson who is the Prime Minister of Bangladesh now had told her party men to bring 'logi-boitha' (pole-oar) to her rally on that day. Her party men brought – together with logi-boitha – fire arms, knives and other lethal weapons for purposes the people of Bangladesh did not understand until they actually saw Sheikh Hasina’s men in action. Without any provocation whatsoever, her party men attacked Jamaat people who were caught on their way to the Jamaat rally. The whole world saw on television screens how Awami hooligans beat up to death about ten Jamaat men on the streets of Dhaka on broad day light. Then they attacked the Jamaat-Shibir rally and tried to kill its senior leaders. Such killings were unprecedented on the streets of Dhaka for decades. This incident reminded the people of Bangladesh of the lawlessness and ruthless murders committed by the Raksi Bahini, an unlawful armed group formed by the first Awami regime after the independence of Bangladesh in 1971.
On 9 Feb 2010, a student named Faruk Hossain died at Rajshahi University. Mr Hossain was reportedly a member of the student wing of Awami League; and subsequent media reports suggest that he was killed because of intra-party factional clashes allegedly over money extortion and other interests. However, the government tried to put the blame on Bangladesh Islami Chhatra Shibir, an independent student organization but having links with Jamaat Islam. Consequently, within days, the police at the behest of the regime shot dead a Shibir activist in Chapainobabgonj, while members of Chattra League (student wing of Awami League) chopped a bright Shibir activist of Chittagong University to death when he was on his way back to his dormitory after doing his usual private tuition duties. Many Jamaat-Shibir people were attacked and badly wounded at their homes and in the street, many Jamaat-Shibir offices burnt and vandalized and many educational institutions run by them damaged, leaving many traumatized and tortured and many parts of the country in lawlessness. Such misdeeds are continuing unabated. While the murder of Faruk was being highlighted with hype, the atrocities and havoc wreaked by Awami League people have remained under-reported and under-emphasized. There were 13 political murders in Bangladesh in February 2010, but the Awami government had singled out one incident and used it to continue this wave of repressive measures.
On the same day when Faruk Hossain was killed, BNP councilor Ahamad Hossain of Dhaka City Corporation Ward-70 was murdered as he was leaving mosque, robbers looted a residence at East Goran in Dhaka and killed an old woman of the family, ruling party extortionists beat up and shot on the right leg of a businessman named Alamgir Hossain in Chougachha of Jessore as he refused to pay toll and as he sought police help, about 30 people were injured as factions of Awami League clashed in Narayanganj and Chuadanga. The list of such incidents occurred on the day Faruk died goes on. Days before, Abubakar Siddique, a meritorious student of Dhaka University hailing from a poor farmer family had to give his life for the factional clashes of Chhatra League in Sir AF Rahman Hall of the University; only a month before Faruk Hossain died, a Bangladesh Chhatra Maitree leader Rejanul Islam Chowdhury Sunny had been killed in broad daylight by Chhatra League members at the campus of Rajshahi Polytechnic Institute; before that, the general secretary of Shibir unit of Rajshahi University, Sharifuzzaman Nomani had been killed by Chhatra League cadres at the University. Chhatra League activists of Dhaka's Cantonment unit killed their leader AKM Faruk Hossain on 12 Feb 2010. Surprisingly, the Awami government took retributive and punitive measures only in the case of the murder of Faruk Hossain at Rajshahi University on 9 February 2010. No investigation committee was formed and no large-scale arrests were made after the death of other victims.
Since the Awami regime came to power, thousands of Shibir students of Dhaka and other Universities have been ousted from their dormitories and many of them cannot come to the campus. Many of them were attacked even in the exam halls of Dhaka University while the panicked Shibir students were sitting for exams; and that in the presence of helpless teachers. Torture of Shibir students by Chhatra League at the DU campus has become a regular taken-for-granted incident. Pro-Awami Leauge media portray Chhatra League’s hostilities to Shibir students as ‘heroic’ and Shibir’s presence at the University as ‘illegitimate’.
Many scared Shibir students do not want to open their mouths, fearing that reporting such tortures would thwart their education, while a great number of Shibir students abandoned their education at Dhaka University. After the RU incident of 9 Feb. 2010, the police at the behest of the government arrested many of them from their houses (which they rented after being ousted from their lawful residence at University halls) at nocturnal raids. Pushed out by the Chhatra League (student wing of AL) cadres and then arrested by the police from their rented houses, their address is now prison. They may have found it difficult to understand the links between their sufferings and the incident at a remote place, RU. The view of respectable Dhaka University students being paraded in front of media cameras while their waists were tied tight was an affront on the collective sense of dignity of respectable human beings.
One most glamorous election promise of the Awami League was 'digital Bangladesh.' But since the party came to power through that 'election', the nation has remained pretty ‘analog’. However, some secondary-school-going girls of the district of Pirojpur and other places of the country have had the taste of 'digital Bangladesh', as some of them were raped and digitalized by local leaders of Bangladesh Chhatra League. One story goes, as reported in the Daily Star (Dhaka, 28 September 09) and the Naya Diganta (Dhaka, 30 September 09): Ahsan Kabir Mamun known as Tiger Mamun, a leader of Pirojpur district unit of Bangladesh Chhatra League, and some of his cohorts stopped and raped few female students of a secondary school after taking them to a secret location. The rapists recorded their sexual exploits in a mobile phone camera. Later on, CDs of this pornographic scene of raping the girls became available in video shops in the area. Ashamed of the social stigma and embarrassed by those digital CDs, family members of the rape victims wanted exemplary punishment of the criminals and resolved to 'go for legal action' (Daily Star, 28 Sep 09). However, the police arrested three people involved in trading in the CDs, but not the rapist student leaders of the ruling Awami League party. According to the Daily Star (29 September 09), “A similar incident took place in Faridpur where a girl was gang-raped and the video was released in the market”. But no arrests were made in that case either.
Two days after the reporting of Pirojpur digital rapes, on 30 September 09, the Daily Star printed another rape report titled "10 BCL men rape girl", involving leaders of Chhatra League. In this incident, ten activists of the student wing of the ruling party, Awami League, gang-raped a teenage girl who is a student of Year-7 in Pakhimara in Kalapara upazila of Patuakhali district in the division of Barisal, Bangladesh. The incident happened when the victim was returning home with her cousin Nasir Uddin in the evening. The BCL men tortured and drove the helpless Nasir away and took the girl to a nearby garden and gang-raped her.
Local Awami League leaders and heavyweights intervened and ensured the exoneration of the culprits through a fake trial of village arbitration (salish). They “compelled the victim’s father not to go for legal action and also took their signatures on three blank sheets to stop any future move to that end”. According to the father of the victim, local AL leaders including Kalapara upazila unit Secretary Rakibul Ahsan and Upazila Parishad Vice-Chairman Sultan Mahmud took his and his daughter's signatures on three blank sheets asking them not to seek justice in any law court. Rakibul Ahsan later tried to hide the rape crime by saying to the Daily Star, “The youths did not rape the girl, they just made an attempt. We punished them so that they don’t indulge into such activities in future.” Threats and intimidation forced the family of the victim to go into hiding, while the rapists remained still at large (Daily Star, 1 October 2009). Awami League leaders Rakibul Ahsan and Sultan Mahmud then orchestrated a press conference at the Kalapara press club and had the victim and her parents present at the event. Then “the victim girl was forced to read out a written statement, declaring she was not raped but tortured while she along with a cousin was returning home after visiting a puja mandap on September 25” (Daily Star, 2 October 2009).
During Sheikh Hasina's last tenure as Prime Minister of Bangladesh (1996-2001) similar incidents of sexual harassment involving members of Chhatra League occurred. As Hana Shams Ahmed narrates:
The first report in the media came out on August 17, 1998 in the Daily Manobjomin where it was reported that three female students of JahangirnagarUniversity had been raped by student cadres of Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL) of the university. A fact-finding committee later reported (The Daily Star, September 26, 1998) that a total of 20 JU students were raped in different locations on campus and 300 were sexually assaulted by members of this group. The perpetrators were all political cadres of Chhatra League. Jasimuddin Manik, a student of Drama and Dramatics department and the former general secretary of the JU unit of BCL, was on the top of the list of seven persons accused of having committed rape. The report also said that Manik on completion of his 100th rape 'celebrated the occasion by offering sweets and throwing a cocktail party'. (Violating a Sacred Relationship, Star Weekend Magazine, 7(31), August 1, 2007)
Like the rape victims of September 2009, the victims of the rape crimes at Jahangirnagar University had not gone to court for legal redress; and that obviously for the threats from the then Awami government and for social stigma. An important Awami League leader Prof Alauddin Ahmed was the Vice-Chancellor of the University at that time. He justified his inaction with regard to the punishment of the rapists BCL leaders by saying: “under the law of the land, the victim has to lodge the complaint herself” (ibid.). None of the rape criminals of BCL of JU had to face any criminal punishment, and thus was given ‘a license to rape’. The rapist century-scorer Jasimuddin Manik was sent to Japan by the Awami League government to avoid further embarrassment. Mr Manik is now believed to live in the United States. After a gap of seven years, Awami League with the same leadership of Sheikh Hasina came to power; and the same incidents of rape are being repeated by Chhatra League activists. Some rape cases are reported, but many are not.
During the current Awami rule, Awami sex crime has taken a new turn. The usual practice of sex offence by Awami-Chhatra League has turned to be a ‘sex business’ or ‘career move’. First year female students belonging to Chhatra League are duped and used as sex objects. April 2010 was a month in which such incidents involving female affiliates of Chhatra League of Eden College in Dhaka were widely reported in the domestic media. Female students especially those hailing from outside Dhaka are shown an easy way to realize their dream of becoming leaders and to accumulate huge wealth: ‘entertaining’ male leaders of Awami-Chhatra League. Senior Chhatra League leaders of Eden College, with the complicity of the College Principal, regularly send their juniors to the houses of male leaders, sometimes to hotels, to ‘please’ them at night. They leave Eden College dormitories at 10:00 pm and return the next day at 10:00 am. As reported in newspapers, refusal to offer this sex service ends with eviction, torture or expulsion from the party. This ‘sex business’ is a new addition to many other taken-for-granted businesses of Chhatra, such as, ‘admission business’, ‘tender business’ and ‘money extortion business’. Unfortunately, many of the few prominent feminist organizations we have in Bangladesh are covertly linked with Awami League, which explains their silence about such sex offences involving Awami League and its student organization.
The above account gives only a partial picture of what has been happening in Bangladesh under the current Awami rule. It will require reams of papers and heaps of writers to describe the extent of brutalities and incarceration the regime is perpetrating to leaders and activists of Bangladesh Jamaat Islam and its student organization. All kinds of human rights violation including rapes and unlawful tortures are dragging Bangladesh into a failed state. Repression on opposition political leaders and activists may lead the country to a civil war, which the international world does not want to happen in Bangladesh – a country already beset with so many other problems like poverty and environmental disasters. Under the circumstances, we request all governments and human rights organizations to put maximum pressures on the Bangladesh government in order to prevent it committing further political repression and human rights violations. It is obvious that the regime is heading to a one-party political system in the model of 1975. If the west turns a blind eye to the regime’s war on democracy for the fact that Awami League is known as a secular party, the people of Bangladesh will have to bear the brunt of all consequences.