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Newspapers which are critical of Bangladesh’s ruling party risk being shut down, say analysts [Reuters]
|Dhaka, Bangladesh – Media workers here in Bangladesh’s capital fear that ever-greater restrictions are being imposed upon them by officials. Two Bengali daily newspapers and two television channels, all reportedly with links to the country’s opposition movement, have been shut down “temporarily” over the past year.
Furthermore, as the government begins its second term in power, the ruling party has said that a National Broadcasting Policy for private television channels would soon be brought in to ensure “free and fair media practices”.
Critics say this is an ominous sign for the freedom of the press.
“Whenever a government talks about a media policy, they are in fact talking about controlling the media to their own convenience,” said Nurul Kabir, editor of New Age.
‘Temporary’ shutdown of media houses
Inqilab, one of the nation’s oldest Bengali-language newspapers, was shut down “temporarily” on January 16, after the daily published a report: “Indian troops assist in joint forces operation in Satkhira.” The paper continues to publish news online, despite its physical presses being stopped.
The article had attempted to investigate a series of rumours and documents doing the rounds on social network websites, which claimed that Indian soldiers had taken part in an operation in violence-torn Satkhira, a border district in the country’s south-west, before the national polls took place on January 5.
After the report’s publication, four journalists, including Ahmed Atiq, the story’s lead reporter, were arrested at the Inqilab offices.
“The printing house of the Bangla daily Inqilab has been closed for running a misleading report,” said Information Minister Hasanul Huq Inu on January 17. “It will be reopened if the Inqilab authorities win in the case filed for running the report.”
A case was filed by the government complaining that the “baseless” and “fabricated” report had tried to “demean the image of the country and the military”.
A Dhaka court on January 20 granted a two-day remand for detained Ahmed Atiq and sent Inqilab‘s news editor, Rabiulla Robi, and deputy chief reporter, Rafiq Mohammad, to jail.
Syed Ahmed Gazi, Inquilab‘s defence lawyer, said that sources for the article were attributed at the court. “Although action is being taken against the reporters, with Atiq being taken into [custody], the shutdown of the daily is unreasonable. The government did not show any valid logic behind shutting down the daily’s print edition,” he told Al Jazeera.
While questioning the credibility of the report, Shahed Chowdhury, President of Dhaka Reporters Unity said the government could have protested against the report through an official rejoinder, which is the normal practice here – “rather than arresting the journalists”.
Journalists in Bangladesh feared that Inqilab may suffer the same fate as Amar Desh, another pro-opposition Bangla daily, whose printing press was raided and sealed by police in April 2013, after the arrest of editor Mahmudur Rahman, a critic of the ruling party.
Despite a High Court ruling on August 7, 2013, asking the government to explain why its obstruction of the press should not be declared illegal, Amar Desh‘s lawyer said the government had not responded – nor had there been a hearing following the judgment.
On May 6, 2013, the broadcast signal of Diganta Television and Islamic Television, two pro-opposition TV stations, was suspended – on charges of inciting religious extremism and causing social unrest. Both channels had tried to cover the Hifazat-e-Islam rally in Dhaka earlier in the day.
“To make investigations easier, we had provided 24-hour footage of our channel and that of pro-ruling party television channels of the said day,” Shams Eskander, managing director of Islamic Television, told Al Jazeera. “We had also requested the Information Ministry let us initiate transmission without airing the news. But none of our requests were granted.”
When asked about the fate of these media houses, Information Minister Inu told Al Jazeera that they remained under suspicion. “Investigations on whether they had ulterior motives behind their broadcasts and publication, are still going on. The matters will be decided once the investigation ends,” he said.
Referring to the opposition’s allegations that the four media outlets were shut down due to any alleged political stances they may have taken, Inu said: “These allegations are baseless. For example, Inqilab has already regretted and apologised for its report. By making such statements, the opposition is resorting to falsehood.”
National broadcasting policy
Many journalists, especially among TV outlets, are wary of the draft National Broadcasting Policy.
The proposal includes guidelines for broadcasting; licensing as well as advertisements, and also a section about the nature of programmes that would be deemed “improper”.
With 40 rules and regulations, covering 46 approved government and private television channels, the policy contains several clauses that delineate boundaries that programming must not cross. The policy also empowers the information ministry to make all necessary decisions regarding broadcasting licenses.
“The policy will be passed within a few months,” Inu told Al Jazeera. “We will have another discussion with the stakeholders on January 29, where we will seek more feedback.”
‘Violation of media freedom’
Nurul Kabir, of New Age, maintains that the goal of the policy is to stifle dissenting voices.
“Given the fact that the incumbents of the day have closed two television stations and two mainstream newspapers, it’s only natural that they are planning to control the media in general for own political convenience,” he said. “This is a clear violation of democratic freedom of expression of the media as well as of the people in general.”
While criticising Inqilab‘s report for being “politically biased”, Fahmidul Haq, associate professor of mass communication and journalism at the University of Dhaka, said arbitrary shutdowns of media houses were an ominous sign of the government disregard for legal procedures.
“Any policy that can give the government a right to cancel licences or curb criticism of government activities will be a violation of media freedom,” he concluded.
How the U.S. Employs Overseas Sweatshops to Produce Government Uniforms | A Lightning War for Liberty
The following article from the New York Times is extraordinarily important as it perfectly highlights the incredible hypocrisy of the U.S. government when it comes to overseas slave labor and human rights. While the Obama Administration (and the ones that came before it) publicly espouse self-important platitudes about our dedication to humanitarianism, when it comes down to practicing what we preach, our government fails miserably and is directly responsible for immense human suffering.
Let’s get down to some facts. The U.S. government is one of the largest buyers of clothing from overseas factories at over $1.5 billion per year. To start, considering our so-called “leaders” are supposedly so concerned about the state of the U.S. economy, why aren’t we spending the money here at home at U.S. factories? If we don’t have the capacity, why don’t we build the capacity? After all, if we need the uniforms anyway, and it is at the taxpayers expense, wouldn’t it make sense to at least ensure production at home and create some jobs? If a private business wants to produce overseas that’s fine, but you’d think the government would be a little more interested in boosting domestic industry.
However, the above is just a minor issue. Not only does the U.S. government spend most of its money for clothing at overseas factories, but it employs some of the most egregious human rights abusers in the process. Child labor, beatings, restrictions on bathroom brakes, padlocked exits and much more is routine practice at these factories. Even worse, in the few instances in which the government is required to actually use U.S. labor, they just contract with prisons for less than $2 per hour using domestic slave labor. Then, when questions start to get asked, government agencies actually go out of their way to keep the factory lists out of the public’s eye, even going so far as denying requests when pressed for information by members of Congress.
Sadly, as usual, at the end of the day this is all about profits and money. Money government officials will claim is being saved by the taxpayer, but in reality is just being funneled to well connected bureaucrats.
From the New York Times:
WASHINGTON — One of the world’s biggest clothing buyers, the United States government spends more than $1.5 billion a year at factories overseas, acquiring everything from the royal blue shirts worn by airport security workers to the olive button-downs required for forest rangers and the camouflage pants sold to troops on military bases.
But even though the Obama administration has called on Western buyers to use their purchasing power to push for improved industry working conditions after several workplace disasters over the last 14 months, the American government has done little to adjust its own shopping habits.
Labor Department officials say that federal agencies have “zero tolerance” for using overseas plants that break local laws, but American government suppliers in countries including Bangladesh, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Mexico, Pakistan and Vietnam show a pattern of legal violations and harsh working conditions, according to audits and interviews at factories. Among them: padlocked fire exits, buildings at risk of collapse, falsified wage records and repeated hand punctures from sewing needles when workers were pushed to hurry up.
In Bangladesh, shirts with Marine Corps logos sold in military stores were made at DK Knitwear, where child laborers made up a third of the work force, according to a 2010 audit that led some vendors to cut ties with the plant.Managers punched workers for missed production quotas, and the plant had no functioning alarm system despite previous fires, auditors said.Many of the problems remain, according to another audit this year and recent interviews with workers.
At Zongtex Garment Manufacturing in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, which makes clothes sold by the Army and Air Force, an audit conducted this year found nearly two dozen under-age workers, some as young as 15. Several of them described in interviews with The New York Times how they were instructed to hide from inspectors.
“Sometimes people soil themselves at their sewing machines,” one worker said, because of restrictions on bathroom breaks.
And there is no law prohibiting the federal government from buying clothes produced overseas under unsafe or abusive conditions.
Why am I not surprised…
“It doesn’t exist for the exact same reason that American consumers still buy from sweatshops,” said Daniel Gordon, a former top federal procurement official who now works at George Washington University Law School. “The government cares most about getting the best price.”
Labor and State Department officials have encouraged retailers to participate in strengthening rules on factory conditions in Bangladesh — home to one of the largest and most dangerous garment industries. But defense officials this month helped kill a legislative measure that would have required military stores, which last year made more than $485 million in profit, to comply with such rules because they said the $500,000 annual cost was too expensive.
As usual, it is all about the money. You think average Americans are seeing any of that massive profit? Believe me, someone is and it’s not you.
At Manta Apparels, for example, which makes uniforms for the General Services Administration, employees said beatings are common and fire exits are kept chained except when auditors visit. The local press has described Manta as one of the most repressive factories in the country. A top labor advocate, Aminul Islam, was organizing there in 2010 when he was first arrested by the police and tortured. In April 2012, he was found dead, a hole drilled below his right knee and his ankles crushed.
Conditions like those are possible partly because American government agencies usually do not know which factories supply their goods or are reluctant to reveal them. Soon after a fire killed at least 112 people at the Tazreen Fashions factory in Bangladesh in November 2012, several members of Congress asked various agencies for factory addresses. Of the seven agencies her office contacted, Representative Carolyn Maloney, Democrat of New York, said only the Department of the Interior turned over its list.
Federal officials still have to navigate a tangle of rules. Defense officials, for instance, who spend roughly $2 billion annually on military uniforms, are required by a World War II-era rule called the Berry Amendment to have most of them made in the United States. In recent years, Congress has pressured defense officials to cut costs on uniforms. Increasingly, the department has turned to federal prisons, where wages are under $2 per hour. Federal inmates this year stitched more than $100 million worth of military uniforms.
The Marine Corps and Navy still do not require audits of these factories. The Air Force and Army exchanges do, but the audits can come from retailers, and defense officials fail to do routine spot checks to confirm their accuracy.
The Marine Corps and Navy still do not require audits of these factories. The Air Force and Army exchanges do, but the audits can come from retailers, and defense officials fail to do routine spot checks to confirm their accuracy.
For now, Bangladesh’s garment sector continues to grow, as do purchases from one of its bulk buyers. In the year since Tazreen burned down, American military stores have shipped even more clothes from Bangladesh.
This is the human equivalent of factory farming and every decent American citizen should be appalled that this is happening on multiple levels. Please share this post to raise awareness.
Full article here.
|Violence has marred controversial general elections in Bangladesh, leaving at least 18 people dead in clashes between opposition supporters and police.
Thousands of protesters firebombed polling stations and stole ballot papers as deadly violence flared across the South Asian nation during Sunday’s elections, which was boycotted by the BNP, the main opposition party, and its allies.
Polls closed at 4pm (1000 GMT) after eight hours of voting and final results were expected in the early hours of Monday morning.
Police said more than 200 polling stations were set on fire or trashed by mobs in a bid by the opposition activists to wreck the contest.
AFP correspondents said there were no queues to vote, while local television reported that only a single person voted in the first three hours at one station.
The BNP is protesting against the decision by Sheikh Hasina Wajed’s government to scrap the practice of having a neutral caretaker government oversee elections.
Al Jazeera’s Jonah Hull, reporting from Dhaka, said: “The government did everything it could to bring the opposition on board, and blames the opposition entirely for the violence. The opposition, on the other hand, says it will accept nothing less than a neutral caretaker body and this government to step aside.”
With the opposition trying to enforce a general strike as part of a strategy to wreck the polls, government officials acknowledged the turnout was significantly lower than usual.
“The turnout was low, partly due to the boycott by many parties,” Kazi Rakibuddin Ahmad, the election commission head, said without immediately giving a figure.
Two of those killed on Sunday were beaten to death while guarding polling stations in northern districts which bore the brunt of the violence.
“We’ve seen thousands of protesters attack polling booths and our personnel at a number of locations with Molotov cocktails and petrol bombs,” Syed Abu Sayem, police chief of the northern Bogra district, told AFP news agency.
“The situation is extremely volatile.”
He described how thousands of ballot papers had been ceremoniously set on fire.
Most of the other victims were opposition activists who were shot by police, while a driver died of his injuries from a Molotov cocktail attack on his lorry.
“We were forced to open fire after thousands of them attacked us with guns and small bombs,” Mokbul Hossain, police chief in the northern Parbatipur town, said
“It was a coordinated attack. They managed to seize some ballot papers and they tried to steal our weapons.”
In Dhaka, police confirmed at least two petrol bomb attacks on polling stations.
Tens of thousands of troops were deployed across the country after around 150 people had been killed in the build-up, but they failed to halt the bloodshed.
The Awami League-led government has accused the BNP of orchestrating the violence and kept its leader, Khaleda Zia, confined to her home for a week.
Outcome not in doubt
The outcome of the contest is not in doubt as voting is taking place in only 147 of the 300 parliamentary constituencies.
Awami League candidates or allies have a clear run in the remaining 153.
The government said it had to hold the vote after parliament’s five-year term expired, but the BNP said it was a joke.
“Yes, the festive mood is missing but this election is essential to ensure constitutional continuity,” Quamrul Islam, deputy law minister, said.
Hasina’s government amended the constitution in 2010 and decided to hold elections under an all-party government.
However, Zia argued that such a government would in effect be headed by the governing party which would undermine the fairness of the process.
More violence feared
Many fear that the election is likely to stoke violence after the bloodiest year of unrest since Bangladesh broke free from Pakistan in 1971.
The former East Pakistan is the world’s eighth most populous nation but also one of the poorest in Asia, and more turmoil will undermine efforts to improve the lot of its population of 154 million – a third of whom live below the poverty line.
A local rights group says more than 500 people have been killed since January 2013, including victims of clashes that erupted after the conviction of Islamists for crimes dating back to the 1971 liberation war.
The main Islamist party was banned by judges from taking part in the election, and its leaders are either in detention or in hiding.
Alarmed by the violence, the US, EU and Commonwealth all declined to send observers.
Speaking to Al Jazeera on Sunday, Amena Mohsin, a professor of international relations at Dhaka University, said: “The election has not been democratic. It was an in-house election. The government could have held a more inclusive election and the election commission could have delayed the vote further.”
Supporters accuse authorities of keeping opposition figure Khaleda Zia under de facto house arrest. [AFP]
|Bangladesh police fired water cannon and shotguns at opposition protesters in the capital, killing one person, at the start of a banned mass march aimed at thwarting next month’s general election.Hundreds of demonstrators, some throwing home-made bombs, battled police on Sunday as they tried to gather at the opposition’s headquarters and other places throughout Dhaka for the so-called “March for Democracy”.
The opposition says an election scheduled for January 5 must be held under a neutral caretaker government, as in the past, to prevent ballot-rigging.
BNP leader Khaleda Zia, a two-time former prime minister and Hasina’s arch-rival, has urged supporters to defy the ban on Sunday’s march and converge on the capital.
In Rampura neighbourhood, more than 200 demonstrators threw small bombs at police who responded with shotgun blasts during clashes there that left one person dead, a senior officer said.
Police have banned the so-called “March for Democracy” amid fears that the rally would become a focal point for more unrest after what has already been the deadliest year of political violence in the country’s history.
Police have detained more than 750 opposition supporters as a “preventive measure”, while authorities have suspended Dhaka-bound bus, ferry and train services, virtually cutting off the city from the rest of the country.
The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its allies have staged weeks of deadly protests, strikes and transport blockades to try to force Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to resign. Dozens of people have been killed.
Sticks and rocks
Running battles erupted between police and protesters near the BNP headquarters where Zia was scheduled later Sunday to address the rally, TV footage showed.
Ruling party activists, armed with sticks and rocks, also clashed with opposition protesters outside the press club.
Scores of police stopped Khaleda Zia’s car as it tried to drive from her house to the march in the capital, where hundreds of her supporters are clashing with security forces, aide Shamsher Mobin Chowdhury said.
“Khaleda Zia boarded her car and tried to leave her house to lead the march. But police barred her car from leaving,” Chowdhury, who is also a vice-president of Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party, told AFP news agency.
Police and security forces have conducted nationwide raids, searching trains and buses to arrest opposition supporters.
They have also set up check posts for passengers and commuters at the entry points to Dhaka.
Security has been tight in the city with around 11,000 officers and the elite Rapid Action Battalion patrolling the streets and key flashpoints.
The Supreme Court rejected an earlier life sentence imposed by the country’s war crimes tribunal [File/Reuters]
|Bangladesh has hanged opposition leader Abdul Quader Mollah over war crimes, making him the first person to be put to death for massacres committed during the country’s bloody 1971 war of independence.
Abdul Quader Mollah, 65, a senior leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) party, was hanged on Thursday at 10.01 pm (1601 GMT) in a jail in the capital Dhaka, government officials said.
The legal case against Mollah has heightened political tension in Bangladesh less than a month before elections are due. Jamaat-e-Islami is barred from contesting elections but plays a key role in the opposition movement led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).
Security was tight around the jail where Mollah was hanged. Extra police and paramilitary guards were deployed on the streets of Dhaka, while hundreds of people gathered at a major intersection in the city to celebrate the execution.
Moqbul Ahmed, JI’s acting leader, said in a statement on the party’s website that people would revenge Mollah’s execution by deepening the role of Islam in Bangladesh. The party called a nationwide general strike for Sunday.
Al Jazeera’s Tanvir Chowdhury, reporting from Dhaka, said that judges ancestral homes had been attacked in the wake of the decision.
Micro-level civil war
“It has been a very tense atmosphere in which this review is going on,” our correspondent said.
“People are worried, it’s almost like a micro-level civil war.”
While a strong reaction to the decision from JI was expected on the streets of Dhaka, the city remained relatively calm.
But at least five people were killed earlier on Thursday near the port city of Chittagong as clashes broke out between opposition activists and police.
Party activists also clashed with police, torched or smashed vehicles, and exploded homemade bombs in the cities of Sylhet and Rajshahi, TV stations reported.
Scores of people were injured in the latest violence to hit the South Asian country, which has seen weeks of escalating tension as it struggles to overcome extreme poverty and rancorous politics.
In eastern Bangladesh, security officials opened fire to disperse opposition activists, leaving at least three people dead and 15 others wounded, Dhaka’s leading Bengali-language newspaper, Prothom Alo, reported.
The violence broke out in Laxmipur district, 95km east of Dhaka, during a nationwide opposition blockade after elite security forces raided and searched the home of an opposition leader, the report said.
Life sentence overturned
The Supreme Court passed the order of a review petition filed by Mollah against its verdict, awarding him the death penalty for his wartime offences. He had originally been due to be hanged at 18:00GMT on Tuesday, his lawyer said, but the court delayed the execution to consider his petition.
His original life sentence had been overturned by the Supreme Court in September, after mass protests called for him to be hanged.
A panel of five judges led by Chief Justice Mohammad Mojammel Hossain rejected the petition after hearing arguments on the appeal against the death penalty, a state prosecutor said.
Mollah is one of five opposition leaders condemned to death by Bangladesh’s International Crimes Tribunal (ICT), set up in 2010 to investigate atrocities perpetrated during the 1971 conflict, in which three million people died.
Critics of the tribunal say it has been used as a political tool by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who is locked in a political feud with BNP leader Begum Khaleda Zia, as a way of weakening the opposition ahead of January 5 elections.
“The execution of… Mollah should never have happened,” said Abbas Faiz, Amnesty International’s Bangladesh researcher. “The country is on a razor’s edge… with pre-election tensions running high and almost non-stop street protests.”
But many Bangladeshis support the court, believing that those convicted of war crimes should be punished, underlining how the events of 42 years ago still resonate in the impoverished, divided nation of 160 million people.
|Bangladeshi journalists have said the government is threatening the freedom of the press in the country.The ruling Awami League has shut down TV stations and detained a prominent newspaper editor in the past few months in an apparent bid to restrict the media.
Opponents say it is part of a political strategy ahead of next year’s elections, but the government says the measures are necessary after months of violent protests.
Al Jazeera’s Jonah Hull reports from Bangladesh.
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Local Dhaka police chief Sirajul Islam put the number of the crowd at the rally at “over 100,000” [Reuters]
|At least six people have been killed and more than 100 injured across Bangladesh and more than 100,000 opposition activists rallied in the capital, Dhaka, on Friday to demand that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina quit and order polls under a caretaker government.
Police said the protesters died after officers and border guards opened fire in three towns as the supporters of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its Islamist allies protested across the country, AFP news agency reported.
Two protesters were killed and several others were injured by bullets in the southern resort district of Cox’s Bazaar when border guards opened fire at several thousand supporters of the BNP.
“The border guards opened fire after the BNP activists defied a ban on rallies and attacked the forces,” Cox’s Bazaar district deputy police chief Babul Akter told AFP.
Several television channels reported that three people died in the central district of Chandpur when police and ruling Awami League supporters clashed with opposition supporters.
At least 30 people were injured in the clash in the area, which is 64km east of the capital.
A demonstrator died in the northern town of Jaldhaka after the elite Rapid Action Battalion opened fire at about 10,000 rampaging supporters of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, a key ally of the BNP, area police head Mohammad Moniruzzman told AFP.
The violence also spread to the eastern district of Comilla, where at least 20 people were injured.
Similar clashes were also reported in Bangladesh’s second-largest city, Chittagong, which is in the southeast, and in many other towns across the country.
In Dhaka, opposition supporters allegedly set fire to a car and a bus, but no injuries were reported.
At least 10 homemade bombs were exploded at a premier public university area in Dhaka.
Ruhul Kabir Rizvy Ahmed, a spokesman for the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, said at least 400 opposition supporters were arrested across the country.
The clashes occurred as the BNP and its Islamist allies called nationwide mass protests to force Hasina to resign ahead of the January 2014 elections and set up a technocrat-led caretaker government to oversee the polls.
BNP leader Khaleda Zia addressed a rally of over 100,000 supporters at a national memorial in central Dhaka, renewing her threat to boycott the polls and setting Hasina a new weekend deadline to hold a dialogue on her demand for a caretaker government.
“There will be no election under Hasina. We won’t allow any one-party election. The election must include all parties and be conducted by a neutral caretaker government,” Zia told the crowd, announcing a nationwide strike for Sunday to Tuesday to press her demands.
Bangladeshi politics has long been dominated by a feud between the two dynastic leaders who distrust each other.
Local Dhaka police chief Sirajul Islam put the number of the crowd at the rally at “over 100,000”. Witnesses and BNP officials said the figure was double.
Tensions have been rising in Bangladesh since Hasina’s ruling Awami League (AL) party rejected an October 24 deadline set by the BNP for accepting its demands.
Zia, who has twice served as premier, branded the government “illegal” as of Friday, citing a legal provision that requires a neutral caretaker government to be set up three months before elections slated for January 2014.
But the ruling AL abolished the provision in 2011, handing the job of overseeing polls to a reformed Election Commission.
The government has deployed thousands of police and paramilitary border guards in Dhaka, in the port city of Chittagong where the ruling party called a rival rally that was peaceful, and other potential flashpoints.
“We’ve sent BGB (Border Guard Bangladesh) troops to 20 major cities and towns,” BGB director colonel Hafiz Ahsan told AFP.
Police said they fired rubber bullets in half a dozen other towns, leaving scores injured after the supporters of the AL party and the BNP clashed.
While the nation has a long history of political violence, this year has been the deadliest since Bangladesh gained independence in 1971.
At least 150 people have been killed since January after a controversial court began handing down death sentences to Islamist leaders allied to ex-premier Zia.
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