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Rumi Ahmed
18 July, 2010. USA

Updated: Amar Desh online version again available.

Article 39 of the Constitution of Bangladesh:

39. Freedom of thought and conscience, and of speech.
(1) Freedom or thought and conscience is guaranteed.
(2) Subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interests of the security of
the State, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality, or in relation
to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence-
(a) the right of every citizen of freedom of speech and expression; and freedom of the
press, are guaranteed.

Bangladesh Supreme Court just struck down the Awami League government’s ban on popular newspaper Amar Desh. Amar Desh online version is now available.

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Based on precedence of two previous cases concerning Daily Ittefaq and Daily Banglar Bani, this verdict was very straightforward and expected. Accordingly High court verdict came with very clear judgment and an appeal by the government was a very shameful and surprising act. Esp when the government itself declared that Government had nothing to do with the ban, it was done by the district administrator of Dhaka.  And more shameful and less surprising was the act of the chamber judge of Supreme Court, Justice S K Sinha. Without letting any hearing to be allowed, he simply stayed the judgment of High court.

It is shameful because the chamber judge just violated his oath to uphold Bangladesh Constitution by allowing a Newspaper to remain closed illegally. It is not surprising considering the precedences in which  the court of the Chamber Judge is being used more frequently by the government to stall high court verdicts unfavorable to the Government.

More interestingly a case in pending in the Supreme Court in this regard. A contempt of court case was filed against Amar Desh editor Mr. Mahmudur Rahman  because Amar Desh quoted a senior lawyer of the supreme court, suggesting the same allegation against the chamber bench. In the report Daily Amar Desh quoted senior most lawyer of Supreme court and ex justice Mr TH Khan as saying, ” Chamber Judge means a stay of high court order”.

And yet more interesting was the fact that Mr Mahmudur Rahman is now ‘shown arrested’ in a case of anti corruption Commission for not submitting wealth report. In a recent spate of Supreme Court verdicts,  all acts of anti corruption commission were deemed illegal. Persons convicted by ACC are all set free and many of them are in important positions of current government. Even our current prime Minister challenged the wealth submission order of ACC, never submitted her wealth report and fought a lengthy court battle.

Sometimes, acts of the government, its law enforcement apparatus and the attorney General’s office seems bizarre. Yet again, more bizarre is the silence of the collective conscience of the country, our columnists-our editors-our TV anchors, regarding this total mindless acts of our government.

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Rumi Ahmed is a Bangladeshi blogger contributing from United States.

Originally Published on: Onnesha.TK

Ti[aimukh Dam

Tipaimukh Dam. It is clear that it will put it's adverse effect on Surma and Kushiara as well as other rivers of Bangladesh too.

The Indians are going ahead with the construction of the massive Tipaimukh barrage-this events collectively impinge on us in more than one ways but the one which directly affects our very ability to survive is the issue of water-sharing of some 53 common rivers between India and Bangladesh. By constructing Tipaimukh and other barrages, India is depriving us of life-giving waters, drastically reducing our ability to survive and therefore this is the issue needing immediate and continued public attention and the subject of this commentary. India has resumed construction of the Tipaimukh barrage on the Barack river just a kilometer north of Jakiganj in Sylhet; the construction work was stalled in March 2007 in the face of protests within and outside India. The barrage when completed in 2012 is supposed to provide 1500 megawatts of hydel power to the Indian state of Assam but in return its going to bring about a major disaster for Bangladesh, practically contributing to drying up of 350 km long Surma and 110 km long Kushiara rivers which water most of the north-eastern regions of Bangladesh. The Tipaimukh barrage is going to seriously affect not only agriculture in large portions of Bangladesh, particularly in winter, but is also going to bring about negative ecological, climatic and environmental changes of vast areas in both Bangladesh and India.

Indian government is constructing the dam without consultation with Bangladesh government, which is violation of International River Law. Three crores people of the northern and eastern parts of the country would be vulnerable seriously when the construction of the dam would be completed by 2012.

It’s not just this one Indian barrage that is a source of considerable concern and trepidation in Bangladesh; in 1976 India put into operation the Farraka Barrage which more or less destroyed the Ganges-Brahamaputra Basin, most of which lies in the deltaic plains of Bangladesh and in 1990 India also constructed a barrage along the Teesta river thereby virtually making ineffective much of the Teesta barrage project constructed down-stream in Bangladesh to support irrigation and agriculture in the north-west region of the country. What is even more worrying is that India has evolved plans to divert waters, from the north of the country to its drought-prone southern and eastern states, of some 53 river which flow from India to Bangladesh.

Bangladesh shares a common border with India in the west, north and east and with Myanmar in the southeast. These borders cut across 57 rivers which discharge through Bangladesh into the Bay of Bengal in the south. The upstream courses of these rivers traverse India, China, Nepal and Bhutan. Trans-boundary flows, which enter Bangladesh from remote catchments extending short distance to thousands of kilometers upstream, are the important source of water resources.

Bangladesh gets 7 to 8 percent of its total water from the Barak in India’s northeastern states. Millions of people are dependent on hundreds of water bodies, fed by the Barak, in the Sylhet region for fishing and agricultural activities.

Environmentalists in Bangladesh have held many talks on the adverse impact of the proposed dam. They say the dam would dry up the river and the water bodies in the downstream, leaving millions jobless and upsetting the ecological balance.

Among the trans-boundary rivers, the ones most affected by Indian barrages and their related systems of canals, reservoirs and irrigation schemes are Ganges, Brahmaputra, Meghna and Teesta. Although the Indian and Bangladeshi governments have a water sharing agreement for the Ganges, there are none for the other 53 rivers that cross the border. With the Tipaimukh barrage now underway, India seems to be going ahead with its mega-project of diverting river waters from its north to its south and east, thereby putting Bangladesh’s very survival at stake.India is taking unilateral decisions about matters which affect Bangladesh’s core interests and if these cannot be resolved bilaterally, Bangladesh must look at options of going to multilateral forums such as the UN to get its right not only recognized but also implemented. International laws dealing with water-sharing of common rivers and sources are ambiguous, unclear and contentious and so, Bangladesh ought to vigorously pursue these matters, perhaps even garner international support for a change in those laws dealing with water-sharing – this international dimension is a crucial factor affecting the management of the trans-boundary river systems. There is thus, no scope for Bangladesh to be deflected from this core issue of water-sharing notwithstanding Indian deceitful and diversionary insistence and propaganda on “terrorists and transit”.

The Indian high commissioner has admitted that a dam will be built on the proposed Tipaimukh hydropower project over the cross-boundary river Barak but said it will not harm Bangladesh. (But I don’t know how? You will put a barrage in the river and it will not affect the nature???)

The Tipaimukh hydropower project was not like the Farakka irrigation project. A little amount of water will be diverted to produce hydroelectricity and the water will be released soon, Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty said. (So he agreed that Farakka Barrage is a problem for Bangladesh. And saying that Tipaimukh will not be like that! But how Bangladesh would beleive it? India previously said many thing abouthis Farakka Barrage. But ultimately Bangladesh is suffering from it. So how will we beleive that you are talking truth? And one barrage must put it’s adverse effect on nature. And the position of the Barrage clearly indicates that Bangladesh will offcourse suffer with this project. It will be a destructive project for Bangladesh. We must protest it now!)

Bangladesh should not be wary of the project, he told.

He said bilateral discussions have long been on-going on the project. Indian government has invited Bangladesh to see the dam site and its design, Chakravarty said. A Bangladeshi organisation, International Farakka Committee, demanded suspension of ‘construction of Tipaimukh barrage’ and rightful share of the Indian river Ganges.

The organisation called upon the United Nations to form a regional river commission involving China, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh.

Government of Bangladesh and people of Bangladesh must be aware of this project from now and must have to protest. It will come as a destructive project for Bangladesh. bangladesh will become desert if the project is completed. India is using their power to complete this destructive project. They are trying to giving wrong ideas to Bangladesh as they given at the time of constructing Farakka Barrage. They are doing the same thing here. We all now that how Bangladesh is suffering because of this Farakka Project. How our Bangladesh is affected by the Farakka Barrage. We don’t want to see more destruction in bangladeshi economy and nature. We must protest. And it is the time. Bangladeshis must be aware of this from now and this is the only way to safe our beautiful country Bangladesh.

Sikder Haseeb Khan

Imagine that you’re sitting on the throne of Bangladesh’s politics. You are ruling with emergency powers, but dissent is swelling. You are in the midst of an economic crisis. You are threatened by powerful shadowy figures in your own security and intelligence apparatus. Your previous international patrons now uncomfortable. You need an exit, preferably an honorable one.

So you want to hold elections. But a fully free and fair election will almost certainly result in an outcome that you have reason to distrust, for it may return to power many popular politicians that your administration has persecuted severely. So what do you do in this tense situation?

The answer: engineer the elections—but do so carefully, without raising too many alarm bells. Ensure that voting goes smoothly on election day, without hijacking of ballot boxes, prevention of voters from casting ballots, or any such crude tactics that would be obvious to an observer. In other words, engineer it, not rig it. Here’s how…

Bar dissenters

The first step that the regime has taken: prevent feisty politicians from running in the election. Convicting politicians in quick trials—whatever the charges—will come in handy: declare them ineligible for holding public office. Then government would then intensify an “anti-corruption drive” prior to the candidate registration date in order to bar the local political activists that it doesn’t like.

Field proponents

At the same time, the regime has to leave enough of Awami League and BNP outside the legal net so that the parties themselves can participate in the election. It will continue hand-picking “reformist” politicians or possible turncoats, and intimidate or otherwise persuade them to compete. It will support selective campaigns from both security and funding standpoints. As a recent report by the International Crisis Group noted, “the army is preparing a countrywide list of its own ‘clean’ candidates to contest the 2008 polls.”

Whether or not these candidates will represent a King’s Party or an existing political platform doesn’t matter. What matters is that mostly pro-regime candidates will be allowed to compete.

Shape the grassroots

Then the regime has to ensure that the party rank and file do not rebel. It has already arrested thousands of activists all over the country to prevent dissent, and intimidated thousands others to conform. The government is also trying to bar parties from having students’, teachers’, and workers’ organizations, which usually house most of the activists. In this altered playing field, the government wants to hold local elections first, under either a state of emergency or very limited openings, to ensure that its supporters are able to infiltrate the grassroots level prior to a national election.

Since parliamentary candidates have to rely on grassroots leaders to carry their campaigns, shaping the grassroots will help ensure that parliamentary candidates are forced toe a pro-regime line.

And local elections are not going to be monitored as much by international observers, so the field will be set to stage ‘upsets’. After all, this unrepresentative government claims that it’s only doing what the ‘people’ presumably want.

Control the cities

Another area that the regime has been trying to bolster is its support base among the urban civil society elite. Its attempt to get Dr. Yunus to lead this effort failed. Many of its other supporters among the urban elite are unappealing and unelectable in the perspective of the majority of voters. So, to the extent possible, it is redefining the boundaries of constituencies to give urban areas a greater share. This increases its chance to increase regime loyalists at least in the metropolitan areas. Holding non-party municipal elections is part of this plan.Increase authorityThe final ingredient is to increase the power of electoral authorities to arbitrarily declare results void. The Election Commission has been doing exactly the same. It is about to “empower it to cancel the candidature of any parliamentary contender for gross violation of electoral laws and declare vacant the seat of an elected lawmaker for giving false information in the account of the election expenses” (New Age, 29 April 2008). And who’s going to determine this violation? The Commission of course. Given this government’s woeful record, you can wave due process bye-bye in any such decision.Satisfaction guaranteedSo voila! Now hold national elections, and at the end of the day, you have engineered a nice exit strategy by making sure only your friends are elected. No violence, no ballot box hijacking, and a lot of claps from foreign observers.

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Sikder Haseeb Khan is a Bangladeshi author. This story has also been published in The Progressive Bangladesh.

xanthis
September 30, 2008.

It can be taken as an assertion of the regime to clarify ACC is not just a tool of political suppression. The international recognition of the military backed regime’s current stance was influenced by the high court granted bails of politicians at a row. Many people inside or outside the government, political or apolitical, have been found to get aggrieved by having the politicians back to the show. So, the High Court’s denial of Sheikh Hasina’s bail appeal at Noor Ali’s extortion charge and ACC’s charging Begum Zia to the Barapukuria Coal Mine charge, can be taken as a showdown of, that the media attracting anti-graft drive has not gone that alcoholic, as of Addition Attorney General Mansoor Habib told, the denial of Sheikh Hasina’s bail appeal has been a regain of the public image of the Appellate Division.

But we must not kick the reality away.

We are now in the timeline, cleanly eighty days away of the national poll. People of Bangladesh, though most of them are not too much optimistic, are looking forward for nothing but a free fair general election. They don’t care whether a High Court or Supreme Court judge gives a judgement freely or having the pen held apart by somebody else. Presently the most important concern of everybody is a free and fair poll. And it ain’t necessary to mention that two events been held today, High Court’s denial of Sheikh Hasina’s bail appeal at Noor Ali’s extortion charge and ACC’s charging Begum Zia to the Barapukuria Coal Mine probe, can be anything but not to be taken as a move by the regime with deliberation of holding a free and fair poll.

BBC interviews Barrister Rafiqul Haque and Additional Attorney General Mansoor Habib

It will be an addition to this regime’s long ‘fun list’ if they defend these two incident as the outcome of freedom of judiciary. Sheikh Hasina’s release at parole, meeting with four advisors at Sudha Sadan, flying abroad to children, all in some 20 hours, has let people know how free the judiciary is. But that supersonic speed of the regime was not questioned due to people took it as a step ahead to an election. Where the judiciary is in no way free rather is under full control of the authority, Sheikh Hasina’s not getting bail today is definitely a move which wants her to get free not in a short time. She is scheduled to return home on October 17. My personal speculation is Sheikh Hasina will get the bail by then, if nothing unexpected is happened. And this lead us to see the sudden blustering of ACC is nothing but to show up their prolificacy, a response to the claim of ACC’s going off the effects.

But all of the lines above can have ascription to the reality if we let that the election is going to be held. It’s still a ‘national confusion’ that how long Bangladesh is going to take to see an immediate election on her soil. A lot of conspiracy theories are being stated, some explicating there’ll be an election in December 18, most of the theories bring references from the history that all the military backed regimes have been found least keen to have an election held. For some major differences between the present military backed regime and previous martial regimes, references from Bangladesh’s experiences are less prioritized. But if we look abroad, the most common chronicle of a military (directly or not) takeover of the government-

• Ousting the democratic system with excuse of massive street violence with an immediate promise of nearest possible polls,
• Summoning the loyalist media to convince people about corruption of politicians, then arresting them,
• Setting apolitical civil society members to give the regime a look of ‘not a complete military setup’.
• Massive deployment of military officials to the civil system.
• Expected decline of economy due to lack of keen investors to invest in a ‘yet to have democracy’ state.
• After a certain amount of time, surrendering to the politics.
• And tremendously sluggish and stumbling restoration of democracy (confusions or failures over election) with millions of questions to answer and sometimes with a flow of blood in parallel.

The embarrassing fact is, the list of events above has taken place in Bangladesh exactly as same, the list which ends with the possibility of extremely torpid restoration of democracy, sometimes with a line of blood flowing in parallel. That’s why the fear grows that whether it’s really going to be an election or something else. Sheikh Hasina’s release (in parole or whatever) was great shake-up to the political deadlock. After Khandoker Delwar got EC’s invitation, this was another jump to progress. Begum Zia’s release has been a nearly fulfilment of the process. Now, what it needs is Sheikh Hasina back to the show in order to have a free and fair election. Already Begum Zia has stated, “This government may have complicacy in legality, but we must take this government as a reality, and maybe we will have to accept this government.” The same statement was from Sheikh Hasina months and months ago. This must be a high time for the regime to list the state of emergency in order to carry on a free-fair election rather than  the High Court denying anymore bail appeals of Sheikh Hasina and anymore charge sheets with Begum Zia’s name.

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