On September 27, 2007 the Chief Advisor of Bangladesh’s military government Fakhruddin Ahmed addressed the United Nations General Assembly (transcript of his speech). It was a disappointing speech. This unelected technocrat, the civilian face of Bangladesh’s military government, chose to speak for the military rather than the people.
Following are some choice excerpts:
- "Bangladesh reaffirms its unflinching commitment to universal and inalienable human rights. Any society committed to democracy requires the recognition and enforcement of human rights, and in Bangladesh the fight against corruption and the strengthening of the rule of law go hand in hand with the protection of human rights"
- "On the domestic front, we have taken stern measures against militant groups and their patrons"
- "Bangladesh represents an effective model of civil-military cooperation in crisis prevention."
Bangladesh military has suspended all fundamental rights. It has jailed over 250,000 people. It is arresting citizens without any due process and without charge. It has beaten and tortured students, professors and journalists. It has intimidated the press, shut down television channels, provided "guidelines" to television stations as to who can be guests on talk shows, and it has banned publication of information that the military does not like.
While the military cracked down hard on protesting students in August, it has allowed Islamists to hold multiple demonstrations on the streets of Bangladesh. The military bowed to Islamists by banning a harmless cartoon and then proclaiming that the cartoon represented a "conspiracy" against Bangladesh. The military forced the editor of the Prothom Alo newspaper to apologize multiple times to the leader of the Islamists for publishing the cartoons.
The military is in charge of Bangladesh. Military men have now been established in all major civilian ministries in the Bangladesh government. Civilians in Bangladesh take orders from their military bosses.
While in New York Fakhruddin Ahmed also spoke at the Asia Society. Dr. Ahmed was asked about the recent arrest of cartoonist Arifur Rahman for drawing a cartoon that elicited feigned outrage from the Islamists and the government. One attendee described the exchange as follows:
American think tank representative challenges FA on his statements about press freedom and mentions Arifur Rahman. Whole room goes silent. FA’s response (after awkward pause – only time he showed discomfort the whole evening): “You don’t realize that things could be a lot worse. We would have been within our rights to have much tighter controls on media, not that we have any controls at all – press is totally free. I understand that “some journalist may have been apprehended” and often this is for his own protection. But this is nothing that would not have happened at another time as well”.
There was a harsh silence after his response. That was one of the last questions and the American was surrounded by grateful BDs as the event closed thanking her for asking the qn. I wonder if they were scared to do the same, but it was clear that she represented the thoughts of a large # of the audience.
I am now convinced that Fakhruddin Ahmed has no idea what "freedom of the press" means. I also recall it was the KGB who used to arrest people for their own protection.
At another event at Columbia University, Fakhruddin Ahmed also gave a speech and took a limited number of questions. An attendee described some of the Q&A session:
arrest of cartoonist Arifur Rahman (asked by Dr. Austin); imprisonment and harassment of university teachers, students and others and Bangladeshi refugees in India . In his response although Dr Fakhruddin maintained that his government is “respectful” (?) of the freedom of press, he clearly avoided the issue of cartoonist Arifur Rahman’s arrest. But the question regarding imprisonment and persecution of university teachers, asked by a young South Asian student, shattered the image which Dr. Fakhruddin created of his government through his sugar-coated speech. It was interesting to notice, how Dr. Fakhruddin’s face turned grumpy as the question was asked. And his answer to this particular question was old rhetoric: that it was initially a “minor” incident that was magnified later through some anti-government agents in order to destabilize the country.
There was nothing minor about the protests in August. Tens of thousands of people marched and the government response was swift and brutal.
It appears that Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed came to America to sell the military regime to the world. We were looking for someone to represent the people of Bangladesh at this year’s UN General Assembly; instead we got an apologist for the military government.