Sunday, July 10, 2011

Police Violence Unfolds Ugly Side Of AL's Rule

The extreme viciousness with which two police officers and the men under their command repeatedly beat up Zainul Abedin Faruk, Chief Whip of the Opposition in the Jatiya Sangsad ( parliament) on Wednesday has revealed afresh the ugly and terrifying side of Awami League's rule. On the same day Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in parliament, Home Minister Sahara Khatun, Minister of State for Home Shamsul Huq Tuku elsewhere and by Awam League Joint Secretary Mahbub Alam Hanif at an office of his party made statements endorsing the police atrocity. While Sheikh Hasina and some MPs of the ruling alliance virulently spewed vituperative against the main opposition party BNP, its chief former prime minister Begum Khaleda Zia and the severely tortured Zainul Abedin Faruk, on their part the Home Minister, her deputy and the influential Mr. Hanif attempted not only to lay the blame for the wounding of the Opposition Chief Whip on himself but they suggested that his injuries are only a few and quite light. On the other hand, they accused Faruk of provoking the police officers and of being violent. The Home Minister and the Minister of State for Home both sympathised with the police.    On the other hand, Zainul Abedin Faruk has received severe injuries in the head and back. To stop the bleeding from his head doctors at the United Hospital had to apply eleven stitches. BNP's acting Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir has said that eight more stitches were needed to close the wounds on his back. Eye witnesses saw as did viewers of TV news on private channels that Faruk was bleeding a great deal even while he ran for his life towards the MP's dormitory. The policemen dragged him out from a lift there and mercilessly beat him.    Earlier they had kicked him with their riot boots on and also trampled his body. A physician at the United Hospital told journalists that there were marks of beating all over Zainul's body. A report in the Amar Desh daily newspaper said that Zainul's tongue came out of his mouth after he was thrown on the street from a police vehicle. Zainul himself said that when he was losing his sense at this stage he thought he was going to die. In spite of these atrocities government leaders are justifying the actions of two police officers who led the attacks on Zainul.    Meanwhile, it has come to light that both these officers were leaders of Awami League's student wing before they joined the police force and that the present government has kept them in their jobs despite there being records of serious breach of discipline in their service career. One of them was in the police hospital yesterday for on injury sustained on Wednesday. The Home Minister went to see him and other policemen injured in scuffles during the first day of the two-day countrywide general strike (hartal) called by BNP. Jamaat-e- Islami has also simultaneously called a strike. Several groups have supported it. BNP has claimed that on the Wednesday about 300 of its supporters were injured by mainly police action and 400 others arrested at different places in the country. A number of vehicles have been burnt in Dhaka and elsewhere allegedly by hartal supporters.    The merciless beating up of Zainul Abedin Faruk took place when he was picketing, along with other opposition MPs, on the roads adjacent to the parliament building. Such activities were temporarily banned in the area because the parliament was in session. A newspaper photograph shows that at one stage Faruk was threatening to throw a stone towards a passing vehicle. (The vehicle is not seen in the photo which perhaps is because it sped away). It seems the police took this action of Faruk as the pretext to torture him. This police atrocity seems to be deliberate because they could have easily arrested him and removed him from the scene. There were many times more policemen than the few MPs picketing there.    Begum Khaleda Zia and other BNP leaders have charged that police attacked Faruk with an intention of killing him. However, they did not instantly declare any hard line protest action beyond continuing the strike into the second day. Perhaps they will in the next phase of their agitation.    What seems to be clear from the angry and negative reaction of the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her party men to the BNP-led strike and Faruk's falling victim to police atrocity the ruling party is in no mood to restore the non-party care-taker government system during general elections. This has strengthened the suspicion of most of the other political parties that Awami League wants to remain in charge of government during elections so that it can manipulate the election results in its favour. The opposition seems certain that Awami Leaguers are hell-bent on retaining power so that (a) they do not have to face punishment for their corruption and other crimes and (b) so that they can loot more in future.    Meanwhile, Awami League has lost much ground in the Union Parishad elections just held in the country. They have secured a little more than half the positions of the local council chairman with BNP closely behind them. This means BNP has improved its support significantly since the parliament elections two and a half years ago. Out of 3790 posts of UP chairman Awami League and allies have won 1844 while BNP and allies 1627. These elections were marred by violence and by rigging by ruling party's candidates.    Violence during the union parishad elections was widespread in which 65 persons, including children, were killed. More than 8000 persons have been wounded in clashes and attacks. Police fired more than 1000 rounds of bullet during these disturbances. The Election Commission remained a mere spectator during these election violence. This high level of violence has shown that there cannot be peaceful and fair elections yet in Bangladesh under a party rule.

SUDAN : The Choice For Freedom

The world will witness the birth of a new nation and a triumph for religious freedom and related rights. The people of South Sudan chose independence in a January referendum mandated by a comprehensive peace agreement (CPA), of which the United States was the primary broker. Signed in 2005 , the agreement ended Sudan’ s 22- year north/south civil war. The war was triggered by the brutal attempts of the Khartoum regime in the north to impose its extremist version of Islam, leading the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom ( USCIRF), on which we serve, to deem it among the world's most egregious religious freedom abusers. Of the two million Sudanese dead, four million driven from their homes, and many forced into slavery, most were southern Christians and followers of traditional African religions, as well as hundreds of thousands of Nuba Muslims declared apostate and targeted in the same conflict by President Omar Hassan al-Bashir’s regime. Today, in South Sudan, religious freedom conditions have dramatically improved. The threat that sharia will be the binding law of the land has lifted. Southern churches are no longer bombed or shuttered. Muslim and Christian communities are at peace with each other. Yet as we applaud South Sudan’s freedom, we must not ignore the continued problem of Khartoum and the people it still abuses. While north and south have separated politically, their fates remain intertwined. Bashir’s recent military incursions into South Kordafan and Abyei, provinces on South Sudan’s doorstep, are red flags, given Khartoum’s history, from southern Sudan to western Darfur. Once again, Bashir’s forces reportedly have bombed, pillaged, and murdered civilians, causing massive numbers to flee, while barring unhindered humanitarian access. Throughout northern Sudan, severe human rights abuses, including religious freedom violations, continue, affecting Muslim and non-Muslim Sudanese. Khartoum enforces religiously- based morality codes, with violators often beaten. It denies the right of non-Muslims to public religious expression and persuasion and rarely permits churches to be built. While promoting conversion to Islam, it keeps conversion from Islam a capital crime and tortures suspect converts. Further, Bashir stated that after South Sudan became independent, he would make sharia law the basis of a new northern constitution, violating the CPA and dissolving its human rights institutions. Finally, Bashir’s regime could strip southerners in the north of their citizenship and other rights. Khartoum’s course is tyrannical and dangerous. It risks instability on South Sudan’s northern border, continued war and insecurity within its own borders, and a bleak future for religious freedom and related human rights. As a pivotal actor, the United States must remain engaged. Its involvement helped end the north/ south war and the south’s religious oppression. As a guarantor of the CPA, our government needs to take action. What can the U.S. do? First, it can sanction the Bashir regime for its egregious religious freedom violations.   Two sanctions are already in place. In 1997 , President Clinton sanctioned the regime by employing the International Emergency Economic Powers Act ( IEEPA). And since designating Sudan as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) in 1999 , deeming it a severe religious freedom violator, the State Department has required the U.S. to oppose Khartoum’s receiving any loan or other funding from international financial institutions. Recognizing its continued religious freedom violations, the United States should leverage these sanctions as Khartoum creates a new constitution and new institutions.   Most important, the U.S. should remain committed to bringing about a just and lasting peace for both north and south. To that end, it can further leverage its influence over Khartoum by considering the expansion of the scope of sanctions to include asset freezes and travel bans against Khartoum and its officials for threatening the peace, and encouraging allies to do likewise. It should work with the CPA signatories to implement the peace agreement’s remaining provisions in the still-war-torn Nuba mountains and in Abyei. It should urge that the constitution- drafting process in both the North and South be transparent and inclusive, incorporating international religious freedom standards and recognizing northern Sudan as a multi-religious, multiethnic, and multicultural nation. Let the birth of South Sudan be the start of a journey toward freedom and peace for all Sudanese citizens.

Vicious Attack On Opposition Chief Whip And The Upshot

The whole country watched in horror and indignation the police viciously beating up the chief whip of the opposition party in front of the national assembly complex, on the morning of first day of 48- hour hartal. After the first round of beating, he tried to run, flee and hide across the street inside a NAM building. But there was no letup in police brutality. He was pulled out, dragged back and beaten, punched and kicked some more. He was left unconscious on the street, beaten and bloodied, battered and bruised. This whole sordid episode was shown repeatedly on the TV news. Officers Harun and Biplob, the two allegedly responsible for administering the merciless beating, were matter of fact and blasé about the ruckus incident. Their claim was that the BNP - MPs, led by the chief whip, were attempting to vandalise vehicles and cause mayhem and lawlessness. It was their sacred duty to protect public life and property. So they took counter actions. There was altercation, followed by physical scrap between on duty police and the chief whip, who then fell, and was mildly bruised, they asserted. They denied complicity in the heinous act; downplayed the severity of the action with lack of moderation on their part, despite pictures to the contrary. They ostensibly knew they have the patronage of ruling party bigwigs.   Speaking of safeguarding life of the citizens, how about the wellbeing of the chief whip?  Aren’t the police responsible to ensure that their spiteful and shoddy action does not harm him or endanger his life and limbs? Do they not have an obligation to guard and protect an elected lawmaker, especially the chief whip of a major political party albeit of the opposition party? During the Vietnam War, an infamous quote from a US army officer in 1968 about a provincial capital was, ‘It became necessary to destroy the town to save it.’ Likewise these ruling party- propped, backed and instigated police had to use sadistic, violent and excessive force to beat the chief whip into a pulp as a pretext for their ridiculous and incongruous claim to protect the life and property of the citizens. The ruling party spin doctors were in full intensity and vigour trying to equivocate to explain the inhuman police action against the opposition party chief whip. They spoke in the same unpersuasive, Machiavellian and disingenuous tone in the parliament, news conferences and in TV talk shows. Their prevarication took two parallel tracks. One was the staunch validation of the police action. The utterances of a ruling party MP on evening TV talk shows, and Awami League Joint General Secretary Mahbub-ul- Alam Hanif in the news conference seem to fall in this category. Hanif assigned the fault squarely on the victim. The tone of his statement that the chief whip had incurred minor injury in a scuffle with on- duty police officers performing their professional chores is nothing new. This has become customary for him and most people are not surprised by his insensitive and distasteful comments.     The MP, on the other hand, in the past came across as a level-headed person with strong but semi- sensible description of party point of view and stance. At the TV talk shows on the evening of the fateful attack he seemed to show his true colours either on his own volition or at the instruction of party high command. From a mild mannered party-hack, he seemed to transform into a wild and unsavoury defender of the indefensible and unwarranted strong arm police action. This gave me the impression of a Dr Jekyll and Mr Hide transformation.  The second path of the government hedging was to express feeble, unconvincing and conceited regret at the nasty event with lots of ifs and buts. These ifs and buts and such measured, prepared and fabricated comments included the assertion that the chief whip was mostly or equally responsible for the severe beating he received. Their calculated and disconcerting contention provided a classic example of blaming the victim. The Prime Minster, Suranjit, Ershad, Ashraful, Nasim and others have expressed such qualified and unfeeling regret.  This reminds a bit about the unfair and callous acts against Limon, starting from RAB shooting that maimed him and the subsequent harassment to hide the butchery. The difference in the abuse and harm is in degrees, but there is a pattern. The similarity of the crude official behaviour does not end there. Like the Limon debacle, the police have also registered a case against the chief whip. At the same time they have refused to accept a case by BNP lawmakers against police atrocities.  The home minister dutifully went to the hospital to visit police officers supposedly injured in the clash. One or two of them must have been fatigued and exhausted from the strenuous and tiresome beating and kicking they inflicted on the chief whip. They need rest and recreation as well as hospitalisation to recoup the energy so that they are sufficiently rejuvenated to take similar ruthless actions in the next opposition - constitutionally granted - protests and agitation. The sad fact is the police have largely become a party apparatus for opposition bashing rather than a state machinery to control the law and order situation. The two policemen in question, according to press reports, belonged to Chatra (student) League during their university days. They apparently hold the same allegiance, if not the formal attachment. As such they, especially one, has remained unscathed, despite credible allegations of corruption, bribery and various misdeeds. The indication is that for unruly and overzealous people, once a Chatra League cadre is always a Chatra League cadre. The prevalent Chatra League chaos and lawlessness apparently began way back and is still continuing in full swing.     The Home Minister went to visit the hospitalised police officers to express solidarity and compassion and perhaps convey words of encouragement. She did not have the decency to visit the seriously injured opposition chief whip. Neither did anybody from the government or the ruling party. The lack of civility, care and concern is not only astonishing; it belies the norms of a civilised and democratic society. The Home Minister, who like Hanif talks mostly in arbitrary, tenuous and curious manner, and often makes preposterous and unsubstantiated claims of success, seemingly laid the groundwork for the brutal police assault. First by not arranging adequate training for crowd control nor providing proper guidelines to act sensibly, moderately and proficiently; second, by announcing that her government and law enforcers would not permit picketing, procession or gathering during the hartal. Interestingly, anti-hartal gathering and demonstrations by Chatra League and ruling party allied organisations were allowed to proceed unabated without hindrance or interference. This sort of duplicitous mindset has sadly become a common practice. Now the chief whip is in pain and distress in a hospital. The police officers involved have faced no disciplinary actions so far and the official machinery is hard at work defending and protecting the perpetrators of the dreadful act. The state minister for home affairs has sanctimoniously declared that government cannot take punitive actions against members of an organised force without proper investigation. So the government has formed a three-member police inquiry commission to probe the matter. It is likely that this committee will come up with a report that satisfies the government bigwigs. Police probing the police is full of loopholes and conflict of interests. The committee task has already been prejudiced by the biased and one-sided statements by the home minister and other official and party big shots. We cannot expect much, let alone a neutral and objective report, from this committee. The multiple committees formed by RAB and other law enforcers cooked up reports that maliciously blamed Limon for his injury and loss of leg. One other committee came out with an inconclusive and vague report. Something similar, at best some excessive force coupled with chief whip’s complicity, is to be expected from the police committee. The need is the formation of a neutral and credible judicial inquiry committee with no conflict of interests. That may be too much to ask from this aggressive and harsh regime. The government party would want all to believe that the chief whip has brought it upon himself by attempting to vandalise vehicles, obstructing police work, cursing profanely and throwing a punch and a brick at the police. Ministers, their party law makers, hacks and functionaries have been repeating this unsubstantiated and unnoticed description like parrots. It would seem that this fabricated and fictitious narrative and fudging has been prepared and passed on from the top echelon. This party-line propaganda would like you to believe what they say, rather than what we saw. We saw and heard one police officer berating the chief whip by threatening to slap him and break his teeth, followed by furious and ferocious attacks. There is a lesson to be learnt from this horrendous act and apparent government obfuscation and cover up. The lesson for us commoners is that it is a despicable act that has been repeated by successive regimes, each time with greater rage and malice. The lesson the opposition parties is learning is both perverse and significant. And that is to repeat it when they will be in power on the future opposition group. The vicious cycle will be repeated ad-nauseam. And where is the Speaker in all this brouhaha and vicious police assault on a prominent opposition party parliament member? After all, the speaker is the guardian of all parliamentarians, government and opposition or in between. He has largely remained inactive and silent. He said something about seeking a clarification and then all quiet on the speaker front. This is the same gentleman who angrily denounced criticism and threatened to quit recently. Now that he had the chance, in fact the solemn duty to act to uphold the sanctity of the parliament and ensure safety of a member, he seems to be missing in action. This is sad but not entirely unexpected.