9 February 2021
By Ahmad U Shihab
(On behalf of the suffering people of Bangladesh)
“The rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened.”
― John F. Kennedy
Honorable Members of the US Congress:
Bangladesh needs your urgent attention. Behind the facade of “normalcy,” people in this South Asian country have been groaning under extreme fascism perpetrated by an unelected and illegitimate regime since January 2009. Democracy, freedom of expression, human rights, and the rule of law have become things of the past. The government is unelected because none of the elections held from December 29, 2008, onward had the minimum semblance of fairness or general public participation (because of state terrorism, large-scale arrests, and advance ballot-box stuffing). These elections had been highly fraudulent and totally managed and acknowledged by local and international authorities, including the United States.
The tragedy is that the regime can perpetrate all its undemocratic and illegal acts with active backing from its sponsor India, which, in return, extracts all the benefits from its protege even at the expense of the nation’s sovereignty and interests. According to most observers, Bangladesh today is a vassal state of India.
The suffering people of Bangladesh appeal for your kind immediate intervention. They would like to come out of their forced suffocating state and regain their democratic and human rights, freedom of expression, and, above all, freedom to choose their leaders. They have been deprived of these fundamental human and political rights for more than 12 years. What they have experienced instead is a one-person, one-party dictatorship. All government organs–Executive, Legislative, and Judiciary– have been shamelessly and unscrupulously misused in thwarting any challenge to its authority.
The annual US Country Reports on Bangladesh duly reflected them. The latest one published on March 11, 2020, by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor of the Department of State covering the year 2019 is a case in point. Unfortunately, the past few US administrations seemed to ignore the ground realities. They continued doing “business as usual” with the fascist entity, much to the disadvantage, detriment, and sufferings of the ordinary people.
Honorable members of the Congress are also aware of the Congressional Recommendation of October last year to impose sanctions on Bangladesh’s Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), which was responsible for hundreds of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances. Ironically, the RAB chief, under whom such unlawful excesses took place, is presently the chief of the Bangladesh Police. In the new enhanced capacity, the man continues his cruelty with total impunity and with the Prime Minister’s direct patronage.
Welcoming the above Congressional Recommendation, Professor Taj Hashmi, a prominent political and security analyst, drew the US Congress’s attention twice. On October 28, 2020, he gave some details of the regime’s extrajudicial killings and other fascist activities, further requesting total sanctions on Bangladesh’s government. (https://southasiajournal.net/its-time-to-impose-sanctions-on-bangladesh-stop-extrajudicial-killings-enforced-disappearances-and-torture/). He followed it up with an Open Letter to the US Congress on October 29, 2020 (https://southasiajournal.net/an-open-letter-to-us-congressmen/)
On February 1, 2021, the noted international news network Al Jazeera revealed how a criminal gang, having links with the Prime Minister and the Army Chief, extracts lucrative perks from state contracts and job positions laundering ill-gotten cash out of Bangladesh. (thttps://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/2/1/gang-close-to-bangladesh-pm-extracts-bribes-for-state-contracts). The startling story has unfolded one of the many criminal machinations of the regime and its goons.
The people of Bangladesh gratefully acknowledge that the United States is the global leader, promoter, and protector of democracy and human rights. The victims worldwide look towards this great nation for help in solving these problems in their countries. With the coming of President Joe Biden’s administration, who maintained an impeccable track record towards promoting and preserving democracy and human rights not only in the US but also around the world, their (Bangladeshis) expectation is naturally high. On February 4, 2021, the President reiterated his international cooperation goals. Defending democracy and freedom, upholding universal rights, and respecting the rule of law would be “the grounding wire of our global power,” the President emphasized. That is the primary reason for the people of Bangladesh to seek, through you, the power and ideal of the Biden Administration to lend a helping hand to re-establish democracy and human rights in Bangladesh the soonest.
The present regime turned Bangladesh into a police state. People have no freedom of any kind. An engineering student was brutally killed in 2018 by government agents for a simple Facebook status criticizing the Prime Minister’s give away policy to her sponsor, India. The police killed a retired Army Major, who tried to expose police brutalities in killings and extortion in the name of “drug enforcement.” People have been sent to jails for writing simple parody poems on the Prime Minister or her family members. Media channels and newspapers have been closed, and journalists’ scores suffered or still suffer inflexible jail terms and physical torture for criticizing the government’s illegal practices or exposing its high-handed corruptions. Below are a few glaring examples of fascist acts of the past decade:
Three national–December 2008, January 2014, and December 2018–and nearly five thousand local elections were held to date. Almost all of them were farcical; they were fraught with irregularities and fraud. Ballot boxes were pre-filled for the chosen candidates, resulting in almost 100% victory for the ruling class. In 2018, former US Ambassador to Bangladesh, William B. Milam, wrote that the election was “stolen,” and he likened the un-elected Prime Minister to Hitler and Mussolini.
Fifty-seven high ranking army officers, plus some of their family members, were brutally murdered in February 2009. Scores of the opposition Jamaat-e-Islam members were killed in February 2013. Thousands of young students, holding peaceful demonstrations, were brutalized to death in May 2013. Thousands of opposition activists were gunned down during their peaceful demonstrations against the government. In all these carnages, India’s direct or indirect hand is suspected, so that its protégé continues to stay in power.
Hundreds of patriots and opposition activists have been abducted, and most of them have never been seen again. Bipartisan Congressional Recommendation of 2019 is a case in point.
The brutality of the Law Enforcers
To eliminate, denigrate or control the opposition, and in addition to routine brutalities against their members, hundreds of thousands of fictitious police cases were clamped against them. In the widely known practice of “arrest business,” money in millions flows under the table, benefitting the unscrupulous law enforcers and legal hands.
Wanton Loot of Public Money and National Resources
Nearly one billion US Dollars were siphoned out of the National Bank in 2016. Top political figures and Indian hands are suspected of this heist. In the name of “development,” money worth billions of US Dollars is being pilferage. According to Washington-based Global Financial Integrity (GFI), the US $61.6 billion was siphoned out of Bangladesh between 2005 and 2014. GFI also estimates an average of US $7.53 billion is laundered out of the country every year. On the other hand, thousands of Bangladeshis searching for freedom and economic benefit land in foreign concentration camps or drown in high seas.
These are tragic hard facts of life in Bangladesh that can be independently verified. As President Biden said, engagement with other countries should be based on America’s “most cherished democratic values,” Bangladeshi people seek his help to be rescued from this dreadful undemocratic condition.
Another hard fact needs to a mention. Bangladeshis living in thriving democracies and free societies, such as the United States, can raise their voice for democracy, freedom, and human rights and against the deadly misrule in Bangladesh. But their outspoken endeavors routinely put their family members, including elderly parents, siblings, and loved ones, back home in danger.
Therefore, the people of Bangladesh fervently implore you to kindly give your urgent attention to Bangladesh to help the suffering people there to free them from the shackles of ongoing fascism and oppression. They seek an immediate return to democracy, freedom, human rights, and law rule in Bangladesh.
What is immediately needed in Bangladesh is a fair and participatory election under a neutral authority, preferably the United Nations, to freely choose their leaders, who can decide their fate and future to the best of their interests.
The writer is an activist for democracy, human rights, and rule law. Writes on contemporary political and social issues.