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Jul 30

Arrest of MP Rony is an act of politics, not an act of love of media freedom

The past week has been crawling with media gimmicks by the Awami League, topping which are these two:

1. PM Sheikh Hasina cooking for her son on his birthday. This is being repeatedly shown as a testament to her motherly qualities in a bid to woo potential voters by portraying her as a loving mother and a soft hearted personality. I shall let you ask the questions about Megh, the orphan of the murdered journalists Sagor-Runi.

2.  PM Sheikh Hasina hugs freedom fighter Roma Chowdhury in an extremely emotional manner. One might forget to ask where Hasina’s love was all these years and why it suddenly had to manifest itself now that Awami League has lost in 4 city corporation elections.

One such gimmick went too far as Shazib Wajed Joy, the son of PM Hasina was allowed to speak in front of a full house. Bumbling with self confidence and starved for attention, Sheikh Mujib junior made a startling statementsaying,” I have information that the Awami League will return to power. The propagandas being run by the BNP must be tackled”. The statement has resulted in a furor and lead to speculations of a conspiracy in the upcoming polls, a hard wired conception the Awami League has had little success in debunking anyway.


Power squabble turned PR stunt:

However, that was not all. Earlier this week, Awami League strived to show its love for the freedom of the press as the state machinery orchestrated the arrest of one lawmaker for ‘serious offences’ against the said freedom.

The arrest of Golam Maula Rony, a lawmaker of the ruling Awami League, is a manifestation of the government’s respect for the country’s mass media, said a grinning information minister Hasanul Haq Inu on Thursday the 25th of July.

“The arrest of Rony, who is in the dock of the court, has demonstrated the government’s respect for the mass media. I hope that all of you (the media) will come forward to establish the rule of law in the country,” he added.

Earlier, news accounts reported that Golam Maula Rony, a member of the ruling Awami League, and several unnamed individuals present at the politician’s office in Dhaka allegedly beat ImtiazMomin Sony, a reporter for Independent TV, a private news channel, and cameraman MohsinMukul. The reports said that the journalists had visited Rony’s office seeking comment for a story they were covering for the station’s investigative show, “Talash,” on allegations of bribery against the politician.



Sony told journalists that the politician “became agitated” during the interview and began to punch and kick him and Mukul. The extent of the injuries suffered was not immediately clear. Their camera and microphone were also damaged in the attack. The channel filed a police complaint against the politician the same day. Ronyhad secured bail in the case on July 21, which was overturned on the 25th.

Rony had claimed that Independent TV co-owner Salman F Rahman put the ‘Talash’ team after him following his remarks on the share market scam. The MP also lodged a complaint on his official letterhead with the Shahbagh police on Saturday night, accusing Rahman of extortion, blackmailing, attempt-to-murder, and abduction.

The incident could have just faded as another instance of internal power squabbling within the Awami League. However, the AL bigwigs saw it as a chance to turn something ugly to their advantage by making one the scapegoat. In this aspect, the choice between Rony and Salman F Rahman was not a difficult one. Rony was a first time MP, young, hot headed and controversial in his loyalty to the party. Salman F Rahman, although much hated in social circles, was a financier, a seasoned veteran and a much more valuable asset.Rony was dispensable. So viola! Rony was painted as the big bad guilty crook.  

Debunking the Awami League’s love for the media:

Now back to the comments of the government. The Information minister said that the arrest of MP Golam Maula Rony has proved government’s allegiance to the journalist community. Says who? I hope this recent analysis of Hasanul Haque Inu, seemingly savior of media and freedom of expression, will help.

So how true is this statement?

Let us go to the not so long ago published Odhikar Human Rights Report of 2012:

The year 2012 was a bad year for journalists. In 2012 five journalists were killed.In 2011 none were killed, in 2010 four journalists were killed and in 2009 three journalists were killed. The journalists and the media continue to be victims of attacks, physical assault, threats and intimidation from different powerful quarters, specially the government and the ruling party leaders and activists. From January to December 2012, according to Odhikar’s documented statistics, apart from the five journalists killed, 161 journalists have been injured, 63 have been threatened, 10 have been attacked and 50 have been assaulted and twojournalists were tortured by RAB and the Detective Branch (DB) of police.

1.    On February 11, 2012, Sagar Sarwar, News Editor of the private channel Maasranga TV and his wife Meherun Runi, senior reporter of private television channel ATN Bangla, were killed at their rented flat at West Rajabazar in Dhaka. Justice still eludes their only remaining child, Megh.

2.   On May 10, 2012, Tuhin Sanzid, a senior reporter of the daily ‘Bhorer Dak’, was allegedly picked up by RAB and tortured, for reporting on the disappearance of Bangladesh Nationalist Party organising secretary M Ilias Ali and on extrajudicial killings.

3.   On May 14, 2012, a group of 10-12 alleged criminals led by Aminul Islam, nephew of the State Minister for Home Affairs, Advocate Shamsul Huq Tuku, attacked Abdullah Al Mamun, Regional Correspondent of the daily ‘Kaler Kantho’ at Bera Bazaar under Pabna district for publishing a report on corruption, implicating the Minister. Mamun was admitted to Pabna General Hospital in a critical condition.

4.  On July 13, 2012, Mostafizur Rahman Sumon, Crime Reporter of the online news agency ‘JustNews’, was picked up and allegedly tortured by the Detective Branch (DB) of police and detained for two days in the DB Office.

And let us not forget the incident of ruling Awami League lawmaker Kamal Ahmed Majumder assaultinga female television journalist at Monipur High School and College at Mirpur in the capital on January 3, 2012.
The incident happened when Aparna Singha, staff reporter of Rtv, along with cameraman Syed Haider and another reporter Shahin Parvez went to the school at around 11:30am to seek Kamal’s comment on the school authority’s decision to charge admission fees way beyond the amount fixed by the government since Kamal, elected from Dhaka-15 (Kafrul-Ibrahimpur), was also president of the school managing committee.
Television footage showed Kamal Majumder striking Aparna’s hand and pushing her aside, saying, “Keep it [the microphone] away, keep it away.” The lawmaker was also heard calling her “stupid” and ordering some men surrounding him to “slap her”.
Later in the evening, the lawmaker at a talk show on Mohona TV, which he owns, criticised journalists for their “aggressive attitude and their conspiracy against him in the name of journalism”. On the show titled “information terrorism: conspiracy of capitalist mass media,” discussants, including the school principal and the assistant principal of the school, blasted the Rtv reporter for “conspiring to tarnish the image of the school”.
No legal action was taken that day.
Tip of the iceberg

You may say that the above are but isolated incidents and that media in Bangladesh in reality, enjoy overwhelming freedom. You could not be farther from the truth.

All this was just the tip of the iceberg. It is with great sorrow that one will remember that action by the incumbent Awami League government has led to the closure of Channel 1(27 April, 2010 ) , Sheershanews (21 August,2011), Amardesh (twice, in conjunction with the arrest of its editor, Mahmudur Rahman, on 1 June 2010 and again, since 11 April 2013), as well as the closure of Islamic TV and Diganta TV in light of coverage of the Motijheel massacre perpetrated by government forces (both since 6th May 2013).

In this context, the arrest of Mahmudur Rahman deserves special mention. The Economist notedthat Mahmudur Rahman was arrested a full four months after the main offence for which he was charged saying that the real reason for his detention might lay elsewhere.
This was the explanation they gave, “The day before he was picked up Amar Desh had advertised an upcoming series of damning American embassy cables on Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Bangladesh’s founding president and the father of the current Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina. The website of Amar Desh announced the forthcoming series, which was to be translated into Bengali from the WikiLeaks trove, with the headline: “Mujib: The New Mughal”. This was a clear reference to the absolute powers that “Chairman Mujib” assumed upon decreeing one-party rule in February 1975. Another cablenotes that Sheikh Mujib “began to suffer the classic paranoia of the despot”, speaks of his “failure to meet their (the Bengalees’) aspirations” and “his apparent desire to hold power largely for personal aggrandisement and dynastic reasons”.
The content of the cables and the timing of Rahman’s imprisonment makes it seem that the government’s desire to control the media has a lot to do with its imperative to defend its own version of the country’s history. The press would hardly be the first Bangladeshi institution to fall crumble under such pressure. “
Let us see what the incumbent information minister had to say about this. After the closure of the two television channels and the arrest of Mahmudur Rahman, Inu, the minister of information, was visited by editors of the country’s 15 daily newspapers, who demanded the government allow the recently closed private television channels Diganta TV and Islamic Television to go on air again and the release of Amardesh acting editor Mahmudur Rahman. In a scathing reply to their collective plea, he sternly informed them that such an appeal was ‘not in the best interest of the media’ and that the editors issued their statement without knowing the “entire facts”.

In conclusion,

So was the arrest of Golam Maola Rony MP really the ultimate manifestation of the government’s respect for the country’s mass media? I believe not. It was politics, pure and simple. An act put together to win sympathy. The true freedom of the pressis important. Not to protect the rights of newspapers, reporters, radio and television stations and the like but to protect the right of the people to have the information they need to make informed decisions about their government. The Awami League has not just put a plug on the face of the freedom of media, they have tried to ensure that the press is just a sleazy part of their mission to defend their own version of the country’s history. What we observe, my dear friends, is media manipulation and nurturing of the yellow press. Its that simple in Bangladesh.