Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Freedom of expression in Bangladesh

Below are two recent items on this subject from the Weekly Blitz, edited by the admirable and courageous Bangladeshi journalist Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury. I followed a tip by Ophelia Benson at Butterflies & Wheels, whose post summed up the gist of the matter this way:
Bangladesh enacts new broadcast law: National ideology or characters cannot be criticized. The father of the nation cannot be criticized. Actually pretty much nothing can be criticized.
On the whole, politics in Bangladesh (the former East Pakistan, until the bloody divorce of 1971-1972) are actually less poisonous, and certainly less violent and repressive and marked by fanaticism, than in Pakistan (the former West Pakistan). Its record of representative democracy is stronger than Pakistan's, in the sense that episodes of military rule have been exceptional rather than routine. But everything is relative. Neither democracy nor freedom of expression can be described as solidly secure in Bangladesh, and this does sound like a step in the wrong direction.

(Where I haven't indicated otherwise, phrases in brackets are in the original articles. Bracketed ellipses like this are mine: [....])

–Jeff Weintraub

Weekly Blitz
Bangladesh enacts new broadcast law
by Special Correspondent
September 11, 2011

Ministry of Information in Bangladesh has recently approved a new law for television channels in the country, which will obstruct all foreign movie channels such as Star Movie, Z Movie, HBO, Warner Brothers, Star Gold, AXN etc from being shown on Bangladeshi cable network, as the law strictly bans showing "any kiss scene" in any of the program contents. Totally ignoring the rights of the religious minorities, this new law stops all television channels in Bangladesh in broadcasting any "promotional" or "advertisement" on Christmas, Buddha Purnima [Buddhist Moonlight Night] and Puja [Hindu festival]. The law says "pre-approval should be taken from the Ministry of Information prior to broadcasting any publicity materials on Puja, Christmas, and Buddha Purnima etc."

Imposing a strict censorship on the existing vibrant private television media in Bangladesh, the law contains several clauses, which only is seen in countries governed under dictatorial regimes. Below we are providing details on the law along with our explanations:

[1] Private television channels cannot run direct publicity in favor of any political party [publicity in favor of ruling party is allowed],

[2] Misleading information cannot be incorporated in any talk shows [it stops the participants of the talk shows from delivering any comment criticizing the ruling party or its activities], [....]

[4] The father of the nation [Sheikh Mujibur Rahman] cannot be criticized in any of the programs [any of his mistakes during his governance cannot be anymore mentioned in any of the programs],

[5] No individual can be criticized in the programs [this has been initiated as a number of ministers in the ruling government became subject of harsh criticism following their severe failures],

[6] No criticism will be allowed on national ideologies and goals [this law will stop the television channels from scrutinizing and criticizing any of the decisions or policies adopted by the ruling party],

[7] No defense and government information can be leaked in any of the programs on television channels [this was initiated because a number of private television channels are exposing many of the hidden actions as well as corruptions inside ministries],

[8] No program can be aired which would provoke deterioration of law and order situation [this law will stop broadcasting news and contents related to general strikes and demonstration programs of the political opponents of the ruling party. This law has been incorporated to stop the television channels from exposing corruption as well as brutality of the law enforcing agencies in the country. Especially the ruling party turned uncomfortable when the private television channels exposed the physical assault of an opposition member of the Parliament, who was mercilessly beaten by some police officers. It was disclosed by the private television channels that, those police officers were leaders of the student front of the ruling Bangladesh Awami League, during their student life. Television programs containing investigative reports on murder in custody of opposition leader and lawyer Moinuddin Ahmed [M U Ahmed] also caused anger in the minds of the ruling party leaders],

[9] No program can be broadcast against any friendly nation [this will stop Bangladeshi channels to broadcast programs criticizing Palestine, Iran and many other nations, with which Bangladesh maintains 'friendly' relations],

[10] Programs related to trafficking in women, forced prostitution, rape etc will be barred from broadcast under the new law. This law will also stop broadcasting investigative reports on such issues.

[11] Broadcasting 'kiss scene' shall be banned under the new law [this will stop all foreign television channels, especially the movie channels from being connected to Bangladeshi cable television network],

[12] No program or content on mutiny or demonstration can be broadcast on television channels [this will stop the private television channels from showing any of the contents related to massacre inside the Bangladesh Riffles Headquarters], [....]

[14] The private television channels shall be 'bound' to broadcast speeches of the Head of the State, Head of the government [Prime Minister], public announcements, press notes as well as any 'program of national interest'. This law will compel the television channels in continuing to broadcast programs containing political agendas of the ruling party.

The law shall come into affect within next three months. Criticizing the new law, media personalities in Bangladesh say, this new law will close the door to freedom of expression and freedom of media. Such laws can only be passed in any dictatorial regime. By enacting such law, the current government in Bangladesh has clearly exposed its hidden anti-democracy face to the people.

[JW: At the moment] Bangladesh freely allows more than 180 regional and international channels on country's domestic cable network, which includes HBO, ESPN, NGC, Discovery, BBC, CNN, Al Jazeera, NDTV, DW, Fox, VOA, France24, MGM, TVC, TNT, Cartoon Network, RAI etc. Currently there are several Bangladeshi channels, which are continuing broadcast mainly via Telstar-10 satellite, while some are also using other satellites. The Bangladeshi channels on satellite are: BTV-World, BTV-Sangshad, Channel-I, ATN-Bangla, ATN-News, Diganta TV, NTV, Boishakhi TV, Bangla Vision, RTV, ETV, DESH TV, Mohona TV, Independent TV, Maasranga TV, My TV, GTV, Channel 9, Shomoy TV, Bijoy TV etc.


"Bangladesh government should be ashamed" – Taslima Nasrin
by Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury
August 29, 2011

Taslima Nasrin, an award-wining writer and human rights activist, is known for her powerful writings on women oppression and unflinching criticism of religion, despite forced exile and multiple fatwas, calling for her death. Not many have risked their life to tell the truth as Taslima has been doing for years.

In India, Bangladesh and abroad, Nasrin's fiction, poetry and memoir have topped the best-seller's list.

Taslima Nasrin was born in Mymensing in Bangladesh in 1962. She started writing from the age of 13 and was acclaimed as a major writer in Dhaka in her late 20s. Her writings also won the hearts of people across the border and she landed with the prestigious literary award Ananda Puroskar in 1992 and 2000.

Subsequently, Taslima was acclaimed as a writer in Europe and the USA. She won The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought from the European Parliament in 1994. She received the Kurt Tucholsky Literary Award in 1994 and the Simone de Beauvoir Award and Human Rights Award from the government of France in 1995 and 2008 respectively. She got the UNESCO prize for Promotion of the Tolerance and Non-violence in 2005. [....]

Internationally known writer and activist, who has been forced to live in exile since 1994, as the Islamists announced bounty on her head when she criticized Sharia, Islam and Koran as well as pictured the repression and suppression of women in the Muslim societies.

Taslima Nasrin has been trying to return to Bangladesh from 17-years in exile since Bangladesh Awami League [JW: one of Bangladesh's two major dynastic parties, which describes itself as the "secular" and non-Islamist alternative] formed government in 2009. Recently she accorded an exclusive interview to Weekly Blitz. Here are the excerpts:

[....] Q: Awami League government came to power in January 2009 and since then you have been trying to get your Bangladeshi passport renewed. But, almost three years have passed and your passport is not yet renewed. Will you please describe what is happening?

A: They don't renew my passport. I have tried a lot but failed. I have heard that Sheikh Hasina [JW: the Prime Minister] personally does not want me to return to my home. She is behaving like an autocrat. As if she owns the country. As if I don't belong to my country. As if she has the right to decide who should live in the country and who should not. Since 1994, all the governments have been behaving the same. She is no different. Anti-fundamentalist forces voted her to win the election but she is fulfilling fundamentalists' demand not to allow me to enter my country.

She [Sheikh Hasina] cries for her father [JW: Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the "father of the nation" mentioned in the other article]. But it's she who did not let me go to my country to see my ailing father in his last days. How cruel one can be! [....]

Q: Most of your publications are banned in Bangladesh. The current government, claiming to be secular, did not lift such ban. What is the reason behind?

A: Khaleda Zia [JW: the leader of the other major party in Bangladesh, Prime Minister from 1991-1996 & 2001-2006] banned many of my books. Sheikh Hasina also banned my book titled 'Amar Meyebela'. The book was translated in many languages and got many awards in many countries. But the book has been banned by the so called 'progressive secular government' in Bangladesh. All my banned books got pirated and sold everywhere. No action was taken against pirate publishers. The governments are just against the author and the people who published the book legally. 'Amar Meyebela' is a story of my girlhood days. Hasina said, the book is 'vulgar'. Actually they are nothing but vulgar jokes who ban books and pretend to support freedom of expression.

Q: Do you consider Awami League to be a secularist party combating the Islamists? Or, they also are appeasing Islamists like their political opponents?

A: Concerning the issue of letting me return to Bangladesh, they are certainly appeasing Islamists. [....] I have the right to go back to my country. I want to get back the right I have. I am grateful to Indian government for letting me stay in India. If Indian government threw me out of India, I would not have a place in the subcontinent. Bangladesh government should be ashamed of being a coward.

Q: Sheikh Hasina for the first time gave important ministries like Home Affairs and Foreign Affairs to females. Do you now believe it is her effort of empowering the women?

A: Gender is not important. Ideological commitments are important to improve the condition of women. If those powerful women don't do anything for women's equal rights, if they don't change the discriminatory family laws that based on religion, if they don't fight anti-women tradition and culture -- then there is no difference between female minister and misogynistic male ministers. [....]

[JW: You can read the whole article HERE]