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Village Politics

February 21, 2015

Incumbent regime came down hard on media after BNP. Mahfuz Anam, editor of country’s leading English daily, incurred wrath of government after publishing a photo of the poster of banned Islamist outfit Hizb-ut-Tahrir[1]. The caption of the photo,‘Fanatics Raise Their Ugly Heads Again’, clearly demonstrates that the daily itself is not privy to any banned Islamist groups. The insidious poster in question urges the army officers to rise up against the incumbent govt. The livid govt has accused the daily and its editor of spreading the banned organization’s message, which would go unnoticed as it was pasted on the wall of a city corner. Even the PM did not hide her discontent over the daily, which is an epitome of top-notch journalism in the country. A case was also filed against the editor, chief news editor and photographer for the publication of the photo.

Why did the govt turn a petty issue into such a big matter? Why did it come down hard on the daily and its staffs?

Well, the daily has long been targeted for its investigative reports that cause some kind of unease within the govt top brass. More recently, its report on ‘encounter’ unveiled a discomforting truth: apolitical and innocent civilians in some cases fell victim to extra-judicial killings.

In recent weeks, he was overtly critical of the government for its inaction to hold dialogues with BNP. In a TV talk show he said, “If BNP is 80% responsible for the ongoing violence, then the rest of the responsibility lies on the government.”

Moreover, he has been vilified by politicians and partisan journalists for his countenance to the 2007 caretaker govt.

Incumbent govt has long been looking for excuses to punish him. His recent comments and the reports published by his daily provide the perfect background for the govt to teach him a lesson. Another editor of a Bengali daily, published by the same media house, is also facing harassing cases for his role in the two-year long caretaker government rule[2].

It is hard to accept that the editor and the chief news editor of the English daily are sympathizers of the Islamist groups. In his student life, the editor was a member of Students Union, a left-leaning student organization. The chief news editor is a staunch supporter of Jatiyo Samajtantrik Dal (JSD), which is part of the ruling regime [3].

Govt has decided to give no political space to opposition BNP unless it stops its violent campaign. BNP leaders and activists have not been seen in the media in recent weeks, let alone pro-BNP actors, singers and artists[4].In fact, celebrities who are affiliated with BNP are harassed by law enforcement agencies every now and then.

Furthermore, in order to have a close eye on political activities of BNP, millions of dollars worth of software upgrade, for which mobile operators were forced to pay the bill, were carried out. The upgrade will enable the operators to record and store the telephonic conversation and SMS of every citizen for at least six months.

Government’s intolerant attitude towards BNP, which accounts for 35℅-40% of the voting population, pushing it further to take violent course of politics. Both parties seem to have engaged in playing village politics. The term itself has pejorative connotation and is characterized by pettiness, personal vendetta, foul play and narrow self-interest. In fact, BNP’s acting vice president Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir had already accused the govt of playing village politics at national level.

As the political freedom shrinks, free media is the only place where Bangladeshis still hear the voice of dissent and get forthright criticisms of government policies. Having subdued BNP, government now goes after the media. Intimidation of presspeople and increased surveillance on mass people reflect the dilapidated confidence of govt. Waging a war on media did not yield anything positive to previous governments. They would have ruled indefinitely if such war had borne any fruit to them.

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Notes:

[1]. The organization caused surprise after distributing leaflets within an hour of the Pilkhana massacre back in 2009 and since then it is being suspected of carrying out the bloodbath.

[2]. Various cases have been filed against Daily Prothom Alo editor since AL-led alliance formed govt. Some cases like the defamation of religion has been filed over already settled issues. The daily itself was a victim of the malicious boycott campaign started by the banned Hizb-ut-Tahrir group during the period of caretaker government.

[3]. I personally watched him standing in a silent tribute to a dead JSD leader for one minute after hearing the news of his death at Daily Star office.

[4]. Industry insiders are now coming out with chilling details of how the electronic media houses have become traps for BNP leaders and activists. BNP leaders now stop taking part in late night TV talk shows in fear of being picked up by plain-clothed policemen.

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