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Debate and criticism are not the enemies

  • Published at 02:22 pm May 9th, 2020
Photography camera press freedom
Photo: Bigstock

We should always raise our voices against injustice and corruption

“It seemed so easy to do it.” All those who fell from power and grace ended up with these thoughts. In order to escape accountability for crimes, perpetrators of political agendas will do everything in their power to promote forgetting. Secrecy and silence are the perpetrators’ first line of defense. 

If secrecy fails, they attack the credibility of their victim. If they cannot be silenced absolutely, they try to make sure that no one listens. To this end, they have marshalled an impressive array of arguments, from the most blatant denial to the most sophisticated and elegant rationalization. 

After every atrocity, one can expect to hear the same predictable apologies: It never happened; the victim lies; the victim exaggerates; the victim brought it upon herself; and in any case it is time to forget the past and move on. 

The more powerful the perpetrators, the greater their prerogative to name and define reality, and the more completely shall the arguments prevail. This is the undeniable truth. Did we really choose a leader who would make their citizens proud?

One who was expected to stir the hearts of the people, so that the sons and daughters of the nation strived to emulate their leader’s greatness. We can hope to be truly great when a leader inspires and produces citizens worthy of becoming future leaders, honourable decision-makers, and peace-makers. 

And in these times, a great leader must be extremely brave. And, leadership must be steered only by their conscience. I share the story of grief-stricken Bengalis who have been caught in a different kind of war of liberation. 

Press freedom

In the 2020 World Press Freedom Index released Tuesday by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Bangladesh was placed at 151 out of 180 countries, which is one point below last year’s ranking. In the index, RSF said it had noted a “disturbing increase in press freedom violations, including violence by political activists against reporters in the field, the arbitrary blocking of news websites, and arbitrary arrests of journalists.” 

Kajol had remained an outspoken critic of Bangladesh’s ruling party. The day before he went missing, he was charged under the DSA, having been targeted for a report linking a lawmaker to a Dhaka “escort” service. The editor had been seen in CCTV footage released by Amnesty International showing him leaving his office in Dhaka on the evening of March 10. 

The footage also showed people tampering with Kajol’s motorcycle while he was in the office and running behind him after he rides off. While experts considered it as strong video evidence that could have been used to trace what happened to Kajol, the police reportedly downplayed it. 

“We sent the video footage to the police to find my father. But the investigative officer later told me that they hadn’t found anything suspicious in the footage,” said Kajol’s son, Monorom Polok. When contacted by reporters, the lead investigator of Kajol’s case had said that he had not received any updates about the missing journalist. 

However, the official told local the media that Kajol’s mobile phone was briefly switched on in Benapole, a Bangladeshi town near the border with India on April 9, but police did not conduct an operation in the area due to lack of time and resources. Eventually, Kajol was found in Benapole. 

Meanwhile, an online campaign using the twitter hashtag #WhereIsKajol was launched by journalists and activists to put pressure on the Bangladeshi authorities to find Kajol. Many people posted pictures on social media with placards like “Where is Kajol?” printed on them.

“I strongly demand Kajol’s safe return,” Dil Afrose Jahan, an investigative journalist based in Dhaka, told DW. “The online campaign is not only for him, but it’s also for all of us who are in this profession. We have to fight to protect ourselves, and we have to give ourselves a voice first.” Sofia Karim, an activist based in London, had been campaigning online to find Kajol since his disappearance.

Bringing the news

Meanwhile, four editors and journalists were charged on Saturday after a complaint filed by a ruling party leader under the Digital Security Act. They had been reporting on alleged embezzlement of aid for coronavirus victims from a district in Bangladesh. 

Online newspaper editors Toufique Imrose Khalidi and Mohiuddin Sarker, as well as local journalists Tanvir Hasan and Rahim Shubho, had also been charged with the “publishing of offensive, false, defamatory, or fear- inducing data or information.” 

Khalidi runs Bangladesh’s most popular online news website. Hasan had claimed that the lawsuit was filed to muzzle journalists so that they avoid reporting on corruption committed by ruling party politicians. “Police have acted swiftly in taking on the case. 

It’s an attempt to stop us from writing about corruption,” he told reporters. Human rights experts have said the Digital Security Act is draconian and demanded that the law be abolished since it was enacted in 2018. They confided that the measure can be used to systematically muzzle journalists and rights activists. 

“When journalists are accused of criminal charges for performing their professional duties, this means that the state is defining a boundary beyond which no one is eligible to exercise their right to freedom of expression,” said rights activist Saad Hammadi. 

“Some of the provisions of the Digital Security Act are vague and highly repressive because of the harsh punishment they entail, and in violation of international human rights law.” Bernhard Hertlein is a German journalist and rights activist, and had expressed his dismay that the “draconian” law targets everyone from journalists to ordinary citizens. 

“Even doctors who write about the danger of the coronavirus on Facebook face charges.” A vibrant society in Bangladesh need not be afraid to raise voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. 

Without debate, without criticism, no administration and neither country, nor the state can succeed -- nor can the republic survive. It is time we learned our fundamental truths.

Nazarul Islam is an educator based in Chicago.

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