www.sacw.net | February 15, 2005

International Forum for A Secular Democratic Bangladesh (IFSDB)
23-63, Steinway Street, Astoria, NY-11105, USA
Tel: (718) 278-8181, Fax: (718) 278-7846 | E-mail: ifsdb@yahoo.com

A broad group of Bangladeshi expatriates have formed an organization named 'International Forum for A Secular Democratic Bangladesh'. Based in New York and dedicated to the ideals of secularism and democracy this forum has been formed after extensive contact with like-minded Bangladeshi expatriates the world over. While discussions have been going on for many months about the need for such a platform, the recent alarming developments in Bangladesh resulting in the killings and maiming of secular intellectuals and activists, opposition leaders and supporters, violence against minorities, and the reports about spreading tentacles of and upsurge in the violent activities by fanatic and extremist religious groups gave impetus to the forum's urgent launching.

At a well attended meeting held on February 6, 2005, at the offices of Bangladesh Human Rights Watch at 23-63 Steinway Street, Astoria, New York, the forum's structure, agenda and a declaration was approved. The meeting also adopted several resolutions.

The agenda includes: working on all fronts through all possible legitimate democratic means to strengthen the democratic process in Bangladesh; to provide support to the secular democratic forces inside the country; to work for an end to the rising tide of violence including killings and maiming of the incumbent regime's political and ideological opponents and minorities and to thwart the fast expanding ulterior activities of religious extremists.

To achieve its objectives, the forum will work in cooperation with all like minded groups and persons within and outside Bangladesh. It will send memorandums to Bangladesh Government and the country's diplomatic missions abroad. It will organize protest marches and candle light vigils. It will send delegations and memorandums to international organizations, human rights organizations, religious groups and legislators and leaders of major governments.

The forum will soon launch a website where all relevant information will be gradually made available over the next weeks and months. The database will include reports and comments from national and international media and other authentic sources on political and vigilante killings and on the activities and atrocities of extremist religious groups. It will also contain comments and promises of government leaders on the various incidents and actual steps taken. Reports of international agencies and statements and comments of foreign leaders and envoys on Bangladesh will also be made available. The purpose is to provide all appropriate information at a single site to acquaint the visitors with the facts so they can formulate an informed opinion.

The following resolutions were adopted at the first meeting of the forum:

The 'International Forum for A Secular Democratic Bangladesh' expresses alarm at the growing acts of violence including frequent incidents of grenade and bomb attacks against the country's secular political parties, writers, intellectuals and minorities. 

The forum condemns the spate of killings and maiming of the ruling regime's political and ideological opponents and intellectuals.

The forum condemns the killing in a grenade attack last week of five people, including a leading opposition political figure of Bangladesh, former finance minister and retired top United Nations official, Shah ASM Kibria.

The forum deplores the absence of any action so far by the government of Bangladesh to transparently investigate any of the incidents and prosecute the criminals.

The forum deplores the abusive statements by government ministers and leaders laying the blame for each of the dastardly attacks at the door of the opposition party soon after the incidents thereby precluding any fair investigation.

The forum condemns in the strongest term the demand by the student chapter of the ruling Bangladeshi Nationalist Party (BNP) to send into exile Sheikh Hasina, the former prime minister, now the leader of the opposition in Bangladesh Parliament and chief of the main opposition party, the Awami League. The forum also condemns with utmost emphasis the slogans ('Pachattarer Hatiar, Garje Utho Arekbar') raised at January 8, Dhaka rally of the ruling BNP, calling for armed action against the Awami League like in 1975 (when the country's president and founding leader, Sheikh Mubibur Rahman along with most of his family members and several other top independence leaders were murdered in an armed pusch).

The forum feels that such inflammatory pronouncements will lead to a further worsening of the already volatile political and social climate in Bangladesh. The forum calls upon the prime minister and other ministers of her government to denounce these hateful and inciting statements and calls. Otherwise, it will tend to give credence to the allegation from many quarters that the reason behind last August 21 grenade attack at Hasina's Dhaka rally (in which 22 people including Awami League leader Ivy Rahman was killed and hundreds of party activists and supporters were injured and Hasina narrowly escaped) was in fact part of an officially hatched conspiracy to kill Hasina and her party's leadership. And that other attacks where Awami League leaders, including Shah Kibria and many of the party's activists and supporters had been the victims, had the ruling alliance's blessings or connivance.

The forum extends support to and solidarity with the action program announced by Asma Kibria, the widow of Shah Kibria and the international movement launched with their daughter, Prof. Nazli Kibria at the helm to seek investigation into the killing of Shah Kibria and punishment to his killers. The forum associates with the vigils called by Mrs. Asma Kibria in various cities including New York.

The forum expresses solidarity with the programs undertaken by the secular civil society including the writers, artists, lawyers, teachers, journalists and others in Bangladesh and abroad and wishes to reassure them that they are not alone in this fight against evil forces and that the forum will ceaselessly work in concert with them to arouse world conscience against continued acts of terror and violence against forces committed to the ideals of building a secular democratic Bangladesh.

The forum condemns extra-judicial killings by state forces in the name of eradicating crime and demands that the so-called cross-fires is immediately stopped and due process of law be extended to all as provided under Bangladesh's Constitution and international law and norms.

DECLARATION

Bangladeshi expatriates the world over have followed with increasing dismay and deep anguish the specter of violence and killings principally targeting the country's political opposition and organizations and individuals advocating secular democracy. They have also followed with a deep sense of anguish the numerous incidents of attacks on the country's religious minorities. In these dastardly attacks hundreds have been killed and many more injured and maimed since the present ruling coalition of the rightist Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and the fundamentalist Jamaat-I-Islami came to power in November, 2001.

In the latest in a series of vicious attacks, Shah ASM Kibria, a top leader of the opposition Awami League party, was killed along with four others on January 27 when a grenade was hurled at him as he was leaving after addressing a public rally in his Habiganj electoral district. A former top United Nations official, a retired public servant and a former finance minister, Shah Kibria was a highly respected public figure. A person of moderate nature and gentlemanly manners, he was also a staunch believer in secular democracy and rule of law and wrote regular newspaper columns outlining his opinions.

Just a few months ago, on August 21 last year, there was a spectacular attack on a public rally of the principal opposition party, the Awami League, in the center of Bangladesh's capital city Dhaka. At least 17 grenades were thrown followed by gun shots aimed at the party leaders and activists. Awami League chief , former prime minister and the present leader of the opposition in Bangladesh Parliament, Sheikh Hasina narrowly escaped while twenty two others including a senior leader, Ivy Rahman, and Hasina's body guard were killed.

Between these two dastardly acts, there were several more ghastly incidents including the slaughter of ProfessorYounus of the University of Rajshahi, grenade attacks on Mayor Kamran of Sylhet town who is also a local Awami League leader and Sylhet Women Awami League chief's home resulting in deaths and injuries.

In July last year, there was a grenade attack in Sylhet on the newly appointed British envoy to Bangladesh. He along with many others was injured and several killed in that incident. Besides these, there have been numerous other incidents of attacks on movie houses, on the Kadiani sect, on Buddhists, Christians and Hindus.

In most cases, especially in case of the major ones, the government functionaries even while promising investigation and punishment of those found responsible, swiftly blamed the opposition Awami League, the victim of many of the attacks, thus precluding any fair and honest probe. And understandably, thus far, not a single case has been prosecuted, not even any report of any investigation, if carried out, has been published.

While no one precisely knows who are responsible for these crimes against humanity, the real culprits are either being sheltered or getting away unscathed in the atmosphere of the politics of blame game and in the absence of any real effort to nab the criminals. However, published reports in Bangladeshi and international media have reported the ever-expanding activities, armed training camps and extermination campaigns by religious extremists and fanatics. Then there are the cadres of the Freedom Party, comprising of armed goons and thugs and self-declared killers of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founding leader of Bangladesh, who have been enjoying limitless official protection and patronage.

There are also the criminal elements associated with the ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) including the killers, in broad day light, of Dhaka Engineering University female student Sunny (in 2002); the killer squads of the ruling coalition's fanatic Islamist partner, the Jamaat-I-Islami; and the infamous 'Bangla Bhai'. This 'Bangla Bhai' is also reputedly associated with the Jamaat and has been operating his own fiefdom in a large swath of the northern Rajshahi and adjoining districts, with a force of thousands of armed thugs. They have been 'arresting', beating and killing people they consider to be their political adversaries. All these evil and outlaw forces have been operating with total impunity. And whether there is a nexus among these criminal elements is any one's guess.

It needs to be mentioned in this connection that a large consignment of sophisticated smuggled arms had been caught at Chittagong Port almost two years ago.The government had promised thorough investigation and then to disclose its find. But so far it has remained completely silent on the matter. Meanwhile, there have been many and varied speculations in the press about the origin of the arms, their importers and the purpose of bringing such state-of-art weaponry. Concerns have been expressed that there must have been other such clandestine consignments before and since that had slipped through and that religious extremists and other killer squads have been using these weapons in their campaign of extermination of the country's secular forces.

There has been yet another disturbing development in Bangladesh. That involves an officially pursued policy of killing of alleged crime figures in so-called 'cross fires' by a specially created governmental force named 'RAB', or Rapid Action Battalion. Over the last several months, this force has killed several hundred people in these 'cross-fires'. The killed include some ultra extremist leftist political elements and a few opposition workers. It is possible that many of the persons killed in the 'cross fires' are hardened criminals. But no civilized society worth its name can punish, not to speak of kill, any one without the due process of law. And the religion of Islam, which the incumbent regime loudly proclaims to be its leading guide, does not allow any punishment, even for the worst crimes, in an extra-judicial manner. By pursuing such a barbaric policy of vigilante justice, the regime is tarnishing the image of both Bangladesh and Islam.

It has further been noted with great regret and disbelief the near total inaction by the government in power in investigating and prosecuting the perpetrators of the very many heinous incidents. It has been seen that after each incident the government ministers and officials initially promise investigation and a determination to bring those responsible to justice. But within days, at times hours, they place the blame for such incidents at the door of the self-same parties or groups that have been the victims of most attacks.

It has also been observed that while nothing has so far been done by the government to transparently and thoroughly investigate any one of these vicious attacks to find out and punish the culprits, they have used unconstitutional and high-handed methods to stop marches and strikes called to protest the spree of unchecked violence. Opposition marchers have been mercilessly beaten and arrested by the police. It should be noted that strikes and marches are constitutionally guaranteed rights and if any group or party abuse or misuses such rights it is for the people to judge their behavior and pronounce their verdict at the polls. Only when picketers and marchers become violent, the government has an obligation to stop such rowdy behavior. But constitution does not allow the government to stop marches and strike calls.

It has further been noticed that while every single case of the attacks on the political or ideological opposition of the current regime and most of the attacks on the minorities have remain uninvestigated, the government leaders including the prime minister herself have persistently followed a policy of strident criticism and denunciation of the political opposition in derogatory and extreme language. Not a day passes by when they do not question the patriotism of the secular political and social forces. What an irony! It was these secular forces that had fought for the liberation and independence of Bangladesh while some of the ministers and many of the lawmakers and others associated with the current regime were enemies of that sacred struggle.

Latest in such inflammatory language used by the regime is a demand by the student wing of the ruling BNP to send former prime minister and currently the leader of the opposition in the Bangladesh Parliament, Sheikh Hasina to exile on charges of 'conspiracy and treason'. Similar declarations had been made several years ago by leaders of this same body at a public rally in Dhaka in the presence of Khaleda Zia. It is beyond comprehension that they can make such explosive pronouncements without her approval or encouragement. And these declarations and demands are coming from the mouths of those who harbor the armed enemies of Bangladesh's liberation war and the killers of the intellectuals of the country in 1971!

It has been noted with great regret that the Speaker of Bangladesh Parliament, Jamiruddin Sarkar, a member of the ruling BNP party, has sharply rebuked the devastated family of the recently killed (January 27) Shah Kibria for criticizing the speaker's failure to take urgent steps to bring the grievously wounded Kibria by helicopter to Dhaka to receive best possible medical attention. He laid the blame at the door of the family and the opposition Awami League for failing to inform him of Kibria having been wounded saying that he (the speaker) learnt of the incident the next day from the newspapers. What a strange utterance from a person holding the position of the speaker of a sovereign country's parliament! It needs to be mentioned here that the independent television channels of Bangladesh started broadcasting the news of the attack on Shah Kibria soon after the grenade blast. The whole world, including a large segment of expatriate Bangladeshis came to know of the incident within the first few hours. They also came to know of his death about six hours after the grenade attack. But the speaker did not know until the following day, almost 12 to 16 hours later! This revelation by him raises very serious questions: Where was he? What was he doing? Does he not listen to tv or radio news casts? Or any member of his family? Or any one in the parliament secretariat? Or any one in the entire government machinery? Is that how a government operates? Is that why the first official comment on Shah Kibria's murder came from a minister the following day? Or is it that an opposition figure's killing is so unimportant that the prime minister could not find it in her heart to make a personal live comment but merely had her office issue a statement for her, fully one day after the tragedy? That several days later she spoke of the incident in the parliament after great outrage at home and abroad and in the international community does not absolve her or her government from this blatant show of gross insensitivity.

Yet another glaring proof of Bangladeshi ruling coalition's contempt for public opinion and the democratic exercise of the legitimate means of protest and criticism has come to light. In the face of a rising chorus of criticism by Bangladeshi expatriates of the government's inaction to arrest violence and prosecute the criminals, through meetings, marches, protest rallies, letter campaigns and the internet, the Law Minister of Bangladesh, Moudud Ahmed, has condemned such activities as žpropaganda campaign against the countryÓ and has threatened to žtake necessary steps to prevent malicious propaganda against BangladeshÓ. He has also said that žas the government's positive activities are not being highlighted in the media ÷..the government is going to enact a cyber law so that the latest technology can be used in positive and effective way÷.Ó

After reviewing these unfortunate, unhealthy and alarming developments, in formal meetings and through informal and electronic contacts, it has been decided to form a platform of Bangladeshi expatriates who subscribe to the idea of a secular and democratic Bangladesh, who believe in the rule of law, in civilized conduct in social and political life, who oppose violence in national life in all its manifestations and who are against the rise of religious extremism and fanaticism in their beloved motherland. This platform will be known as 'International Forum for A Secular Democratic Bangladesh.'

While some of the people coming together under this umbrella group may have leaning towards one political party of Bangladesh or another, the overwhelming majority do not belong to any party. And while much of their immediate statements and pronouncements may be directed at the ruling government as they are the ones who are at the helm and responsible for the country's affairs, this forum will not shy away from criticizing the opposition if and when they deem that to be justified.

This forum will work toward organizing an international movement of like minded persons to campaign against political violence including killings and vigilante 'justice' and the rise of religious extremism and fanaticism and to thwart the nefarious designs of anti-liberation forces and their cohorts against the secular democratic forces and the minorities.

The forum will work toward bringing pressure to bear upon the incumbent regime in Dhaka to investigate all incidents of vicious targeted attacks of the last several years mainly against the country's political opposition, the secular forces and the minorities and to compel them to prosecute the perpetrators responsible for these crimes.

The forum will endeavor to work in concert with and provide support to the civil society organizations and activists and other legitimate democratic forces within Bangladesh and abroad who are committed to the cause of a secular democratic polity and opposed to religious fanaticism and extremism in Bangladesh.

The forum will also work toward unmasking the activities of groups and people abroad who are associated with and/or provide support to extremist and outlaw forces in Bangladesh, propagate extremist, fanatic and parochial viewpoints, express or incite communal hatred, support vigilante justice and try to undermine the legitimate activities of people of democratic and secular persuasion.

To achieve the goal of a secular, democratic and forward looking Bangladesh, to compel the Bangladesh government transparently investigate the various incidents of killings and bring the perpetrators to justice, to help Bangladesh rid itself of criminal gangs of religious and political godfathers, to bring an end to state and private vigilante justice, this forum will wage a relentless campaign to organize, energize and unite Bangladeshi expatriates the world over who hold similar views. It will draw the attention of the United Nations, government and legislative leaders of various countries, international human rights organizations, professional organizations of writers and journalists and the world and Bangladeshi media toward that end.

It does not need reminding that autocratic, undemocratic, fanatic, anti-liberation and evil forces within Bangladesh's ruling alliance and gangs and groups enjoying their connivance, support and patronage have declared armed and propaganda warfare against the legitimate secular democratic forces of the country in an all out bid to exterminate the later. They have their powerful supporting groups abroad engaged in vicious propaganda and also extending support in kind. In the face of this formidable unholy alliance, the forum's mission is to wage a counter offensive using only peaceful and democratic means. The struggle will be hard and long, and the forces of darkness and violence will continue to hit hard and cruel against our fellow journeyers in Bangladesh and abroad. But as we have seen time and again in the past, in 1952's Bangla Language Movement, in 1971's Liberation War of Bangladesh, in 1990's movement against autocracy in Bangladesh, and in so many instances in human history, our struggle will ultimately triumph.. We will overcome.

The forum has elected Syed M. Ullah as coordinator. [...].


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