The Al Jazeera report on Bangladesh titled “All the Prime Minister’s Men” that came as a bolt from the blue for the current government of Bangladesh revealed some terrible vulnerabilities and threats of our power structure that pivots around connections, nepotism, cronyism and mass corruption. The report has also raised the ultimate question of our media’s being free and the overall freedom of press as the BFJU (Bangladesh Federal Journalists Union) asked for a ban on telecast of the Al Jazeera media in Bangladesh even after they have taken the risks of publishing this heinous act of the prime minister’s closest people. Bangladeshi government, officially, not only did blew the whole investigation away saying “
None of the mainstream news media except national English daily New Age printed or briefed any discomfort or report or news on this shocking investigation carried out by the proclaimed Al Jazeera News. Even the most powerful and elite body of the country’s news media, Editors Guild Bangladesh, said that this investigation carries a “special political purpose”, without following ethics and regulations of journalism. Almost all of the news media in the country have only published the statements issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Army Headquarters about the documentary. These failed institutions mainly debunked the whole investigation, dismissing it as “nothing more than a misleading series of innuendos and insinuations”.
Freedom of press, as defined by the political scientists around the spectrum of this knowledge, is called the fourth state because of unimaginable importance to the absolute civil freedom and this is not the first time Bangladeshi media debunked its claim to be a free, neutral agent of the state. Then why did the media remain in a deep silence on this matter?
There are indeed some reasons for the country’s media to follow the government’s regulations that are generally created as form to suppress the freedom of press. When asked about media’s freedom in the country, a prominent ex-journalist said that “You’re free to write anything and everything as long as it does not offend the government’s will and party members. This is no longer a freedom of press and It will never be unless we can pick a rebound shot from this suppressing regime’s tools.”
One of the major reasons that these news platforms who are meant to be consuming the post-absolute freedom of what they want to publish on their stories said that the fear of newly in-acted digital security law forced them to be in a contrived silence. “If we were a free media today, we would have delved deeper into the widely-talked-about Al Jazeera report and analysed it, point by point, and exposed it for what it really is – not a top-class work of investigative journalism,” wrote veteran journalist Mahfuz Anam, the editor of The Daily Star, the country’s most-circulated English daily, in an editor’s column on Friday. He has also added in the column that “We have done nothing because they all are involved with power, both financial and political, and we dare not nudge them. Sometimes we do our own investigative stories but only so long as those who pull the strings are kept out of the scene, or when the real culprit has no political or institutional clout, or when the object of our investigation has fallen out of favour.” This statement states the whole scenario of the freedom of press there in Bangladesh and the rationality of the whole news platform not to speak up and loosen up the tights.
Was it only press freedom that was threatened meanwhile and was it only pressmen who remained supporting the government by not turning their heinous facts on this scandal in? what about the people who are meant to be turning these mafia or syndicate facts to the court- the lawyers and the bar association? The very same week this report was published on YouTube, a lawyer petitioned for banning Al Jazeera in Bangladesh. The petitioner Md Anamul Kabir Emon, a veteran Supreme Court lawyer who simultaneously happens to be Ruling party Awami League’s Sunamganj district general secretary, also sought another order to remove or delete Al Jazeera’s YouTube channel and website in Bangladesh where the links of the documentary and an article titled ‘The gangster, the general and the prime minister of Bangladesh’ have been posted. And the online bench of the justice said that it would hear the matter this effectively since the matter is ‘extremely urgent and important.’ Anamul at the same time urged in another petition to call the police and ad-hoc detectives on investigating this matter and the people who are spreading this ‘malicious and purpose-driven’ report online. The lawyers are not a-polititcal and they will never be. The supreme court bar association still did not give a single brief on this matter. Isn’t remaining silent when it’s a fight between right and wrong is a worse crime than fighting for the wrong? Dante wrote that in his The Divine Comedy.
Let’s now talk about the hotcake of the report itself -the military of Bangladesh. Millions of dollars were looted by this chief of army and he’s still walking in the same convoy having been saluted by those solders who happen to be knowing the facts of that report. Not only did the military went in a complete silence about this massive bribery, they neglected the facts that this money has been bribed at all and the ‘claims’ of this report on bribing the senior officials need an investigation. “Bangladesh Army Headquarters condemns in the strongest possible words the concocted and ill intended report by a vested group in the news channel Al-Jazeera titled ‘All the Prime Minister’s Men’ aired on 2 February 2021 at 0200 hours BST,” said an official rejoinder sent by Inter Service Public Relation (ISPR). The same rejoinder says “Bangladesh Army views the report as an attempt by the vested group to break the harmony among different government organs with a view to obstructing the growth and development of the country.” Rather than following a legal procedure and internal investigation on these claimed bribery issues, the ISPR denied the allegations in the first place. At what point of military sovereignty, the military force even denies to investigate on a widely acclaimed and procedural allegation that, if it is proven, could be one of the biggest military scams of this country?
These are some institutions that are believed to be independent from the government’s will whether it is bad one or good one and they all went in a complete backlash even knowing that this incident might be the biggest scandalous use of the military power in Bangladesh. What did the government did? Exactly the same these institutions did – a complete denial of the whole report where the alleged person himself testifies before the video recording that he got bribed for such recruitment in the military force as well as in the police force. The government did not even bother to be taken it seriously other than falsifying the whole report as a scam and naming the whistle-blower as a ‘psycho’. One of the ministers even said “this must be a purely-engraved work of Jamat E Islami who are strongly embraced in Al Jazeera”.
In December 2012, when Aziz got appointed as the head of the Border Guards of Bangladesh (BGB) where he helped his brother Haris falsify documents and set up businesses in Hungary under a complete fake identity. His brother Haris even set up a bribed agreement on behalf of Bangladesh Military where he charged a notable share for his own and he referred his brother (General Aziz) as his ally in this deal. Also, he tried to charge a bribe of 20 thousand crores taka for settling a multinational hotel’s branch in the capital city. Then in 2018, after his brother Josef received a presidential pardon for the murder of Mustafa which happened in the streets of Dhaka, Mohammadpur back in 1996 and he was released from the jail, the prime minister Sheikh Hasina appointed Aziz Ahmed as chief of army staff of the Bangladesh Army. What are we heading into?
These mafias are not new in Bangladesh. From land sector to port industry, from government tenders to RMG – there are always some mafias (or syndicates) who continuously threat to centralize the ad-hoc sector and benefit themselves in every possible way. Chief-of-Army General Aziz is no longer a surprise case given the fact that Bangladesh has already witnessed the biggest collapse in their share market that was caused by a single man, the country has already witnessed the ministers bagging all the ‘black money’ and stay away clean, Bangladesh has already witnessed a serial murderer getting a special pardon by the highest man of the word “honorable president” and people pretend to be shocked by this Al Jazeera report on Ahmed brothers?
Jonathan Spielberg is a Swedish born political analyst whose interests cover mainly the south Asian politics.