A letter from a small number of MEPs has outraged the Bangladeshi community in Europe. The group of six MEPs wrote to the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell, making a series of allegations against the country and its government. The organization Bangladesh Civil Society in Europe has now provided Borrell with a detailed response, writes Political Editor Nick Powell.
More than 300 of Europe’s most eminent scientists, lawyers, businesspeople, cultural figures and other highly successful individuals in their chosen fields have signed a letter to High Representative Josep Borrell. They have in common that they are all proud sons and daughters of Bangladesh and are all outraged by a letter written by the Slovak MEP, Ivan Štefanec, two of his fellow members of the EPP, two from Renew and one Green.
This cross-party group are seen by Bangladesh Civil Society in Europe as advocates for the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party and its leader Begum Khaleda Zia, a former Prime Minister who was jailed for corruption but later released on humanitarian grounds, on the instructions of the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. The eminent Bangladeshis based in Europe are particularly appalled by the MEPs’ call for economic, diplomatic and political pressure on Bangladesh.
They told the High Representative that the MEPs must have been given false and untrue information, that creates a negative image of Bangladesh to outside world. Their rebuttal was prepared and signed by expatriate Bangladeshis, such as the world-renowned scientist from the UK Dr Mazharul Islam Rana , prominent journalist Sharaf Ahmed from Germany, prominent engineer Anil Das Guptafrom Germany, French National Cultural Award winner and Bangladesh top award winner famous mime artist Partha Pratim Majumder from France.
Other signatories include a nuclear scientist from Austria, Dr Shaheed Hossain and international artist Professor Shohela Purvin Shova from France, as well as lawyers, physicians and businesspeople from Belgium, the UK, the Netherlands, Denmark, Finland, Portugal, the Czech Republic, Ireland, Italy, Spain and Sweden.
They reminded Josep Borrell, the MEPs and the world that extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances were started by the founder of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, Major General Ziaur Rahman, after the assassination of the father of the nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and most of his family members on 15 August 1975, followed by the murder of four national leaders on 3 November 1975.
According to Amnesty International, during Zia’s five-and-half years in power, more than 1000 military personnel were reported to have been executed. During the rule of BNP-Jamaat under Begum Khaleda Zia in 1991-1996 and 2001-2006, they continued the torture, kidnapping, abduction and killing of opposition leaders and activists, journalists, minor community leaders.
The Rapid Action Battalion was formed as an elite law enforcement body in 2004 during the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and Jamaat E Islamli’s rule. Between July 2004 and October 2006, thousands of leaders and activists of the then opposition, the Awami League, were arrested and tortured.1,500 of them were killed in what was described as ‘crossfire’.
During their boycott of the parliamentary election in 2014, the BNP-Jamaat alliance let loose a reign of terror. They vandalised and torched hundreds of vehicles. As many as 200 people, including 20 law enforcers, were killed by their petrol bombs, handmade bombs and other sorts of violence.
In 2018, the BNP-Jamaat coalition took part in the election and won a few seats. The MEPs refer to it as a ‘midnight election’ a reference to a false rumour that the result had been pre-determined before polling day began. Recent Deutsche Welle and Ekattur TV investigative reports suggest that this claim is completely baseless.
Bangladesh Civil Society in Europe suggest that the MEPs should have acquainted themselves with what happened to the rule of law and human rights during the BNP-Jamaat regimes. According to the Corruption Perception Index of the Berlin-based Transparency International, Bangladesh became the world champion in corruption five times in a row from 2001 to 2006 thanks to unbridled corruption and money laundering. The period also saw the rise of deadly Islamic Militancy, with attacks on institutions and individuals perceived as un-Islamic.
The 300 eminent Bangladeshis state that they highly appreciate the long-time partnership and cooperation between Bangladesh and EU countries for trade and commerce, education and research, and all other areas of development. With the active participation of all EU member states and other development partner countries, Bangladesh has achieved tremendous advances both economically and socially. According to the World Bank’s definition of prosperity, Bangladesh is shifting from being a low-income to a middle-income country.
Under Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the country is advancing towards the official deadline for graduation from least developed status by 2026, transforming Bangladesh into a ‘developed and smart’ nation by 2041. The signatories proudly note that their nation is now recognised as a role model of development. As they put it, what was once seen as a bottomless basket for development aid has become an over-flowing bowl.
They point out that suggestions from the MEPs of visa restrictions and cuts in Bangladesh’s access to the European market are hardly good diplomatic solutions. Such policies would only harm a peace-loving nation, warn the eminent Bangladeshis. They conclude by stating their strong belief that the MEPs’ misconceived intervention will be eclipsed by ever greater cooperation between Bangladesh and all European countries.