Of late, the all-powerful government of Sheikh Hasina appears most vulnerable to lies and instigations. It develops a quick seizure syndrome at any hint of criticism or dissenting voice. And any Tom, Dick and Harry can now exploit the state machinery to get any individual or institution in trouble.
Does it sound like an overstatement? Spare the names, just take note of a recent incident that took place in a divisional city.
A student got himself enrolled at the divisional branch of a private university after being transferred from its Dhaka campus. With all sorts of disciplinary problems, the young man soon became a headache for teachers, students and the university administration. One of the teachers warned him verbally following complaints from two female students.
But he thought of teaching the teacher a lesson. An unsigned letter was sent to the university authorities with an allegation that the teacher made a derogatory remark on Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman three months back.
Quite understandably, a quick investigation by the university authorities followed. The student later admitted that he penned the letter with the false allegation. Realising the sensitivity of the matter, the university administration then informed local police before handing them the student's confessional letter.
The journalist is also a leader of the press club there and uncle of a powerful political recruit in the PM's press wing. He warned the university authorities of dire consequences if any action was taken against the student.
Perturbed, the university sat on its decision for a month, but a rumour spread over the student's expulsion.
On June 29, an impromptu briefing took place at the press club where the student told some followers of the journalist leader about the teacher's diatribes four months back. This time, he included the national mourning day, the president and the prime minister as the targets of his teacher's verbal abuse.
Only one national daily ran a report without giving the teacher a chance to speak on the allegation.
The student soon disappeared from the scene, while his classmates rallied round their teacher. They formed a human chain on the streets after the press club rejected their plea to hold a counter press briefing. They took it as a battle against a blatant lie. And they wanted the truth to win.
But the situation changed dramatically when a respected Dhaka University teacher wrote a long sweeping column that literally bayed for the blood of the innocent teacher. The writer didn't even care to go by the ethical obligation to check the truth in the allegation. A rejoinder from the university and informal communications by the teacher's family went unheeded by the columnist.
The issue was taken up with the PM, who, according to trusted sources, paid not much attention. But a hate campaign against the teacher was launched in the social media. A team of online activists that was unofficially mandated to counter anti-government propaganda by the Jamaat-Shibir men on social media platforms soon shifted its tirade against the teacher.
Three days after the impromptu press briefing, the president of the Bangabandhu Foundation lodged a complaint with Dhaka Chief Metropolitan Magistrate's Court that asked police not to treat the matter as a case but to investigate and submit a report in two weeks. But the lies of the unscrupulous student started to dictate the terms of the rule of law.
The local police knew it all but could not help. They could not wait to follow the procedures of law, and hastily arrested the teacher under special powers act without any investigation. Any delay in action could prompt someone in the ruling party to put a tag of Jamaat or anti-liberation element on them. They could not afford to risk their jobs.
They filed a criminal, not a defamation case, and days later submitted a final report, the legal meaning of which is: the case has no merit as allegations are false and baseless. Police also urged the court to acquit the teacher of the charges.
The innocent teacher, very popular among students for his cultural activities and pro-liberation stance, was languishing in jail. But no lawyer was interested to move his bail petition for fear of being dubbed “anti-liberation”.
Many leaders of AL's student wing stood by the troubled teacher, and told their central leaders the truth. The teacher's elder brother is also a senior journalist, who frantically tried to convince his connections both in the government and the party. Every organ of the government, including the administration and the intelligence, knew of the foul play. But no initiative was taken to right the serious wrong until an influential Dhaka lawmaker agreed to look into the matter.
Things started to fall into places at his intervention. A lawyer finally came forward to move the bail petition. The bail was granted. The teacher came out of jail after seven days. The false case was to be dropped August 5, three weeks after he got bail. But the court did not want to hurry with a case of this significance. Hurried disposal of the case might even be misinterpreted. So, the bail of the teacher was extended and hearing adjourned by a month.
The harassment ordeal is finally coming to an end, but has left behind some serious concerns among people about freedom of expression, the rule of law, good governance and a few errant journalists.
It is the responsibility of the state to protect the innocent and punish the culprits. In this case, an innocent got punished, and both the administration and the legal system found to be wobbling in fear.
The existing culture of demeaning Bangabandhu for the sake of sick politics is, to some extent, criminal. Like any other civilised nation, we must learn to reserve the rightful respect for the father of our nation.
At the same time, we must also ensure that none can abuse his name for personal gains. Here, in this case, culprits are those who raised false cry about the name of Bangabandhu being tainted. Sadly though, all these people are known to be either supporter or beneficiary of Awami League. Every year, some unscrupulous people extort people for raising funds to observe even the anniversary of Bangabandhu's assassination, the darkest chapter in the country's history. Can they be activists of the AL?
The government must have its intelligence system working to know the truth or lie as it is. The AL and the prime minister in particular should take note of these unfortunate incidents and take such steps so that no opportunist inside and outside the party dares to put on the party vest to abuse the name of Bangabandhu for implementing personal agenda.