Abu Taher and the Supreme Court of Bangladesh
On this day of remembrance in honour of Abu Taher, the words of a great American kept entering my thoughts. I had the privilege of growing up as a young man, while Martin Luther King was still alive.
I kept thinking of the words Martin Luther King wrote in April 1963 in his Birmingham prison cell: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."
In my view, what Martin Luther King said then directs us now down a hidden road of Bangladesh's history which, like Taher's case, requires the remedy of accountability and justice. Fifteen months after Taher was executed a great storm of death tore through the prisons of this country.
Before the Supreme Court verdict I presented testimony to the Court on March 14th. In January I had sent in an Affidavit when it seemed that I would not be able to come to Dhaka to testify. In that Affidavit I reported how General Mohamed Manzur, former Chief of General Staff, and someone I had known for several years, informed me that he knew definitively that General Ziaur Rahman had taken a decision to execute Taher well before Special Tribunal No. 1 began its deadly process in Dhaka Central Jail.
Thus, in light of this information it was clear the proceeding of the Tribunal from the outset were merely a process to set up an execution that General Zia had already decided would take place. I later confirmed Manzur's report with two other military sources that had been close to Zia during this period.
Following the submission of my Affidavit and my testimony, several BNP leaders publicly attacked me, claiming that I had been hired by the government to denigrate General Zia. I had not uttered a word of criticism of the BNP. According to a report in The Daily Star: "A BNP standing committee member, M.K. Anwar, alleged that the government had hired a foreign journalist (Lifschultz) to assassinate the character of [the] late Ziaur Rahman." A few days after this report was published, I telephoned M. K. Anwar and spoke with him.
I said I was a journalist and I wanted to interview him about his evidence that a foreign journalist had been hired by the current government to disparage General Zia. I said that I was interested in his evidence and his facts. I was then still in Dhaka and asked him for an appointment. He refused to give me one.
I then asked him if could he tell me over the phone what his facts were. I suggested we could do a telephone interview. I could even record it so the record would be clear. Mr. Anwar refused to tell me what evidence he had that I had been "hired." I said this was a very important allegation and we should get to the bottom of it. He refused to continue the conversation or agree to meet me. He hung up the phone.
About ten minutes later Mr. Anwar called me back. I said I was very pleased to hear from him and hoped that he had changed his mind and had agreed to an interview. However, this was not the reason for the call. Clearly, having spoken to an attorney in the intervening ten minutes, Mr. Anwar said he wanted to make clear that when he made his allegation about a certain foreign journalist having been "hired" by the government, he hadn't actually mentioned any name. Even if The Daily Star on March 16th had indicated that M. K. Anwar in his March 15th press conference was talking about "Lifschultz," Anwar claimed to me he had not named anyone specifically.
I asked Mr. Anwar if it was simply coincidental that I had testified before the Supreme Court, the day before (the 14th), and the very next day he claimed some unnamed journalist had been hired by the government.
I asked Mr. Anwar, if it wasn't Lifschultz, who was he talking about? I said I would be very interested in investigating the possibility that the government had been paying foreign journalists. If he was now unwilling to say I was the culprit, then perhaps he would be good enough to identify the person he was talking about. Yet again he wouldn't tell me. He merely repeated several times: "I didn't mention anyone's name."
However, the BNP Senior Joint Secretary General of the BNP, Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, was not so coy. He alleged that I was seeking to "disgrace" General Zia. He used my name in this allegation. I have written to Mr. Alamgir and asked him for an interview where he would be willing to discuss his earlier comments in greater detail. I hope Mr. Alamgir will meet me and discuss his allegations "on the record." In this respect I hope he will have more courage than Mr. Anwar.
Unlike Mr. Alamgir or Mr. Anwar, I am not in the business of "disinformation." I am in the business of "information." This includes finding out facts that sometimes are not known to the general public. It is a profession called journalism.
I have not personally denigrated General Ziaur Rahman. The real question is whether an investigation of the facts and past events have revealed aspects about General Zia which may be disturbing and possibly reflect unlawful activity. If General Zia committed crimes while he was in power, it is not "the reporter" who reports "the facts" that denigrates the man. It is the man himself, and his own actions that are to be held to account and assessed by the public.