In the midst of almost a hundred law suits and tens of thousands of crores of damage suits initiated against The Daily Star editor Mahfuz Anam, I personally believed that good sense would prevail and the Prime Minister would intervene against the 'madness of the sycophants' through back door intervention. Many in the land counted on her silence and attributed it as a positive aspect of the fiasco.
However, that expectation was bulldozed by the PM's hard-hitting speech on February 22 in a discussion on the occasion of Amar Ekushey and the International Mother Language Day. Blasting The Daily Star for running “the DGFI-supplied false news” against her during the tenure of the last caretaker government, the PM said the Star editor himself could not demonstrate his “courage” by stepping down from his post after admitting his faults.“He must have tendered his resignation had he any self-dignity…. For such a mistake, everybody including the common people, Awami League leaders and workers, businessmen and the student community had paid an unbearable price. My family and I also had to pay for the mistake dearly.”
As per news reports, Mahfuz Anam in a TV interview has admitted to his “biggest mistake” in journalism, saying it was an error of editorial judgement to run corruption stories against Sheikh Hasina during the 2007-8 military-controlled caretaker regime. Make no mistake, MahfuzAnam did not admit that he fabricated those stories, DS published them (as other newspapers did), as they came from the Task Force Intelligence Cell (TFIC).
So let us set the record straight. It was TFIC that gave the news to DS, not the other way around. It was not that DS fabricated news and it was on the basis of those news that the DGFI went into action. This was testified by the PM when she said, “Those, who published the DGFI-supplied fake news, had so far written 'fake, false and adulterated reports by pretending to be honest'”. Since the introduction of killing in the name of 'crossfire', all the newspapers have been publishing the news given by RAB. Are there any avenues for the newspapers to verify such news? Are there opportunities for the news media to ask RAB that they want to investigate before they publish the news?
The country witnessed the emergency rule due to the misrule and corruption of the BNP-Jamaat government, she told her audience. “A different face emerged when the caretaker regime assumed power. They tried to consolidate their power and the two newspapers backed them.”
Nothing could be further from the truth. We are fighting ceaselessly against the distortion of our history; let us not do the same ourselves. As far as the DS is concerned, when none of the AL leaders, none of the newspapers of the country dared to open their mouths against the Chief of Army Staff's (CAS) tacit intention to create 'our own' brand of democracy, it was only Mahfuz Anam who had the bravado to write a commentary under the heading, “Gen Moeen goes public on politics”, which he concluded with the following:
“Simply put, we strongly feel our armed forces should not involve themselves in politics. They have a mission behind which there is popular support, which they should accomplish and return to their barracks.”
Making her stand clear, the PM said she had argued that the chief of the caretaker government would run the country, not the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI). So she is suggesting that it was the DGFI that was running the country. However, is there any evidence to suggest to the public that Mahfuz Anam was colluding with the DGFI to help them implement their evil design?
The PM has been at the helm of the state since 2009. The CAS was still heading the army when she became the PM until he retired in due time. Did it mean that the DGFI acted without the approval of the CAS or CTG? Had it been the case, why didn't she try those, even in absentia, responsible in DGFI for her internment and ill-treatment or for that matter those who obstructed her return home?. Even the victims of such torture did not go public to tell the nation the kind of duress they experienced that forced them to make such 'false' confessions of corruption which Mahfuz Anam is 'guilty' of publishing.
All along, it was lurking in my mind why the Sheikh Hasina government did not put those culprits on the dock. The answer that came to my mind was that the AL probably felt obliged by the following bold acts of the CTG:
Firstly, the history of our Liberation War, which was absolutely distorted during the dark era of the BNP-Jamaat government, was reverted, to a great extent, to its true form, thereby, allowing our children to learn the true history of their nation's birth.
Secondly, the father of the nation was given due respect with the visit of the president, the CA, and the chiefs of three services to his mausoleum on his death anniversary.
Thirdly, August 15 was reinstituted as the day of national morning, and the government observed the day with due solemnity and dignity.
Fourthly, November 7 was officially abolished as the day of “national revolution and solidarity day”.
Finally, the general election was held with an unprecedented 85 percent turnout of the eligible voters in a free and fair environment. The landmark election gave AL the huge mandate to form a popular and representative government.
Now all on a sudden, due to Mahfuz Anam's honest admission, the PM warned: “Those who were involved in this conspiratorial plot would be tried like the war criminals for destroying the Constitution.” And by the way, Mahfuz Anam is in no way a neutral person. He wrote his historic commentary on July 17, 2007, headlined, “This is no way to strengthen democracy”, “Just as "command economy" failed, so will "command politics", following Sheikh Hasina's arrest the day before, when her own party men did not have the courage to take to the street”. But he kept himself absolutely mum following the arrest of Khaleda Zia, a former PM and her two sons.
The PM was irked by a certain quarter's expressions of “frustration and grief” over the filing of cases against The Daily Star editor. If the PM goes through the list of that “quarter”, she will discover among them the natural allies of AL who, for instance, protested - spending hundreds from their own pockets - her arrest and demanded her release despite living in faraway lands like Canada. They have earned the moral right to protest vociferously against any wrongdoing, as they did following her own internment.
The writer is the Convenor of the Canadian Committee for Human Rights and Democracy in Bangladesh.