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Posts tagged ‘Wetlands of Bangladesh’

Bangladesh considering dropping Islam as state religion, according to senior minister

Gabriel Samuels

15 11 2016

Government officials in Bangladesh are considering dropping Islam as the country’s national religion after a senior politician claimed Bangladeshi people have embraced “a force of secularism”.

Dr Abdur Razzak, a leading member of Bangladesh’s ruling Awami League party, proposed the religion be withdrawn from the country’s constitution during a discussion at the National Press Club in the capital Dhaka.

“Bangladesh is a country of communal harmony. Here we live with people from all religions and Islam should not be accommodated as the state religion in the Bangladeshi constitution,” Dr Razzak said in his report.

“I have said it abroad and now I am saying it again that Islam will be dropped from Bangladesh’s constitution when the time comes.

“The force of secularism is within the people of Bangladesh. There is no such thing as a ‘minority’ in our country.”

Dr Razzak added he believed Islam had been maintained as the state religion for “strategic reasons”, but declined to elaborate on this during the discussion.

Islam is the largest religion in Bangladesh, with a practicing Muslim population of approximately 150 million – making it the fourth largest Muslim population in the world after India, Pakistan and Indonesia.

According to a national survey from 2003, religion was the primary way Bangladeshi citizens identified themselves, and atheism was found to be rare.

During a recent speech, Bangladeshi prime minister Sheikh Hasina highlighted the importance of “taking care” of those who follow minority religions.

“As a Muslim majority country it is the moral responsibility of the Bangladeshi citizens to take care of minorities,” she told a conference.

“Bangladesh is a country of communal harmony which should be maintained at any cost for development and brighten the country’s image.”

The prime minister also condemned the recent actions of the militant group Isis, who have carried out various violent attacks against religious minority communities this year.

“You have to remain careful so that no such incidents, which are taking place sporadically in different parts of the country, take place anywhere in the country,” she added.

Source: The Independent.

Link: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/bangladesh-islam-state-religion-government-considers-dropping-a7418366.html.

Bangladesh executes 5th Islamist party leader for 1971 war

September 04, 2016

NEW DELHI (AP) — Bangladeshi authorities executed a top Islamist party leader convicted of war crimes involving the nation’s 1971 independence war against Pakistan, officials said. Mir Quasem Ali, a leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, was hanged at 10:30 p.m. Saturday, hours after several dozen family members and relatives met him for the last time inside Kashimpur Central Jail near the capital, Dhaka, said Proshanto Kumar Bonik, a senior jail superintendent.

“We are doing our necessary formalities now. We will send the body soon to the ancestral home in Manikganj district for burial,” Bonik said. Immediately after the execution, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan said security measures were put in place to prevent unrest by Ali’s supporters, including deployment of paramilitary border guards and additional police in Dhaka and other cities.

The Jamaat-e-Islami party in a statement protested Ali’s execution and called for an eight-hour general strike beginning Monday morning. The execution took place a day after Ali refused to seek presidential clemency. The president had previously rejected appeals for clemency by other Islamist party leaders facing execution.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court rejected a final appeal for reviewing Ali’s death sentence handed out by a special tribunal two years ago. After the ruling, the Jamaat-e-Islami party called for a daylong general strike across the country last Wednesday, but got little response.

A special tribunal dealing with war crimes sentenced Ali to death in November 2014. The 63-year-old member of Jamaat-e-Islami’s highest policy-making body was found guilty on eight charges, two of which carried the death sentence, including the abduction and murder of a young man in a torture chamber. Ali was sentenced to 72 years in prison on the other charges.

Ali built his fortune by establishing businesses from real estate to shipping to banking, and he was considered one of the party’s top financiers. He became the fifth Jamaat-e-Islami party leader to be executed since 2010, when Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina formed the special tribunal to try suspected war criminals. Also executed was a close aide of former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia from the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party.

Jamaat-e-Islami is a key partner of Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party in the opposition against Hasina. Hasina’s government says Pakistani soldiers, aided by local collaborators, killed 3 million people and raped 200,000 women in the 1971 independence war.

Jamaat-e-Islami, which had openly campaigned against independence, has denied committing atrocities. Hasina has called the special tribunal trials a long overdue effort to obtain justice for the victims of war crimes, four decades after Bangladesh split from Pakistan. Her government has rejected criticism from abroad that the trial process did not meet international standards.

The international human rights group Amnesty International noted that the United Nations had raised questions about the fairness of the trials of Ali and other Islamist party leaders. “There is no question that the people of Bangladesh deserve justice for crimes committed during the War of Independence, but the death penalty is a human rights violation and will not achieve this. It is a cruel and irreversible punishment that most of the world’s countries have now rid themselves of,” said Champa Patel, Amnesty International’s South Asia Director, in a statement released Saturday.

Trafficked Nepali, Bangladeshi women trapped in Syria

Murali Bhanjyang, Nepal (AFP)

March 13, 2016

Nepali villager Sunita Magar thought she was heading to a safe factory job in Kuwait, but only when she landed in Damascus did she realize “something had gone very wrong”.

Frequently beaten with a baton and given only one meal a day, Magar says she spent 13 months working as a maid for a Syrian household and pleading to be allowed to go home.

“I was just in shock, I couldn’t stop crying,” the single mother-of-two told AFP.

Magar is among scores of poor Nepali and Bangladeshi women who traveled to the Middle East on the promise of a good job, only to be trafficked into Syria, wracked by five years of civil war.

Nepal’s top diplomat in the region said nationals from the Philippines, Indonesia and other countries, which, like Nepal and Bangladesh, have large migrant labor populations, stopped working in Syria because of the dangers involved.

“Since then traffickers have been targeting Nepalis,” said Kaushal Kishor Ray, head of Nepal’s diplomatic mission based in Cairo.

“The numbers have gone up hugely in recent years, we estimate there must be around 500 Nepali women in Syria,” Ray told AFP.

In nearby Bangladesh, Shahinoor Begum lies in a Dhaka hospital bed recovering from her seven-month ordeal after being trafficked into Syria as a sex slave.

“I was sold to a Syrian man who tortured and raped me every day, sometimes along with his friends,” Begum, also a single mother-of-two, said.

“I begged for mercy, but they didn’t have any. Instead they used to beat me so badly that I broke my arms,” she told AFP.

Accompanied by labor agents, the 28-year-old and several other women left Bangladesh on the promise of working as maids in Jordan.

But they too were taken to Syria, where fighting between the regime and rebel forces has left more than 260,000 dead and displaced more than half the population.

Begum eventually developed kidney disease, prompting traffickers to contact her ageing mother to demand money for her safe return home.

Lieutenant Colonel Golam Sarwar said his team from Bangladesh’s elite Rapid Action Battalion are investigating her case and two others — although families of 43 other women have lodged similar complaints.

“Bangladesh is apparently a soft target for the traffickers,” Sarwar told AFP.

– ‘Always afraid’ –

Criminal networks target nationals from Nepal and Bangladesh in part because their governments have little diplomatic influence in the region and no embassy in Syria.

A Nepal government ban on migrant workers travelling to Syria has failed to stop the traffickers, an International Labor Organization (ILO) official said.

“Nepal’s government thinks a ban is the easiest solution, it basically allows them to wipe their hands of the issue,” said Bharati Pokharel, ILO national project coordinator in Kathmandu.

“India has much more diplomatic clout than Nepal or Bangladesh and traffickers are aware of this. They know Nepal is weak and that they will face no legal action for their activities,” Pokharel told AFP.

Illiterate, trusting and desperate to dig herself out of poverty, Magar didn’t hesitate when a labor broker approached her with a promise of a well-paid job in Kuwait. The 23-year-old says she didn’t realize she had been duped until the plane landed in Damascus.

“I was always exhausted, always hungry, always afraid,” Magar said of working 20 hours a day for no pay and sleeping on her employer’s penthouse balcony.

At night, she listened to Nepali songs to try to drown out occasional sounds of gunfire and bombs and chase away thoughts of suicide.

– Corrupt officials –

When a massive earthquake hit Nepal last April, Magar stepped up pleas to her employers, who had confiscated her passport, to return home.

They contacted the broker who then demanded payment from Magar’s family to ensure her release. Her mother then highlighted the case to local newspapers, kicking off a social media campaign. Expat Nepalis as far afield as Finland and Hong Kong raised $3,800 to pay off her employers.

Magar, who finally arrived in Kathmandu in August, counts herself among the lucky few to have escaped.

Rohit Kumar Neupane’s aunt was trafficked to Damascus last spring. She alerted her family via Facebook a few months later, prompting Neupane to repeatedly seek help from government officials without success.

A foreign ministry official said Neupane’s request had been forwarded to its overworked embassy in Cairo, which covers nine countries including Syria.

“Frankly, we are not in a position to manage these cases from Cairo…what we need is precautionary action to prevent them from coming to Syria in the first place,” said diplomat Ray.

But an apparent nexus between local labor brokers involved in trafficking and corrupt Nepali officials means they operate freely, according to experts.

“Even in the rare instance that a case is filed, it will just drag on with no possibility of resolution or a guilty verdict,” said Krishna Gurung, project coordinator at Kathmandu’s Pourakhi emergency shelter house for female migrant workers.

In her village of Murali Bhanjyang in central Nepal, Magar has little hope of seeing the traffickers brought to justice.

“I still have nightmares about that time…I start crying in my sleep,” she said.

“Sometimes it feels like none of this is real, like I am back on that balcony in Syria, dreaming of Nepal.”

Source: Space War.

Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Trafficked_Nepali_Bangladeshi_women_trapped_in_Syria_999.html.

India, Bangladesh swap border enclaves, settle old dispute

August 01, 2015

NEW DELHI (AP) — Tens of thousands of stateless people who were stranded for decades along the poorly defined border between India and Bangladesh can finally choose their citizenship, as the two countries swapped more than 150 pockets of land at the stroke of midnight Friday to settle the demarcation line dividing them.

Television images showed people bursting firecrackers and raising an Indian flag in the Masaldanga enclave, which became part of India. On the other side of the new border, thousands of people who have been living in the enclaves in Bangladesh cheered, danced and chanted “Bangladesh, Bangladesh.”

They lit 68 candles and released 68 balloons, then marched through the village of Dashiarchhara, highlighting that it took 68 years to settle the border dispute. The village in Kurigram district is 240 kilometers (150 miles) north of Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital.

India’s External Affairs Ministry described July 31 as a historic day for both India and Bangladesh as “it marks the resolution of a complex issue that has lingered since independence” from British colonialists in 1947.

“We are very happy, our children will no more need to hide their identity to go to schools,” said Bashir Mia, 46. Many people posed as Bangladeshis to get their children admitted to schools in Bangladesh.

“We are free now, we are Bangladeshis,” he said. Nearly 37,000 people lived in 111 Indian enclaves inside Bangladesh, while 14,000 lived in 51 Bangladeshi enclaves in India. They now get citizenship of their choice as a result of the agreement between the two countries.

Relations between India and its smaller neighbor have significantly improved since Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina promised that her administration would not allow India’s separatist insurgents to use the porous 4,000-kilometer (2,500-mile) border to carry out raids in India.

Aided by India, Bangladesh gained independence from Pakistan following a bloody nine-month war in 1971. The boundary dispute has been lingering since British colonialists carved Pakistan out of India in 1947, and granted independence to the two countries.

None from Bangladeshi enclaves within India opted for Bangladesh, while 979 people from Indian enclaves living inside Bangladesh applied for Indian citizenship, said Akhteruzzman Azad, the chief government administrator for Bangladesh’s Kurigram district.

The shifting of the people to the Indian side will be completed by November this year. Several television news channels in both countries broadcast the celebrations live. “This will end nearly seven decades of deprivation the people living in the enclaves have had to suffer being virtually owned by no one,” said the Bangladeshi English language Daily Star newspaper.

The two countries are implementing the Land Boundary Agreement in line with a deal signed in 1974, and approved by India’s Parliament recently.

Associated Press writer Julhas Alam in Dhaka, Bangladesh, contributed to this report.

Up to 6,000 Rohingya, Bangladeshi migrants stranded at sea

May 12, 2015

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Hundreds of migrants abandoned at sea by smugglers in Southeast Asia have reached land and relative safety in the past two days. But an estimated 6,000 Bangladeshis and Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar remain trapped in crowded, wooden boats, migrant officials and activists said. With food and clean water running low, some could be in grave danger.

One vessel that reached Indonesian waters early Monday, was stopped by the Navy and given food, water and directions to Malaysia. Worried that boats will start washing to shore with dead bodies, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, the United States and several other foreign governments and international organizations have held emergency meetings, but participants say there are no immediate plans to search for vessels in the busy Malacca Strait.

One of the concerns is what to do with the Rohingya if a rescue is launched. The minority group is denied citizenship in Myanmar, and other countries have long worried that opening their doors to a few would result in an unstemmable flow of poor, uneducated migrants.

“These are people in desperate straits,” said Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch in Bangkok, calling on governments to band together to help those still stranded at sea, some for two months or longer. “Time is not on their side.”

The Rohingya, who are Muslim, have for decades suffered from state-sanctioned discrimination in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, which considers them illegal settlers from Bangladesh even though their families have lived there for generations.

Attacks on members of the religious minority, numbering at around 1.3 million, have in the past three years left up to 280 people dead and forced 140,000 others from their homes. They now live under apartheid-like conditions in crowded camps just outside the Rakhine state capital, Sittwe, where they have little access to school or adequate health care.

The conditions at home — and lack of job opportunities — have sparked one of the biggest exoduses of boat people since the Vietnam War. Chris Lewa, director of the non-profit Arakan Project, which has been monitoring boat departures and arrivals for more than a decade, estimates more than 100,000 men, women and children have boarded ships since mid-2012.

Most are trying to reach Malaysia, but recent regional crackdowns on human trafficking networks have sent brokers and agents into hiding, making it impossible for migrants to disembark — in some cases even after family members have paid $2,000 or more for their release, she said.

Lewa believes up to 6,000 Rohingya and Bangaldeshis are still on small and large boats in the Malacca Strait and nearby international waters. Tightly confined, and with limited access to food and clean water, their health is deteriorating, she said, adding that dozens of deaths have been reported.

“I’m very concerned about smugglers abandoning boatloads at sea,” said Lewa. In the last two days, 1,600 Rohingya have washed to shore in two Southeast Asian countries. After four boats carrying nearly 600 people successfully landed in western Indonesia, with some migrants jumping into the water and swimming, a fifth carrying hundreds more was turned away early Monday.

Indonesia’s Navy spokesman, First Adm. Manahan Simorangkir , said they were trying to go to Malaysia but got thrown off course. “We didn’t intend to prevent them from entering our territory, but because their destination country was not Indonesia, we asked them to continue to the country where they actually want to go,” he said.

Those who made it to shore aboard the other boats on Sunday were taken to a sports stadium in Lhoksukon, the capital of North Aceh District, to be cared for and questioned, said Lt. Col. Achmadi, chief of police in the area, who uses only one name.

Some were getting medical attention. “We had nothing to eat,” said Rashid Ahmed, a 43-year-old Rohingya man who was on one of the boats. He said he left Myanmar’s troubled state of Rakhine with his eldest son three months ago.

A Bangladeshi man, Mohamed Malik, said he felt uncertain about being stranded in Aceh, but also relieved. “Relieved to be here because we receive food, medicine. It’s altogether a relief,” the man said.

Police also found a big wooden ship late Sunday night trapped in the sand in shallow waters at a beach of Langkawi, an island off Malaysia, and have since located 865 men, 101 women and 52 children, said Jamil Ahmed, the area’s deputy police chief. He added many appeared weak and thin and that at least two other boats have not been found.

“We believe there may be more boats coming,” Jamil said. Thailand has long been considered a regional hub for human traffickers. The tactics of brokers and agents started changing in November as authorities began tightening security on land — a move apparently aimed at appeasing the U.S. government as it prepares to release its annual Trafficking in Persons report next month. Last year, Thailand was downgraded to the lowest level, putting it on par with North Korea and Syria.

Rohingya packing into ships in the Bay of Bengal have been joined in growing numbers by Bangladeshis fleeing poverty and hoping to find a better life elsewhere. Up until recently, their first stop was Thailand, where they were held in open pens in jungle camps as brokers collected “ransoms” from relatives. Those who could pay continued onward, usually to Malaysia or other countries. Those who couldn’t were sometimes beaten, killed or left to die.

Since May 1, police have unearthed two dozen bodies from shallow graves in the mountains of southern Thailand, the apparent victims of smuggling rings, they say. Thai authorities have since arrested dozens of people, including a powerful mayor and a man named Soe Naing, otherwise known as Anwar, who was accused of being one of the trafficking kingpins in southern Thailand. More than 50 police officers are also under investigation.

Spooked by the arrests, smugglers are abandoning ships, sometimes disappearing in speedboats, with rudimentary instructions to passengers as to which way to go. Vivian Tan, the U.N. refugee agency’s regional press officer in Bangkok, Thailand said there is real sense of urgency from the international community.

“At this point, I’m not sure what the concrete next steps are or should be,” she said of a string of meetings with diplomats and international organizations. “But there doesn’t seem to be a clear mechanism in this region for responding to something like this.”

McDowell reported from Yangon, Myanmar; Associated Press writers Eileen Ng in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and Ali Kotarumalos and Niniek Karmini in Jakarta, Indonesia, contributed to this report.

Stampede at charity handout in Bangladesh leaves 23 dead

July 10, 2015

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — A stampede in central Bangladesh left 22 women and a child dead early Friday when hundreds of people stormed the home of a businessman for a charity handout during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, police said.

Another 30 were injured and rushed to a hospital in Mymensingh, a town 115 kilometers (70 miles) north of the capital, Dhaka, said police officer Kamrul Islam. The crowd gathered outside the tobacco businessman’s home around 4 a.m. and stormed in when the gates were opened to collect free clothing, Islam said. Twenty-two women and one child were killed, he said. Survivors said there were about 1,000 people, mostly elderly women, in front of the house.

Ambia Begum, 45, went with seven female relatives at dawn. One of them died in the stampede. “Oh Allah, why did I come here? Why?” she wailed as the body of her 60-year-old relative was retrieved. The businessman distributes clothes every year ahead of Eid al-Fitr, the festival marking the end of Ramadan.

Authorities detained six people, including the businessman, who did not request police presence at his house for the distribution. Stampedes are common at religious places and during charity handouts in South Asian countries.

Bangladesh braces for protests after Islamist’s execution

April 12, 2015

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — Bangladesh braced for protests and fresh violence Sunday after a senior official of the largest Islamist party was executed on charges of crimes against humanity during the country’s 1971 independence war, the second man to be hanged since the government revived war crime trials that have sharpened political divisions in the South Asian nation.

Mohammad Qamaruzzaman was put to death Saturday night in the central jail in the capital, Dhaka, a senior prison official, Forman Ali, told reporters outside the premises. Prosecutors said that Qamaruzzaman, an assistant secretary general of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, headed a militia group that collaborated with the Pakistani army in central Bangladesh in 1971 and was behind the killings of at least 120 unarmed farmers.

Bangladesh blames Pakistani soldiers and local collaborators for the deaths of 3 million people during the nine-month war of independence from Pakistan. An estimated 200,000 women were raped and about 10 million people fled to refugee camps in neighboring India.

Jamaat-e-Islami denounced the execution and called for a nationwide general strike Monday. At the same time, hundreds of people who supported the trial and execution rallied in Dhaka. Similar demonstrations were held in other cities and towns.

“We are happy that justice has been delivered finally,” said Mohammad Al Masum, a student at Dhaka University, who joined a procession in Shabagh Square. “I did not see the war but I am sure the families that lost their dear ones will be happy today.”

The trials have further polarized Bangladesh, already gripped by long-running political divisions that often spill into violence. The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ravina Shamdasani, earlier this week urged Bangladesh not to carry out the execution, saying that Qamaruzzman’s trial did not meet international standards.

The United States was more guarded in its assessment of the trial, but still urged the government not to proceed with the execution. “We have seen progress, but still believe that further improvements … could ensure these proceedings meet domestic and international obligations,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said in a statement shortly before the execution. “Until these obligations can be consistently met, it is best not to proceed with executions given the irreversibility of a sentence of death.”

The Bangladeshi government said the trial met the proper standards with the defendant receiving the opportunity to challenge the prosecution’s case in open court and appeal the verdict all the way up to the Supreme Court.

Since Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina set up the tribunals in 2010, more than a dozen people have been convicted, mostly senior leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami. The party, which is allied with Hasina’s main opposition rival, says the trials are politically motivated.

The initial trials that followed Bangladesh’s independence four decades ago were halted after the assassination of then-president and independence leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman — Hasina’s father — and most of his family members in a 1975 military coup. Hasina revived the process, making good on a pledge she made before 2008 elections.

Bangladesh executed another Jamaat-e-Islami assistant secretary, Abdul Quader Mollah, in December 2013 for similar crimes, triggering violent protests. Qamaruzzaman refused to seek presidential clemency. Somoy TV station reported that he was hanged after performing all legal and religious procedures. His body will be taken for burial to his ancestral home in the Sherpur district in central Bangladesh.

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