The European Parliament and Bangladesh: A media misrepresentation


The European Parliament, a significant institution within the European Union, has recently been in the limelight concerning a “resolution against Bangladesh”. This resolution, linked to the activities of an NGO named the Odhikar, has garnered significant attention from media outlets in Bangladesh. However, a closer examination of the situation reveals a different narrative than what is being portrayed.

The resolution’s status

Contrary to the widespread reports in Bangladeshi media, the resolution against Bangladesh has not been passed by the European Parliament. Instead, the voting on this resolution is scheduled later. This is the recent development in the European Parliament after Macron’s visit to Bangladesh.

Pending resolution against Bangladesh in the European Parliament (Screengrab from European Parliament official portal)

This discrepancy underscores the importance of accurate and unbiased reporting. It is imperative for media and news outlets to thoroughly review official documents and statements before publishing information, especially when it pertains to international relations and the country’s reputation on the global stage.

Comparative analysis: Qatar’s strategy

Drawing parallels with another instance, after the voting, when the European Parliament passed a resolution against Qatar, the Qatari government adeptly managed the narrative in the international media. Despite the clear adoption of the motion, Qatar’s strategic communication ensured the smooth conduct of the FIFA event in the country. This raises a pertinent question:

Why isn’t Bangladesh employing a robust media and press strategy on the international front?

In May 2013, the Islamist organization Hefazat-e-Islam put forth a 13-point demand, reminiscent of Khomeini’s style of capturing power. These demands encompassed a range of religious and societal issues. Key points included reinstating the phrase “Absolute trust and faith in the Almighty Allah” in the constitution, enacting a law to provide capital punishment for maligning Allah, Islam, and Prophet Muhammad, and halting all derogatory comments about the Prophet by atheist leaders and bloggers. The group also sought the release of arrested Islamic scholars and madrasa students, the declaration of “Qadianis” (Ahmadi Muslims) as non-Muslims, and the cessation of foreign cultural influences, among other demands. They want to turn Bangladesh into another Islamist caliphate.

The role of international media

Throughout the session in the European Parliament, where various speakers discussed the situations in Bangladesh (video), references were consistently made to international media and news outlets. This highlights a gap in Bangladesh’s international media presence, which seems to be lacking in comparison to other nations.

The Bangladeshi government has faced significant scrutiny from international media, especially when perceived as neglecting the press. This lack of attention has led to a series of accusations and media trials against the government. The western world perceives undermining the impact of press and media as a sign of dwindling democracy. Following sanctions on the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and stricter US visa policies. The arrest of Adilur Rahman has further intensified the orchestrated propaganda against Bangladesh in global media. The European Union is considering a resolution against Bangladesh followed by stricter economic and political sanctions. Amidst these controversies and perceived biased reporting by western media, the Indian media outlet PTI recently published a report suggesting that Bangladesh’s democracy is on life support. This report, titled “Why Bangladesh’s democracy is on life support,” highlights the government’s failures and is notably influenced by international media coverage against the Bangladeshi government.

Misinformation and bias

A notable example of potential bias is evident in the reporting by The Daily Star. The newspaper stated that there was a “joint resolution expressing concerns over the deterioration of the human rights situation in Bangladesh“. Such information, if not accurate, can be detrimental, especially if perceived as an agenda driven by opposition parties like Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) in Bangladesh.

Calculated perception

In the wake of the proposed notion against Bangladesh in the European Parliament, there is growing concern that a definitive resolution could lead the European Union to impose economic and political sanctions on the nation. Such a move would not only strain Bangladesh’s relations with the EU but also risk isolating the country on the global stage, potentially affecting its diplomatic ties and economic prospects with other nations.

The American embassy’s statement

Adding another layer to the narrative, the American embassy in Dhaka on September 14, 2023 issued a statement supporting Adilur Rahman, the founder of the Odhikar. This statement came in light of the new Cyber Security Act (CSA). The embassy emphasized the significant role that human rights defenders and civil society organizations play in promoting and safeguarding human rights. They expressed concerns over the judgement against Adilur Rahman Khan, highlighting his long-standing efforts in monitoring the human rights situation in Bangladesh.

“The United States strongly supports the role that human rights defenders and civil society organizations play in promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms. Our 2022 Country Report on Human Rights in Bangladesh highlights “significant limitations on freedom of expression both online and offline” and notes that human rights groups “operated with significant government restrictions”. In this context, the United States Embassy in Dhaka expresses our concern that today’s judgement against Odhikar’s Secretary Adilur Rahman Khan and Director A S M Nasiruddin Elan may further undermine the ability of human rights defenders and civil society to play their vital democratic role. For decades, Odhikar has monitored and reported the human rights situation in Bangladesh, regardless of who was in power. We continue to support freedom of expression and a vibrant civil society as essential elements of democracy and oppose attempts to limit the exercise of those fundamental and basic rights”, according to the statement by the US embassy in Dhaka.

The conviction of Adilur Rahman

The recent legal proceedings in Dhaka have brought to light the activities of Adilur Rahman Khan, the secretary of the “human rights organization” ‘Odhikar‘. He, along with his colleague A.S.M. Nasiruddin Elan, was sentenced to two years in prison for violating a now-defunct internet law. Their conviction was based on their report about a huge death toll from a crackdown on protesters in 2013. The court’s decision underscores the importance of accurate reporting and the potential consequences of disseminating false information.

The central issue of the case against Odhikar was their report on a May 5-6, 2013 operation by security forces against Hefazat-e-Islam, a pro-caliphate Islamist group, in Dhaka, which attempted to establish Caliphate rule in Bangladesh by ousting a democratically-elected government. Odhikar claimed that dozens of people died during the operation. However, this figure was challenged by the authorities, who argued that the number was inflated and not based on verified facts. The court’s decision to convict Khan and Elan highlights the importance of ensuring that information disseminated to the public, especially on sensitive issues, is both accurate and verifiable.

The dichotomy of the US position

The United States, known for its stance against terrorism and Islamist organizations globally, seems to be supporting an Ultra-Islamist and pro-Caliphate group in Bangladesh. This group, Hefazat-e-Islam, has been involved in anti-Modi protests during the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Dhaka. Under the pretext of these protests, several Hindus were killed and looted. However, Adilur Rahman propagated misinformation, claiming that “dozens were killed” during the police action, a statement that lacks substantial evidence.

It is crucial for media outlets, both national and international, to ensure accurate and unbiased reporting. Misinformation can have far-reaching consequences, affecting international relations, public perception, and the overall image of a nation. Bangladesh, like any other country, deserves a fair representation in the global arena, free from biases and inaccuracies.

A famous Indian saint Kabir once said, “if you keep putting off what you must do then it will become pointless whether or not you do it“. Better late than never!


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