Gowher Rizvi talks to Al Jazeera on Bangladesh democracy, Shahidul Alam
Arafat Hasan of DOT
Was Bangladeshi photojournalist Shahidul Alam arrested for criticizing the Sheikh Hasina’s government, or for ‘spreading disinformation’? In a recently telecast episode of Head to Head, Al Jazeera English’s journalist Mehdi Hasan challenged Gowher Rizvi, an International Affairs adviser to the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, on the state of the country’s democracy and whether it is heading towards authoritarianism.
Rizvi told Hasan that Bangladesh “is not a one-party state” despite the ruling Awami League’s recent landslide victory on the national election last December, where the ruling coalition secured 96% of parliamentary seats.
In a press release, Al Jazeera English said Rizvi asserted that Hasina had won her fourth term in office in an election where “39 political parties contested.”
He said “free and fair elections took place,” adding “Give me one good reason why the opposition should have been voted into power? They did not have a manifesto, they were ambivalent, whether they were going to an election or not.”
With regards to the government accusing the opposition party of crimes, some of which were allegedly false, Rizvi admitted that “it is embarrassing”.
“When such charges are made it is embarrassing, but one knows that in police investigation, in many societies, especially in developing countries, often have these shortcomings.”
Furthermore, human rights groups have criticized the Bangladesh government of attempting to suppress the media and silence its critics through controversial laws such as the Information and Communication Technology Act (ICT) and the new Digital Security Act, Al Jazeera said in their press release.
Regarding the arrest of award-winning photographer Shahidul Alam, who was arrested in August 2018 following an interview on Al Jazeera, Rizvi claimed that he was a “very close friend” but stated that he “was not arrested for appearing on Al Jazeera and making a comment.” “He was arrested for spreading disinformation which was inciting violence.”
Rizvi further added that when Alam was arrested, he ‘was given medical treatment’, at which presenter Mehdi Hasan asked “why did he need medical treatment?”
“I cannot deny it [that Alam was beaten by police] because I do not know what happened,” admitted Rizvi.
Previously Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had described Shahidul Alam as “mentally sick”. Gowher Rizvi disagreed with this and said he has “no idea” why she said this.
“I don’t know what she had in her mind,” he said.
There have also been allegations against law enforcement authorities of abducting and detaining hundreds of opposition activists, reported Al Jazeera.
When asked about the issue of ‘enforced disappearances’, Rizvi responded, “I fear you are mistaken. The government does not need to disappear people. Government has authority to arrest people if they feel somebody has done something wrong.”
However, he did accept it is “deplorable” if it is taking place and that the government “will investigate”.
The interview will be broadcast on March 2 at 02:00am (Bangladesh Standard Time) and repeated on the same day at 6:00pm, March 3 at 07:00am and March 4 at 12:00pm.