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Bangladeshi envoy takes issue with Asia Times op-ed

The op-ed “Bangladesh and Covid-19: Disaster within a disaster” mischaracterizes Bangladesh’s response to Covid-19 and is mistaken about Bangladesh’s past elections.

Bangladesh is not suppressing the media during the pandemic. Its 1,277 daily newspapers, including 258 that appear nationally, and over 30 privately owned television networks are free to report what they wish about Covid-19, including criticisms of the government.

The government also makes its virus-related actions public here. Journalists are not being silenced. In the few instances that Bangladesh authorities have arrested individuals over Covid-19 statements, the reason has related to libel, slander and the spreading of false information that inflicted harm on the public.

As for previous elections, independent observers from across the globe, including India and the Islamic Organization for Cooperation, have said the current government’s wins in 2009, 2014 and 2018 were fair and free. Only the opposition party sees it differently for obvious reasons.

Furthermore, the government’s mandate has been strengthened by recent polling that demonstrates strong approval. The government’s approval rating last year was 83%. Seventy-six percent of those polled said they believed the country was headed in the right direction.

Sabria Chowdhury Balland, author of the op-ed, responds:

Ambassador Ziauddin characterizes well-documented facts as “mischaracterizations.” This has become the standardized code word from Bangladesh’s current authoritarian regime to battle truths that expose it for what it really is. 

Ambassador Ziauddin states that the regime does not suppress the media. On April 29, an article appeared on The Diplomat reporting, among other points, that “The crackdown on dissent during the crisis is part of a larger pattern from the Awami League government.”

There has been an international campaign by Amnesty International and CPJ Asia, among others, for the release of journalist Shafiqul Islam Kajol, who was arrested and held without trial after reporting a government scandal.

The examples cited above are a mere drop in the ocean, having only arisen during the Covid-19 lockdown. Crackdowns on journalists and free speech are the rule rather than the exception, under the guise of “mischaracterization,” “misunderstanding” and “protection of the public.”

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