Editor Mahfuz Anam should have resigned if he had self-esteem, says Prime Minister Hasina

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has advised a newspaper editor to resign after he admitted to publishing military intelligence DGFI-fed reports against her without checking them independently.    

Reazul Basharbdnews24.com
Published : 22 Feb 2016, 12:15 PM
Updated : 22 Feb 2016, 12:15 PM

The Daily Star Editor Mahfuz Anam in a recent TV discussion acknowledged he had run unverified corruption reports against the Awami League chief when the army-backed caretaker government was in power in 2007-8.

Speaking at an event in Dhaka on Monday, Hasina said, “He didn’t even have the courage to resign after admitting his mistake. He would have if he had the least bit of self-esteem.”

She criticised The Daily Star and Prothom Alo, its sister concern, while speaking of her incarceration on charges of corruption during emergency rule.

The prime minister said journalists at the BBC, starting from its director general to the news presenter, had resigned after admitting that their coverage of Iraq’s so-called weapons of mass destruction was highly exaggerated.

“But this editor (Mahfuz Anam) only said he made a mistake by running the DGFI reports. But the cost of that mistake has already been paid for, by the people of this country, Awami League leaders and workers, businesses, students and of course, me and my family.”

She said only a few papers including the Daily Janakatha ran reports on the ‘misdeeds’ by the BNP and its ally Jamaat-e-Islam while they were in power.

“A lot of people did not report on these acts. They believed in giving that government time.

“They wouldn’t write anything against it for three months. That was what these two papers thought - a characteristic that has not changed.”  

The newspapers, she said, were ‘neutral’ for a few years after they had been launched. “But these papers have only slandered me in the 20 years that followed.”

“The caretaker government, whose work was to oversee an election, stayed in power. And what did we see then? Who was running the show? 

As disagreements over who should head the caretaker government had turned violent in 2006, then President Iajuddin Ahmed pressed himself into the role, causing four of the ten advisors to resign over what they said was an unwanted intervention.

A military takeover followed behind the veil of a civilian government. Emergency rule was declared and former Bangladesh Bank governor Fakhruddin Ahmed emerged as chief advisor to the caretakers.

“They thought about how they can secure their hold of state power. Two newspapers were desperate to achieve that.”

“You’ve already seen how an editor admitted to publishing what the DGFI supplied him,” she said. 

“Yes, the DGFI became very powerful during the time of Fakhruddin and Moeen Uddin (Ahmed). But no one asked anything. 

“I asked, ‘Who’s running the country? Who is heading the government? Those two DGFI directors, Brigadier Amin and Brigadier Bari, became the heroes... it appeared that they were running the country.” 

“Now this editor has admitted to publishing word for word whatever Brigadiers Amin and Bari gave him. The question is… what was his relationship like with Amin and Bari? Or did he sell himself to them, which required him to publish anything they handed him.”   

“Were these editors involved in the Minus Two formula, which meant removing me and (BNP chief) Khaleda Zia from politics forever? Which one is true?”

“Answer these questions, if you have the courage. If you were afraid, then this was not fearless journalism. And if you sold yourself or enjoyed a good relationship with them, then I have nothing to say.”

“Or was it that you were involved with those who conspired to kill democracy to secure their stay in power and tried to take away the rights of the people?

“These people will be put to justice for undermining the Constitution, the way war criminals have been put on trial.”

“You tried to paint me as a corrupt politician. There would be newspaper reports every other day. You wouldn’t stop before succeeding at it.”

The prime minister brought up the controversy surrounding the World Bank’s decision to step away from funding the Padma Bridge project to further criticise the newspapers.

“I’ll tell this Mahfuz Anam – you’ve tried enough. And this is just you... your father-like World Bank couldn’t even succeed at branding me corrupt.”

“There was so much talk about the Padma Bridge. The mood was like – I couldn't before but I got you now.”

As for the numerous cases against The Daily Star editor, she said, “There’s so much complaining about the cases that were filed from different places.”

Hasina mentioned the cases against her, the arrest that followed and the harassment her family
was subjected to. “But who instigated all these?”

“I’ll ask these people, how would you feel if you were put in solitary confinement for 11 months. What if you are charged in false cases?

“Would you still make these statements if this happened to your family? Would you still be sympathetic towards those who pushed you towards such danger?

“This put Bangladesh in danger, not just me. Their greed took a country towards certain destruction. Now there are so many voices speaking on their behalf.

“These cases scared you! What would have happened if you’re put in solitary confinement for 11 months?”

Political ambitions

The prime minister said Mahfuz Anam had tried but failed to form a political group during the 2007-08 period.

“A continual effort… He went to form the King’s Party but saw that he was even failing at that.

“Then another world-renowned individual felt like forming a party and that responsibility fell upon this editor. Seventy names were listed.

“But no-one answered the phone. So he didn’t get a party after all.”

‘The long faces’

There was considerable opposition to the 2014 general election but that could not stop it from being held, she said.

“Now if we come to the election of 2014… see for yourself, the role that the newspaper had in trying to stop it.”

“But when we went ahead with the election, I knew they were disappointed, because it meant they wouldn’t get the flag they were supposed to get.”

Liberation War role

Prime Minister Hasina even took a dig at Mahfuz Anam for his role during the 1971 war.

“Our liberation, there are still efforts to undermine it. The person who wrote these things especially those from the DGFI… we were (Mahfuz Anam) all once students of the Dhaka University.

“All our studies were interrupted. But this editor made his way to Karachi, in West Pakistan, so that his studies don't suffer. Whatever the reasons, he later moved to Kolkata. He knew a little English, so he was given the charge of writing in English.

“This is the Liberation War. This is what made him a freedom fighter.”

DGFI 'ties'

The prime minister said the newspaper’s other works, too, are now in question.

“What can the country and its people expect of these people who acted as agents for Amin and Bari?”

“If he ran DGFI reports, then all that was written so far are false.”

'Say more against Anam'

The prime minister has urged the leaders of her party to raise their voices against Mahfuz Anam.

She lamented that only 'some' of the leaders have spoken on the issue.

"I see many hesitate to speak on the matter. Why are you so afraid to speak the truth after (Mahfuz Anam) has written against me for 20 years?" she asked the leaders of her party.

Hasina mentioned the achievements of her government. "Bangladesh is the global role model of development now," she said.

"We, the Awami League government have done this. Those who spread rumours against us instead of writing in our favour will not be successful," she said.

"Bangladesh will walk forward. And these agents...I shall leave it to the people to try them," she added.

Toufique Imrose Khalidi
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher