British security services "complicit" in Bangladesh torture row

Oliver Scanlan
5 June 2009

It was revealed late last week that a former British civil servant is suing former British Home Secretary Jacqui Smith. Jamil Rahman, who was born in south Wales, alleges that the British Security Service, MI5, was complicit in his torture when he was arrested and interrogated by Bangladesh's Directorate General Forces Intelligence (DGFI) agency.

Having settled in Bangladesh after marrying a Bangladeshi woman,  Rahman was detained in 2005 by the DGFI. After being stripped and beaten, he was compelled to make tape recorded confessions to the effect that he had planned several terrorist acts, including the "7/7 bombings" that killed 52 people in London in July 2005.

Rahman alleges that after this savage treatment, he was interviewed by two MI5 agents. When he said that the confessions were false, the two agents left the room and he was tortured again. Rahman maintains that this pattern was maintained for three weeks before he was released, and that over the next two years he was again detained and tortured by the DGFI. Rahman's legal team affirm that they have eye witness testimony and medical evidence to support these charges.

This is the latest in a number of cases where MI5 has been accused of complicity in human rights abuses committed by foreign intelligence services. The British Government has insisted that British security forces neither condone nor commit torture.

Human Rights Watch have recently called for the DGFI to be disbanded, along with the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) counter-terrorist unit, on the basis of endemic human rights abuses, including torture, committed by its members.

Cyclone Aila strikes Bangladesh's south coast

On Monday 25 May, a devastating cyclone struck West Bengal in India and Bangladesh, killing at least 264 and leaving an estimated 500,000 people homeless in both countries. With winds reaching up to 100 km per hour, it is still unknown what additional damage Cyclone "Aila" may have inflicted on the delicate ecology of the Sunderbans in southwest Bangladesh. The Sunderbans are home to an estimated 250 Bengal tigers, a highly endangered species.

After the shock of the cyclone, the aftermath of which continues to occupy enormous emergency relief efforts in both countries, there has been a clear feeling of frustration in Bangladesh at the apparent lack of preparedness for the natural disaster. Several editorials have called for urgent action on the part of government to address weaknesses in flood defences and disaster relief management so as not to risk repeating mistakes in the future.

Forests and rivers in peril as World Environment Day celebrated

On Friday, as Bangladesh observed World Environment Day, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina addressed a conference convened by the Department of Environment at the Ministry of Environment and Forest, saying that Bangladesh needed to take urgent steps to prepare for the impact of climate change. Emphasising plans to establish green belts, particularly in coastal regions, and to urgently dredge dwindling rivers such as the Gorai, Sheikh Hasina also awarded commendations to three individuals and one organisation for services to the environment.

This move comes less than a week after the Prime Minister unveiled a 450 crore taka (4,500,000,000 taka) budget for a five year plan to plant mangrove forests along the coastal regions to help protect the region against natural disasters. She inaugurated this tree plantation effort by planting a nageshwar sapling at the Bangladesh China Friendship Conference Centre.

"Kingmaker" general to step down

On Thursday, the government announced that Lieutenant General Muhammad Abdul Mubin will replace General Moeen U Ahmed as Chief of Army Staff (CAS) when the latter steps down on 13 June. Although this will technically make him only army chief, due to the army's pre-eminence among the three armed services this will make him the most senior serviceman in Bangladesh.

General Ahmed is regarded as having played a pivotal role in the installation of a caretaker government in 2007 after the failure of Iajuddin Ahmed's own interim administration to effect a peaceful democratic election. Ahmed declared a national state of emergency on the 1 November 2007 and announced that he would step down hours after meeting with then Lt General Ahmed.

Throughout the subsequent tenure of Chief Adviser Fakruddin Ahmed, his own caretaker government was referred to as "military backed". The CAS had to repeatedly clarify that his intention was not to establish full military rule on the model of Pervez Musharraf's own dictatorship in Pakistan.

Such fears proved to be unfounded; when he does step down on 13 June, General Ahmed will have overseen the successful re-establishment of parliamentary democracy. The caretaker government he helped to install is widely credited by Bangladeshis with vital electoral reforms that were a prerequisite for the peaceful and credible election which eventually took place.
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