Hasina’s dominating win feared as enabling authoritarianism

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina (C) speaks during an election campaign rally in Dhaka on December 24, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 03 January 2019
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Hasina’s dominating win feared as enabling authoritarianism

  • The new Cabinet is expected to be sworn in by Jan. 10, but members of the opposition alliance, which won only seven seats, said they would not take the oath

DHAKA, Bangladesh: While Sheikh Hasina is set to begin her third consecutive term as Bangladesh’s prime minister following a landslide election victory, critics say having such an overwhelming majority in Parliament could create space for her to become even more authoritarian.
The Hasina-led coalition won 288 seats in the 300-seat Parliament in Sunday’s election, amid allegations by the opposition that the voting was rigged. Hasina rejected the accusations at a briefing with foreign journalists a day after the vote.
The new Cabinet is expected to be sworn in by Jan. 10, but members of the opposition alliance, which won only seven seats, said they would not take the oath. In response, the ruling party’s general secretary said by-elections would be held for those seats. This would result in a Parliament with virtually no opposition.
Over her last 10 years as prime minister, Hasina took up many development projects, from power generation to the building of a seaport, but her record of maintaining human rights was widely criticized by activists and international rights groups. Some of those critics now say her new government could be even more iron-handed and aggressive.
More than a dozen people were killed in election-related violence Sunday, and the election campaign was dogged by allegations of the arrests and jailing of thousands of Hasina’s opponents.
Dozens of activists took to the streets of Dhaka on Tuesday to protest the alleged gang rape by Hasina supporters of a mother of four who had voted for the opposition.
The opposition had blamed Hasina’s government for arbitrary arrests and enforced disappearances of dissenters, while the jailing of a renowned photographer on charges of spreading propaganda against the government sparked criticism at home and abroad. The enactment of a digital security law ahead of the election was criticized by journalists and rights groups who said it would choke free speech and media freedom.
The opposition accused the security agencies and the police of intimidation and threats to prevent them from campaigning ahead of the elections, and there were allegations that the Election Commission and other departments overlooked the complaints.
“Sheikh Hasina’s government during its previous term displayed an increasingly authoritarian streak, deeming all legitimate criticism to be anti-state,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director for Human Rights Watch. “The ruling Awami League’s student and youth groups had free rein to bully and intimidate, while civil society faced pressure to self-censor.”
“It was particularly unfortunate that senior officials refused to address concerns of victims, including families of disappeared persons,” Ganguly said.
She doubted that the next government would be more tolerant.
“We remain concerned that a government that has allowed impunity for serious violations like extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances will persist with little tolerance for dissent and constructive criticism,” Ganguly said.
Hasina trumpeted her development agenda to woo voters and said people voted her to power again for the development bonanza. She took up some big projects, including a bridge more than 5 kilometers (3 miles) long, a nuclear power plant and metro rail system for Dhaka, the capital.
But an analyst said it was not a legitimate argument.
“When you say that we’ll give you development but you have to sacrifice your rights, you have to sacrifice your voice,” said Asif Nazrul, a law professor at Dhaka University and a government critic. “Because if you look at the constitution of India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, nowhere is it written that we are going to give you development but forget your political and civil rights.”
Still, Hasina enjoys a lot of support, especially from religious minorities in the Muslim-majority nation who say she has safeguarded their rights.
At the Dhakeshwari Temple in Dhaka, Hindus poured in on Tuesday to pray and get a glimpse of the Goddess Durga, something they say was not possible under previous governments.
“She has definitely unleashed and freed us minorities,” Jayanti Sharma, a Hindu devotee who was visiting from a nearby town, said of Hasina.
While Parliament could be without a practical opposition, no major opposition leaders even exist in the country to pose a serious threat to Hasina.
Her archrival, former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, the leader of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, is in jail. A court deemed Zia ineligible to run for office because she was sentenced to more than two years in prison after being convicted of corruption. Her supporters say the charges were politically motivated.
In Zia’s absence, opposition parties formed a coalition led by Kamal Hossain, an 82-year-old former member of Hasina’s Awami League who served as foreign minister under Hasina’s father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Bangladesh’s founding leader.
Hossain is a leader of his small party, Gono Forum, which does not have much popular support. Hasina and Zia, on the other hand, have much larger support bases and attract hundreds of thousands of supporters to their rallies.
On Monday, during a briefing with foreign journalists and election observers, Hasina came down heavily on the opposition. In a wide-ranging discussion, she refused a suggestion that she offer her political foes an olive branch.
“The opposition you see, who are they? The main party, BNP, it was established by a military dictator (Zia’s husband, Ziaur Rahman) who introduced martial law in this country. There were no constitutional rights for the people,” Hasina said.
She dismissed questions about the fairness of the election.
“I feel that it was a very peaceful election,” Hasina said. “Some incidents took place, some of our Awami League party workers were killed by the opposition. I’m very sorry for that, but I always appreciate our law enforcement agencies, also our people who were working hard to have this election in a peaceful manner.”
But there have been allegations of widespread irregularities with the election.
On Sunday, The Associated Press received more than 50 calls from people across the country who identified themselves as opposition supporters complaining of intimidation and threats, and of being forced to vote in front of ruling party men inside polling booths.
Those complaints could not be verified independently.


Father of boy killed in school massacre wins defamation suit

In this Dec. 14, 2012 file photo, Alissa Parker grieves with her husband, Robbie, as they leave a staging area after receiving word that their daughter, Emilie, was one of the 20 children killed in the Sandy Hook School shooting in Newtown, Conn. (AP)
Updated 42 min 56 sec ago
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Father of boy killed in school massacre wins defamation suit

  • Victims’ families scored another victory Tuesday when a Connecticut judge imposed sanctions on Jones for an outburst on his web show against one of the families’ lawyers

HARTFORD, Connecticut: The father of a victim of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre has won a defamation lawsuit against the authors of a book that claimed the shooting never happened — the latest victory for victims’ relatives who have been taking a more aggressive stance against conspiracy theorists.
The book, “Nobody Died at Sandy Hook,” has also been pulled from shelves to settle claims against its publisher filed by Lenny Pozner, whose 6-year-old son Noah was killed in the shooting.
“My face-to-face interactions with Mr. Pozner have led me to believe that Mr. Pozner is telling the truth about the death of his son,” Dave Gahary, the principal officer at publisher Moon Rock Books, said Monday. “I extend my most heartfelt and sincere apology to the Pozner family.”
A Wisconsin judge issued a summary judgment Monday against authors James Fetzer and Mike Palacek, a ruling that was separate from the settlement between Pozner and the book’s publisher. A trial to decide damages has been set for October.
Pozner has been pushing back for years against hoaxers who have harassed him, subjected him to death threats and claimed that he was an actor and his son never existed. He has spent years getting Facebook and others to remove conspiracy videos and set up a website to debunk conspiracy theories.
Lately, the fight has been joined by others who lost relatives in the Dec. 14, 2012, school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. After quietly enduring harassment and ridiculous assertions for years, some have changed their approach, deciding the only way to stop it is to confront it. Their efforts have turned the tables on the hoaxers, including Alex Jones , host of the conspiracy-driven Infowars website.
Victims’ families scored another victory Tuesday when a Connecticut judge imposed sanctions on Jones for an outburst on his web show against one of the families’ lawyers.
Judge Barbara Bellis on Tuesday ordered the Infowars host to pay some of the relatives’ legal fees and prohibited him from filing motions to dismiss their defamation lawsuit against him.
The families of several of the 20 children and six educators killed in the 2012 shooting are suing Jones, Infowars and others for promoting the hoax theory.
Jones made angry comments on his show Friday about a lawyer for the families, accusing him of trying to frame him by planting child pornography in documents Jones’ attorneys submitted to the families’ lawyers.
Robbie Parker, whose 6-year-old daughter Emilie was among those killed at Sandy Hook, spent years ignoring people who called him a crisis actor. His family moved to the West Coast, but still the harassment didn’t stop. He would get letters from people who found his address. He was once stopped in a parking garage by a man who berated him and said the shooting never happened.
“You are taught when you are young that you ignore bullies and eventually they will leave you alone,” Parker said. “But as time went on, and my other girls were getting older, I realized they weren’t stopping and some of this was getting worse and getting more personal.”
Parker is now part of a lawsuit against Jones, has testified before Congress and pushed for changes on social media platforms, such as YouTube, which announced this month it will prohibit videos that deny the Sandy Hook shooting and other “well-documented events.”
“It wasn’t until the lawsuits and until it became a mainstream news story that people realized they were being complicit in this and started to moderate the content,” Parker said.
Pozner is the lead plaintiff in several of at least nine cases filed against Sandy Hook deniers in federal and state courts in Connecticut, Florida, Texas and Wisconsin.
In the case against Jones, the families of eight victims and a first responder say they’ve been subjected to harassment and death threats from his followers. A Connecticut judge ruled in the defamation case that Jones must undergo a sworn deposition, which is scheduled for July in Texas.
On Monday lawyers for the families disclosed that child pornography was found in electronic files sent to them by Jones as part of the discovery process. An attorney for Jones said the pornography was in emails sent to his client that were never opened.
Wisconsin’s Dane County Circuit Judge Frank Remington ruled Monday that Pozner had been defamed by Fetzer and Palacek, whose book claimed, among other things, that Noah’s death certificate had been faked, according to Pozner’s lawyer, Jake Zimmerman.
“If Mr. Fetzer wants to believe that Sandy Hook never happened and that we are all crisis actors, even that my son never existed, he has the right to be wrong. But he doesn’t have the right to broadcast those beliefs if they defame me or harass me,” Pozner said. “He doesn’t have the right to use my baby’s image or our name as a marketing ploy to raise donations or sell his products. He doesn’t have the right to convince others to hunt my family.”
Before the case went to a judge, Fetzer had said “evidence clearly shows this wasn’t a massacre, it was a FEMA drill,” referring to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“If you believe otherwise, then you are being played,” Fetzer, a Wisconsin resident, said at the time.
A redacted copy of the actual death certificate is attached to Pozner’s lawsuit. Additionally, Pozner has had DNA samples taken and compared with those provided by the Connecticut medical examiner to prove that Noah was his son. He has put Noah’s birth certificate, report cards and medical records into the public file in his legal actions.
His goal, he says, is to make sure that “normal people” have access to the truth and aren’t persuaded by the hoaxers.
A Florida woman, Lucy Richards, was sentenced to five months in prison for sending Pozner death threats. She was also banned from visiting web sites run by conspiracy theorists, including Fetzer.
Christopher Mattei, a lawyer who represents the families in their Connecticut lawsuit against Jones, said his clients want to live their lives free from that kind of harassment. They also want these hoaxers to know they are affecting real people, who have already been emotionally devastated.
“When the grief process includes having to justify your grief or having to prove your child’s existence,” he said, “it makes it very difficult.”