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Friday, February 1, 2008

Government’s Ethnic Minorities Memo is a Disgrace

Government's ethnic minorities memo is a disgrace
New Age Editorial, Dhaka, Sunday, January 27, 2008

Submitted by: Kapaeeng Watch

The military-controlled interim government's recent move to curb the democratic rights of indigenous communities, as reported in New Age on Saturday, comes as yet another distressing sign of the heavy handed and chauvinistic attitude that this government espouses in relation to rights of ethnic minorities.
The home ministry, in a recent instruction, has decided to discourage intellectuals and eminent personalities from attending functions organised by ethnic minority groups, which they fear draws attention to the routine oppression and negligence that the communities are subjected to, New Age reported. The ministry's instruction also plans to reduce the media coverage that indigenous rights groups and their demands receive, and plans to actively monitor the activities of high profile ethnic minority leaders such as Jyotirindra Bodhipriyo Larma, better known by his nom de guerre Santu Larma.
According to the report, a government agency has come to the conclusion that the ethnic minorities are engaged in propaganda against the interim government, which the agency claims are aimed at tarnishing the country's image. 'Necessary measures should be taken so that the editors, left leaning politicians and eminent personalities do not participate in the programmes,' the agency's report on this issue reads, sent out to the offices of the president, the chief adviser, the home ministry, the inspector general of police and the Dhaka police commissioner. The report takes a critical view of the programmes organised by the indigenous rights groups organised on August 8, 2007 to mark the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples, and names eminent citizens such as former bureaucrat Akbar Ali Khan and economist Rehman Sobhan who attended this function. 'They may also give confusing statements highlighting human rights violations by the army and the army-led joint forces,' the report reads, and warns that the rights groups are trying to have the international day observed officially.
The home ministry cites these reports from intelligence agencies in its own instruction that advises state-owned radio and television and other institutions to prevent 'such activities' Predictably, the ministry has denied that any of the instructions in question were sent out, even in the face of documentary evidence to this effect obtained by New Age.
We would like to assert that such an instruction is in violation of the fundamental human rights guaranteed by the constitution, the rights of the ethnic minorities to give voice to their grievances through free speech, and the rights of the media and ordinary citizens to gain full knowledge of the government's actions in their regard. It is a disturbing sign that the government is engaged in a campaign to blank out the voices of certain citizens of this country based on its narrow chauvinistic perception of nationalism. We strongly condemn this disgraceful campaign, and the secrecy in which it is shrouded, and urge the government to restrain from denying fundamental rights of Bangladeshi citizens, whatever their ethnicity may be.--

Aungkyew Mong
Kapaeeng Watch
(A human rights group for indigenous peoples)
Jagannath Hall, Dhaka UniversityDhaka, Bangladesh