It was interesting to observe how an ‘India Today’ story on factual errors in a UN list of enforced and involuntary disappearances in Bangladesh brought the regime change seekers together to cry aloud in a rare coordinated effort. Only one of them tried to address the issues of errors — the rest just beat about the bush questioning the motive and credibility of India’s top media house, as if an Indian outlet has no right to run stories on Bangladesh. One shrill overseas-based regime critic even predicted “the imminent end of India’s playtime in Bangladesh”.
If two Indian insurgents – one finished his jail term and lives with family in Manipur, while undergoing trial in the same state- find their names on a list of enforced disappearances in Bangladesh, the story is expected to generate interest in India. So if the Group’s correspondent in Dhaka offers the story, any editor in Delhi will ask him to follow it up.
One columnist has insisted that Manipur’s leading secessionist group UNLF chairman Rajkumar Meghen alias Sanayaima was arrested in Dhaka and quietly handed over to Indian authorities in September 2010. He claimed Meghen’s arrest was widely reported in Bangladesh media and a case was also filed. Then in a tweet, the same columnist argued that everybody has a right to a fair trial, even drug smugglers and terrorists.
I have followed the Meghen story closely since the UNLF chairman was declared arrested in a border village in India’s Bihar state when entering the country from Nepal on Nov 30, 2010. He was brought to a top-security jail in Guwahati, the capital of India’s Assam state and then tried. His jail sentence ended in 2019 he arrived in his hometown Imphal and stayed with his family.
So, Meghen did get a fair trial in India and then served his sentence without challenging the court verdict. During his trial, his lawyers not once contested the fact of his arrest on the Bihar-Nepal border — nor did they ever claim he was arrested in Bangladesh. His comrade ‘Major Nabachandra is also getting a fair trial in India.
So ‘India Today’ is factually correct in claiming that Meghen and Nabachandra were certainly not missing from public view since their arrest, so there is no question of listing them as a victim of enforced disappearance, surely not in Bangladesh and, of all, by a UN group who are expected to get their facts right. He was tried where he should be — in India, where he “waged war” against its government. The report talks about the ‘too much dependence’ of the UN on local NGOs like Odhikar– not only Odhikar. No wonder Odhikar already has a substantive record of faking cases of human rights reads copious media reports. Its report on police crackdown on radical groups in 2013 had been riddled with errors ostensibly to defend those radical elements. It misled the world about the country’s fight against the radicals, as exposed by media reports. The recent statement against such exposures by Asian Human Rights Council, to defend Odhikar further exposes the highly one-sided approach these bodies seek to pursue.
So Meghen has also not been denied a fair trial. If his son Mei Chinglen lodged a missing diary in a Bangladesh police station, it was because he may have had some inkling of his father’s presence in Bangladesh at some time before his arrest. It was not unusual because the Hasina government after taking charge in Jan 2009 had unleashed a crackdown against hideouts of North East Indian rebel groups in its territory. ULFA chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa, his deputy commander in chief Raju Barua, and his ‘foreign secretary ‘ Sasha Chowdhury were among the many such top rebel leaders who were handed over to India after they were detained in Bangladesh. So if Meghen was indeed arrested in Bangladesh and handed over to India, there was no real reason for Dhaka to conceal it, since it did not conceal the ULFA handovers.
Since Meghen was arrested in end-2010, it is quite likely that he would have moved away to Nepal from Bangladesh, staying where was proving to be difficult in view of Hasina’s ‘zero tolerance to terrorism. Nepal has a strong presence of the Pakistan intelligence agency ISI and Northeast Indian rebels have operated there quite freely over the years. Nepalese police have occasionally cracked down when pushed with accurate intelligence.
Two months before Meghen’s arrest on the Bihar-Nepal border, Nepal police arrested top Naga rebel leader Anthony Nikkhang Shimray and handed him over to India where he faced charges of trying to illegally import Chinese weapons using a Thai gun runner. The Indian investigators produced such detailed and accurate documentation that a court in Bangkok agreed to extradite, for the first time, a Thai gun runner, Wuthikorn Naruenarywanich alias Willy, to stand trial in India.
That the papers seized by Nepal police and handed over to India exposed even payments to a Chinese arms company through Willy and that Shimray was planning to land these weapons at Wyakaung beach south of Cox’s Bazar but had to cancel it at the last moment ( possibly because of Hasina’s crackdown) have all been recorded as Willy’s witness in India’s NIA Court. The Hasina government was only helping a regional crackdown on the illegal arms trade.
And Meghen was quite possibly fleeing Nepal after the arrest of Shimray, who was the military wing chief of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) , the strongest rebel group in India’s Northeast, with 7000 well-armed fighters under its command.
I would expect the Bangladesh columnist to produce conclusive evidence to back his claim that Meghen was arrested in Bangladesh. Media reports and hearsay gossip are not conclusive evidence and unsubstantiated allegations don’t make for quality journalism.
Apart from ‘India Today’, Bangladesh rights activist Sultana Kamal and top academic Imtiaz Ahmed have been attacked for their comments. Again, these two were only pitching for better fact-worthiness expected of a UN Report and not trying to defend the government over genuine cases of enforced disappearances. In fact, both strongly asserted that such cases should be brought down to zero.
But these long-time rights defenders have a point that serious factual errors, as evident in the UN list, only weaken the case of human rights enforcement. It does not take a degree in rocket science to realise that factual loopholes in normal police often allow genuine criminals to get away in court.
So Sultana Kamal or Imtiaz Ahmed cannot be pulled up for criticising the UN Working Group for serious factual errors or for claiming that BNP has a history of raising human rights cases that were found to be untrue. Both assertions are right. But these two had never suggested there were no cases of enforced disappearances during the Awami League government. They only wanted the UN list to be factually error proof which is not the case with the list of 76 — because if people contesting polls or giving interviews are shown as victims of enforced disappearances, they are simply erroneous and lack credibility. Unless one went by Tasneem Khalil’s definition of enforced disappearances which even seeks to include absconders. Absconders charged with serious criminal offences are fugitives from justice and not victims of enforced disappearances. But Khalil, who works in an offshore outlet with controversial activist David Bergman the son-in-law of opposition leader Dr Kamal, the effort is worth its value because he is funded to cry wolf as part of a regime change agenda by countries who weaponise human rights. Weaponising human rights to attack governments is not a new phenomenon. Bangladesh is the latest victim of this and one wonders what kind of military arrangements it has to join before it is let off.
Writer: Dr.Md.Anisur Rahman; Associate Professor, Department of Law, Islamic University, Kushtia.