In a recent ‘Head to Head’ interview with Al Jazeera English, to be aired 2 March, Gowher Rizvi, advisor to the Bangladesh prime minister, spoke on Awami League landslide victory in the parliamentary polls, the arrest of photojournalist Shahidul Alam, enforced disappearances, the Rohingya refugee crisis and more.
Bangladesh prime minister Sheikh Hasina’s international affairs advisor Gowher Rizvi told Al Jazeera English’s Mehdi Hasan that Bangladesh “is not a one-party state” despite its recent landslide victory, where its ruling coalition secured 96% of parliamentary seats.
In a press release, Al Jazeera English said Rizvi asserted that Hasina had won her fourth term in office in an election where “39 political parties contested.” He said “free and fair elections took place,” adding “Give me one good reason why the opposition should have been voted into power? They did not have a manifesto, they were ambivalent, whether they were going to an election or not.”
With regards to the government accusing the opposition of crimes which in some instances they could not have committed as the individuals named were in fact dead, Rizvi admitted that “it is embarrassing” but added that “when such charges are made it is embarrassing, but one knows that in police investigation, in many societies, especially in developing countries, often have these shortcomings.”
Human rights groups have criticised Bangladesh of attempting to suppress the media and silence its critics through controversial laws such as the Information and Communication Technology Act (ICT) and the new Digital Security Act, Al Jazeera said in their press release.
Speaking about the arrest of award-winning photographer Shahidul Alam who was arrested in August 2018 following an interview on Al Jazeera, Rizvi said he was a “very close friend” but stated that he “was not arrested for appearing on Al Jazeera and making a comment. He was arrested for spreading disinformation which was inciting violence.”
Rizvi added that when the photographer was arrested he ensured that he “was given medical treatment”, which prompted the presenter, Mehdi Hasan to ask “why did he need medical treatment?”
Rizvi said “I cannot deny it [that Alam was beaten by police] because I do not know what happened.”
Previously prime minister Sheikh Hasina had described Shahidul Alam as “mentally sick”. Gowher Rizvi disagreed with this and said he has “no idea” why she said this.
“I don’t know what she had in her mind,” he said.
There have also been allegations against law enforcement authorities of abducting and detaining hundreds of opposition activists, reports Al Jazeera.
When asked about the issue of ‘enforced disappearances’, Rizvi responded, “I fear you are mistaken. The government does not need to disappear people. Government has authority to arrest people if they feel somebody has done something wrong.”
However, he did accept it is “deplorable” if it is taking place and that the government “will investigate”.
Mehdi Hasan also discussed the issue of the Rohingya refugees, who have been fleeing neighbouring Myanmar, with more than 1 million residing in Bangladesh.
Asked why Bangladesh wanted to send Rohingyas back to Myanmar, when Rizvi has described the situation as “ethnic cleansing”, he said that they “will only send them when the conditions are safe.”
Presenter Mehdi Hasan referred to “terror and panic” in a refugee camp in November when refugees feared being repatriated against their will.
Rizvi argued that there was “never, ever a question of any forcible repatriation.”
Asked if Aung San Suu Kyi should face an international tribunal for “her role in denying and covering it up”, Rizvi said that “whoever is involved should be faced with the International Court of Justice.”
A case would be “against the entire government or any member of government that aided and abetted in this process,” he added.
This episode will be available online:
The interview will be broadcast on 2 March 02:00 (Bangladesh Standard Time) and repeated on 2 March at 18:00, 3 March at 07:00 and 4 March at 12:00.