Journalist Tim Sebastian this Wednesday interviewed Gowher Rizvi, international affairs adviser of prime minister Sheikh Hasina, on the talk show ‘Conflict Zone’, of the German media outlet Deutsche Welle. Gowher Rizvi spoke at length on ‘All the Prime Minister’s Men’, the documentary aired on 1 February by the Qatar- based television channel Al-Jazeera. Excerpts have been summarised here.
This month Al Jazeera released a high-profile documentary revealing shocking levels of corruption among senior officials of the state in Bangladesh. The government’s authorities were quick to reject the investigation, terming it as false, defamatory and a smear. You all did not even consider investigating the matter. This is hardly the reaction of an honest government, is it?
It’s being inquired. An inquiry is underway. I want to point out in all sincerity that the documentary’s title was ‘All the Prime Minister’s Men’. And we were told it would expose corruption around the prime minister. Do you really believe this documentary has succeeded in doing that? Was there a single evidence which incriminated the prime minister in the alleged corruption? This is where I think as sensible academics and journalists, we should stand back and ask ourselves, what was the evidence given to incriminate the prime minister's involvement. And yet this whole documentary was billed as to show how corrupt the regime is.
The documentary was able to locate two high level fugitives from justice convicted for murder, whose elder brother just happens to be your serving army chief General Aziz Ahmed. That’s pretty embarrassing for you, isn’t it?
Technically it is, but on the other hand, I’m not going to be defending everything. But the way you are putting the question, I need to ask, should a person be held guilty because of the guilt of his brother? I think this is a question we need to ask. Now if the brother in the armed forces helped his brother to evade justice and to further his criminal activities, this accusation would be extremely pertinent. What happened took place long, long before this gentleman became the army chief.
Let’s just look at some of the details that came out in the film about General Aziz Ahmed and his brothers. Two of them, Anis and Haris, were found guilty of involvement in a 1996 murder of a member of a rival party. Both were absconding from justice and went on the run. The third brother Josef was also convicted and spent more than 10 years on the death row. Magically, just before his brother Aziz was promoted to head of the army, Josef gets a presidential pardon. How did that happen? Is Bangladesh in the habit of giving pardon to convicted murderers who gun down their opponents on the streets in cold blood?
The certainty with which you speak is surprising. You have linked the army chief and his brother’s release into one story.
It is one story ...
No, no, no.
My point is, you have to be pretty well connected to get a pardon for cold-blooded murder.
Let me give you the facts and then you draw a conclusion. The brother in question had served about 20 years in prison. There is a law that after serving a certain amount of years, you may be given parole of clemency by the president. All this happened long before, months and months before even the vacancy for chief arose. It happened completely separately. This man has served over 35 years in the armed forces, worked his way up with a fairly clean record. So why should we malign him and link these two stories together. I would like you to look at the timeline of the two events. These are six months apart.
The point is, as the film brought out, your army chief knew perfectly well where his two other brothers were, the ones that were on the run and apparently didn’t tell the relevant authorities. Isn’t that worth investigating?
It would be worth investigating, but please also you know as much as I do that both these gentlemen were outside the jurisdiction of Bangladesh. And yes, if this information had been available, we would have tried to extradite them provided we had an extradition treaty. In fact, in many cases we have done so. And there is no reason to believe we would have not done so. You are quite right. If this information would have been available to the government, the government would have taken action.