Eight days ago, on December 16th, the Awami League  government of Bangladesh arrested, detained and allegedly began to torture BNP leader Salauddin Qader Chowdhury.
This is abhorrent news, no matter the turns of fortune in a man’s life, no matter the moral worth of a cause, no matter the government’s writ on the matter. That Mr. S Q Chowdhury is in opposition to the sitting government remains uncontested; that he is wanted for war crimes remains an accusation, yet to be incontrovertibly proven; that he deserves to be treated in a humane manner is, and will remain, a substantive and procedural requirement that this government, any government, must meet in order to be considered a legitimate agent to lead and satiate the needs and interests of a people.
On December 16th, Mr. Chowdhury, a member of the BNP standing committee, was arrested by a contingent of security forces that included the Rapid Action Batallion (RAB), the paramilitary force that is known to have done the government’s militant, murderous, work. He was then brutally tortured in his own apartment, it is alleged by Amnesty International, before being taken into custody for more than five days.  The ostensible reason?  That, in the first instance, he is involved in an arson attack in which one person died, and only then that he stands accused for acts and facts entertained nearly 40 years ago–all those things that are now being thrown around in the name of war crimes.
The government claim is that he is being interrogated for his connection to a murder case.  Never mind that it could never take 5 days to interrogate one person’s connection to another person’s murder.  This, rather obvious fact, gave way to other charges for which he was remanded to a longer term in custody. This is baldly the circumstances that stand behind torture–detention and disappearance–to which the government, its paramilitary force and the police have acceded.
Contrary to the claims consistent with due process, the allegations brought against the government include charges that Mr. Chowdhury was tortured at his apartments with instruments designed for that purpose, that he repeatedly received electric shocks to his testicles and that he was tortured to the point where he lost consciousness, only to be revived in order to be tortured again.
Amnesty International, a leading global human rights advocacy organization, has found on the matter that Mr. Chowdhury deserves medical treatment and humane protection against the government:
“The Bangladeshi government must ensure that Salauddin Quader Chowdhury is protected and treated properly and that these very serious allegations of torture are investigated.”
“In particular, the authorities must ensure that he has access to the necessary specialist medical attention, including by independent doctors.”
To show the seriousness of the allegations, Amnesty has published the context behind the matter, a treatment of the affair that must give the casual and interested reader of Bangladeshi politics pause:
“Chowdhury was arrested on 16 December in connection with a case in which a private car was set alight in Dhaka on 26 June, killing a passenger. On 19 December, the International Crimes Tribunal, a Bangladeshi court, issued an arrest warrant against him for alleged crimes against humanity during the 1971 Liberation War.”
“According to reports received by Amnesty International, a combined force of Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), Detective Branch (DB) police, and the Directorate-General Foreign Intelligence (DGFI) arrested Chowdhury in the early hours of 16 December at an apartment in the Banani neighborhood in Dhaka.”
“Amnesty International is deeply concerned about the allegations, and considers the reported torture of Salauddin Quader Chowdhury, as of any other human being, wholly unacceptable.”
The Inspector General of the Police Hasan Mahmud Khondakar, of course, denies the allegations.  But as to proof that the government is not engaging in such acts?  Nothing that merits any standard of proof, as such. The only demonstrable proof that due process is being done remains the government’s insistence that it has not engaged in acts of torture.  However, normative codes that the current government itself sponsors, requires that the government produce material evidence to the contrary of allegations made against it. That there is torture being conducted is, according to the government’s own writ by the Constitution, a claim that merits attention. The government must demonstrate that it is not engaging in torture. Thus, the strict and frequent denials of the sitting government against torture truly merit no righteous claim apart from cheap talk.
Interestingly, a quick check in the national media shows that the story has stopped running in the main and popular presses. Whether there is at work a government stricture against pushing this news will always remain an open question; however, it is hardly a surprising turn.
However, international news outlets like Britain’s Guardian newspaper has run with this news on the heels of the recent Wikileaks revelations that the British government has been training the RAB death squads in a move to contravene U.S law that denies foreign support for known paramilitary forces.
Citing the Amnesty International allegations on the facts, the Guardian reported:
“Chowdhury’s ordeal began shortly after he was arrested at an apartment in the Banani district of Dhaka. His captors are reported to have brought with them a number of torture implements and a doctor, who revived him three times after his lost consciousness while being tortured at the apartment.”

“The mistreatment is said to have included applying electrodes to his genitals, beating him, slitting his stomach with razors and twisting his toenails and fingernails with pliers.”

“Chowdhury was then taken for hospital treatment before being detained at a police headquarters. He was briefly filmed at the hospital, and could be seen to be bloodied and unable to walk unaided. Amnesty believes he is at risk of further severe mistreatment.”

There is here the fear of death, the stench of decay, physical and moral.  Of course, governments are not corporeal bodies; but their politically sponsored claims are: they can fall and decay as might any man or woman. Government’s stand for righteousness, decency and justice: seemingly individualized claims marshaled for collective bodies.  On those grounds the government’s claims to a superior standard, on which it won election in 2008, are faltering.
Whatever the charges brought against Mr. Chowdhury and whatever the acts committed that stand behind those charges, he deserves the due process given him by law and decency.  Whatever his party affiliation, he deserves the legal standing of a defendant at the door of what one might hope is righteous jurisprudence.
Now this on-going story has been called to stand behind a protest strike scheduled for December 26th.  No doubt, there will be restless violence on the streets of Dhaka.  Thus for its writ to further the public interest, the allegations brought by Amnesty demands the attention and proper response of the government.  For, if this conduct continues the claims of legitimacy and decency that it wishes to uphold under the Constitution of Bangladesh will fall.
Indeed, this forum has long supported the current AL government’s macroeconomic and macro-social policies as welfare increasing moves that have affected change for the better in the lives of the average Bangladeshi.  At the same time, this forum has registered deep concern for the gross human rights violations in which the government and its security arms have long engaged. The allegations of Mr. Chowdhury’s torture only remind the reader of this forum that as long as these acts are committed by sponsored arms of the government, there is yet a long while to go before the government can claim ownership of all those values in which it wishes to clothe itself.
This news, domestically generated, now internationally focused must give the current AL leaders cause to worry.  For now the claims of rights violations trump the historic cause of justice and readily bring shame amongst those very same leaders who, for years have rang out the claims of liberty and decency during the long years of rightist BNP rule.