Bangladesh Army Chief Speaks Out Against Al Jazeera ‘Propaganda’

BenarNews staff
Bangladesh Army Chief Speaks Out Against Al Jazeera ‘Propaganda’ Bangladesh Army Chief Gen. Aziz Ahmed (left) hands a crest to a pilot during a graduation ceremony for the Bangladesh Army Aviation Group, at the Dhaka cantonment, Feb. 16, 2021.
[Photo courtesy of the Inter Services Public Relations]

Bangladeshi army chief Gen. Aziz Ahmed on Tuesday publicly addressed for the first time allegations of corruption leveled against him and his brothers in a recent TV news documentary, which he dismissed as “propaganda.”

Aziz promised that he would soon have more to say in his own defense in response to Al Jazeera’s one-hour investigative report, which first aired more than two weeks ago while he was on an official trip to the United States. He met with U.S. military officials in Washington and U.N. officials in New York before returning home on Feb. 12.

“Very soon there will be a press conference from my family to expose the negative campaigns against my brothers,” Aziz told reporters after attending a Bangladesh Army Aviation Group program at the Dhaka cantonment.

“I want to assure you that such propaganda won’t even cast a little bit effect on its chain of command. The Bangladesh Army is respectful to the constitution of Bangladesh, committed to upholding the constitution … loyal to the government and ready to follow any order of the government,” the general said.

Aziz did not comment on the video while abroad, even after a spokesman for the U.N. Secretary-General called for an investigation into claims made in the Al Jazeera report.

In response to the documentary and related reports by the Qatar-based news channel, Gen. Aziz and the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) – the media agency of the armed forces and Ministry of Defense – focused on a visit by his brothers to a family wedding in 2019 and the purchase of the surveillance equipment.

“The Army Headquarters out rightly rejects all malicious attempts and claims of Al Jazeera to debase a professionally highly skilled, universally accepted Chief of Army Staff without any valid evidence,” ISPR said in statement issued Monday.

“It is to be noted here that in the said report, an attempt has been made to directly mention and present the Chief of Army Staff of Bangladesh and portray his family as a mafia family.”

The Al Jazeera documentary said that brothers Haris Ahmed, who was living in Hungary under the alias of Mohammad Hasan, and Anis Ahmed, who was living in Kuala Lumpur, had fled Bangladesh following murder convictions.

It alleged that despite their convictions, they returned to Dhaka in 2019 for the wedding of Gen. Aziz’s son whose guests included the president of Bangladesh, Abdul Hamid.

On Monday, Prothom Alo, a leading Bangladesh newspaper, said the government on March 28, 2019, had pardoned the two brothers who had been sentenced to life in prison. The pardons were granted on the day before the wedding, Prothom Alo reported.

Bangladeshi media had not previously reported on the pardons given to Haris and Anis, but had reported about a presidential pardon given to their youngest brother, Tofail Ahmed Joseph, in 2018.

Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal and Law Minister Anisul Huq, meanwhile, told Prothom Alo that they did not know anything about the pair being pardoned on the eve of the wedding.

Tofail had received a pardon through a Presidential Order on May 27, 2018 – about a month before Gen. Aziz was appointed army chief on June 25, 2018. Tofail had been incarcerated following his 2004 conviction on a murder charge linked to the same killing.

Gen. Aziz seized on this new reporting to challenge the Al Jazeera report.

“I ask you a question: you faced a case, and you were convicted. But could you be termed as a fugitive today if you were exonerated yesterday or no case was ‘running’ against you? Can you be called convicted,” Gen. Aziz asked. “This is because if you get relieved of a charge, you are like a free citizen the next day.”

The Al Jazeera documentary also alleged that Haris Ahmed, who served as a bodyguard for Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina when she was an opposition politician, had used his connections in business dealings.

It alleged he was a key figure in the acquisition of the surveillance equipment manufactured by an Israeli company, which had listed Hungary as its country of origin. Bangladesh does not recognize Israel and Bangladeshi nationals are forbidden from traveling there or engaging in commerce with Israelis.

UN: 'A serious matter'

Earlier this month, United Nations officials called for a probe into the Al Jazeera claims.

“We are in fact aware of the reporting done by Al Jazeera Investigations concerning allegations of corruption against senior officials in Bangladesh, and the press release issued by the Ministry of Defense in Bangladesh,” Stéphane Dujarric, spokesman for the U.N. Secretary-General, told reporters during a press briefing at the United Nations in New York.  

“The allegations of corruption is a serious matter that should be investigated by the relevant authorities,” Dujarric said on Feb 4.

Bangladesh is the largest contributor of troops to U.N. peacekeeping operations. 

And during a face-to-face meeting with Aziz at U.N. Headquarters the following week, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, the head of U.N. Peace Operations, “recalled the allegations from recent media investigations as well as what the spokesperson of the Secretary-General has recently said on this matter,” a U.N. peacekeeping spokesperson told BenarNews.

In its statement, ISPR said the military had properly obtained the surveillance equipment in response to a 2016 U.N. request that it transform its “Signal Unit” into a “Signal Intelligence Unit.”

“Although the equipment was procured in accordance with U.N. requirements, the U.N. later deployed a Tanzanian signal intelligence unit in Democratic Republic of Congo. As a result, the signal equipment so procured is lying with Bangladesh Army, not in use till date and ready for deployment within a shortest possible time upon requirement of U.N.,” ISPR said in its statement.

“Note that the information provided by Al Jazeera that the signal device was made by Israel is not true at all and the name of Israel is not engraved anywhere in the device. It is to be noted that there is no scope of corruption since the procurement of all military equipment in Bangladesh Army is done under a specific and set policy and following a number of steps.”

The spokesperson for U.N. peacekeeping operations did not immediately respond Tuesday to a request for comment from BenarNews in light of the new comments by Gen. Aziz and the ISPR.

The statement from ISPR also challenged the veracity of one of Al Jazeera’s sources in the documentary – a man identified as Sami. ISPR claims Sami had been arrested on charges of theft, improper using a uniform and forging credentials of army officers and was declared persona non grata in all Bangladesh cantonments in 2006.

Despite concerns about the documentary, Information Minister Hasan Mahmud noted that the government was committed to a free press.

“It seems that the documentary was made out of personal vengeance and animosity,” he told journalists at his ministry conference room. “As has happened in other countries, we could have blocked Al Jazeera if we desired, but we did not do it because we believe in unhindered freedom of mass media.”

John Bechtel contributed to this report from Washington.

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