No hasty action: Govt to give protection to Priya Bala family

Special Correspondent
Foreign minister AK Abdul Momen said on Wednesday that the government would provide protection to Priya Bala Biswas if she sought security following her controversial statement claiming that some 37 million Hindus, Buddhists and Christians remained missing in Bangladesh.
A senior US official ‘called me over phone and wanted to know if the [Bangladesh] government would sue and arrest her’ for making the statement on alleged disappearance of a huge number of Hindu community members, Momen told journalists at the foreign office.
‘We told them I don’t believe the government will arrest her. Rather, the government will provide her protection if she wants,’ the minister said.
When asked about the petitions submitted in courts in different districts, he said the government was not a party to those petitions.
Thirty seven million Hindus, Buddhist and Christian ‘disappeared’ in Bangladesh over the years, Priya Bala Biswas also known as Priya Shaha, executive director of the NGO Self-Help Association for Rural People through Education and Entrepreneurship, or SHAREE, said in a meeting with US president Donald Trump as a member of a group representing different countries on July 17 during a global forum on religious freedom organised by the US government.
Priya Shaha participated in the forum on dual capacity — as a member of the Bangladesh delegation as well as on an invitation from the Department of State of the US government, diplomatic sources said.
Priya Saha claimed later in a video statement that she got the data on disappearance of the members of the minority communities from a study conducted by the Bangladesh Economic Association president professor Abul Barkat.
Barkat, however, said in a signed statement issued on Monday that Priya Saha presented his research findings in a distorted way.
Some one crore 13 lakh Hindus remained missing in 50 years since 1964 to 2013, according to my assessment,’ Barkat said, adding that he had never mentioned in his book published in 2016 that three crore 70 lakh Hindus, Buddhist and Christian had gone missing.
Priya Shaha participated in the Second Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom held at the US Department of State in Washington, DC on July 16-18.
Delegates from 106 countries, including about 40 foreign ministers, attended the meeting at the invitation of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Bangladesh Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen also took part in the event.
In a media statement , Bangladesh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs strongly protested and condemned in the strongest possible terms “all the blatant lies” that Priya told Trump.
US ambassador finds religious harmony in Bangladesh
Meanwhile, US Ambassador to Bangladesh Earl R Miller, while visiting a Buddhist temple in the capital’s Merul Badda on Friday afternoon, appreciated the country’s religious harmony.
Miller, who was sworn in as the ambassador on November 13 last year, shared with reporters his experience of meeting religious leaders from across the country.
“I now have enough perspective after being here for eight months and travelling so widely to recognise that Bangladesh is doing something remarkable,” he told journalists.
The US envoy also said, “Everywhere I have gone I have received the same message, be it from an Imam, a priest or someone in the temple, that no country can succeed unless it works together.”
He said it was a lesson that his country and the world could learn from.
Contacted over the phone, an official of the US embassy in Dhaka, wishing not to be named, told The Daily Star that he did not know how Priya was selected to meet the US president as a religious persecution survivor.
The US state department had invited eight people from Bangladesh, including two Rohingya representatives, to attend the conference.
The Bangladeshi delegation included people from Muslim, Hindu, Christian and Buddhist communities and government officials to talk about their experience about religious freedom.
Talking to media , Rana Dashgupta, general secretary of Bangladesh Hindu-Bouddha-Christian Oikya Parishad, said he was not aware how Priya went to the US and reached Trump.
He said she was not among the three members who represented their platform at a ministerial meeting on advancing religious freedom hosted by the US Department of State.
In his initial reaction, Awami League General Secretary Obaidul Quader said Priya would be sued on sedition charges.
“Priya Saha’s allegation was absolutely false. No one will agree with her. A sedition case will be filed against her. The process is underway,” he told reporters at the AL president’s Dhanmondi office.
Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan also said Priya must prove her “allegations”.
“She will have to prove the allegations she made to the US president, or otherwise stern actions will be taken against her for the baseless, false and fabricated complaints,” he told journalists .
Asked about the allegations, the home boss said, “I didn’t see any such incidents over the last five and a half years. I don’t know why she made such false statements to the US president.
“She may have a purpose. We must ask her when and how it happened. Of course, she will give an answer accordingly.”
Describing the present situation in the country, he said, “Before the last caretaker government’s tenure, Hindu people constituted more than 8 percent of the population. Now it has risen to 10 percent.
“If such incidents had taken place, the government and the people would have known.”
Dhaka Metropolitan Police Commissioner Md Asaduzzaman Mia also termed Priya’s complaints on persecution of minorities in the country totally fabricated, baseless and unrealistic, reports BSS
Kazi Reazul Hoque, former chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, said Priya should be tried for spreading falsehood.
“Bangladesh has been demeaned in the world as she made a false and fabricated allegation to the US president. It is a punishable offence,” he said.
Addressing a programme at the Jatiya Press Club, Reazul also called upon the Bangladesh government to conduct an investigation into the matter to bring Priya under the purview of the legal process.
State Minister for Shipping Khalid Mahmud Chowdhury also condemned Priya’s statements.
Meanwhile, Sampriti Bangladesh, a citizens’ platform, has condemned and protested the controversial remarks, said a press statement issued by the platform’s Convener Pijush Bandyopadhyay and Member-Secretary Mamun Al Mahtab.
In a press statement, Alliance for Resistance of Terrorism and Communalism, another platform, said what Priya told the US president were lies and tantamount to treason.
Priya defends her statement
Later, a video of an interview she gave to a journalist, defending her statement, was posted on the YouTube channel of SHAREE.
The Hindus now account for 9.7 percent of the total population, compared to 29.7 percent during the 1947 Partition, she said in the video.
That means many people have gradually left Bangladesh, according to Saha.
“All I meant is that the number of minority people has gradually declined. I didn’t mean to comment on the government. I just mentioned what happened in my village in Pirojpur,” she explained.
“The current population is 180 million. But if the minority population were to grow at the same rate, then the current population would match the population that I have said has been lost.”
Based on the government’s statistics, Prof Abul Barakat conducted a study in 2011 which found that 632 Hindus leave the country each day, she said.
She further claimed to have been directly involved in the research in 2011.
Priya boosted to say that she was inspired by the Prime Minister Sheikh hasina who as the leader of the opposition had travelled different countries to inform the world about t persecution of minorities immediately after the general election of 2001.
PM intervenes
Meanwhile, government toned down its voice after AWami League General Secretary Obaidul Quader disclosed a message from Prime Minister who is now outside the country.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has disapproved a planned government initiative to expose Priya Saha to seditioncharges ahead of obtaining her explanation about her comments during an interaction with US president Donald Trump, road transport minister Obaidul Quader said on July 21.
“The prime minister last night sent me a message (from UK) saying no legal action was required to be initiated hastily,” Quader, also the general secretary of ruling Awami League, told a media briefing at the party’s Dhanmondi office.
But he said Saha must make a public statement explaining what actually she wanted to tell Trump.
Quader said Liberation War Affairs Minister AKM Mozammel Haque was set to lodge a sedition case against Saha but he already conveyed him the premier’s message and talked to law minister Anisul Huq and home minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal as well in this regard.
Quader’s comments came a day after he said a process was underway to try Priya Saha on sedition charges as her allegation was “absolutely false”.
The government, however, responded immediately with a foreign ministry statement calling Saha’s comments “blatant lies” as she made a complain to Trump claiming minority communities in Bangladesh were being persecuted.
The foreign ministry suspected that she was led by an “ulterior motive” while the home minister said “we will certainly ask her (about the remarks) when she returns” from the United States.
Quader yesterday also said that as a Bangladeshi national, she made “false, purposeful and treasonous remarks”.
Hours ahead of Quader’s comments, two lawyers filed in their private capacities separate cases against Priya Saha at Dhaka’s Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Court on sedition charges for maligning Bangladesh making false allegations.
The law minister, meanwhile, said Saha made utterly false allegation to gratify her personal desires and she should be ignored but “I think we should not give so much importance to this Priya Saha”.
“We should highlight the truth and ignore her. I think it is not right to term such small matters as ‘seditious offence’, but it is up to judiciary and judges to decide,” he told newsmen on the sidelines of the opening ceremony of a judges training programme.
When asked about chances of any group’s backing behind such blatant lies against the country, the law minister said it was not an impossible proposition but it was matter of investigation.

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