Saturday, January 6, 2018

Tulip Siddiq, her mother and links to the Awami League


Tulip Siddiq in parliament
The failure of Tulip Siddiq, the West Hampstead and Kilburn labour Member of parliament, to help seek the release of those secretly detained and disappeared in Bangladesh, a country ruled by her family members, including her Aunt, the prime minister, has resulted in sharp criticism from her normally loyal local newspaper.

In a by-lined article in the December 2017 edition of the Ham and High, the editor states that a Channel Four News program, “raises questions as to exactly how deep her political involvement with her family really goes” and that the MP appears to have “misled” her and her readers in claiming that she has no political contact with her Aunt, the prime minister of Bangladesh.

The article also suggests that Siddiq used her position as a member of parliament to provide her Aunt political influence in Westminster, and asks whether the Hampstead member of parliament would have been elected without the support of the Awami League, the party led by her Aunt and other members of her family.

Further signs of Siddiq’s political connections with her family and the ongoing influence of the Awami League on her politics, can also be found in an overlooked speech she recently gave in Parliament on the Rohingya crisis involving the flight of hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas seeking shelter across the border in Bangladesh from the violence of the Myanmar government

Siddiq starts the speech made on October 17 by saying that she will “speak about the experiences of my mother, who visited the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh last month.”

The prime minister, Sheikh Hasina and her sister
Sheikh Rehana visit the Rohingya camps in September 2017
Sheikh Rehana, the labour MP's mother, however was not at the refugee camp on a personal visit or civil society initiative, but in fact as part of a Bangladesh government delegation, which was led by her Aunt the prime minister Sheikh Hasina. Pictures of the visit show Rehana standing directly beside her sister the prime minister at all times.

Although Sheikh Rehana holds no formal position within the Awami League, she is a very powerful political figure within the party and is often talked about as one of the possible family successors to Hasina. Indeed the prime minister credited Siddiq’s mother with helping her come to a decision to allow Rohingya’s to stay in Bangladesh.

For some reason, however Siddiq made the parliamentary speech almost as much about her mother as the Rohingyas - referring to ‘her mother’ a further four times including stating -somewhat inexplicably - that "My mother is not a stranger to suffering”  

She even went onto state that her mother “fought” in Bangladesh’s independence war in 1971, which was not only irrelevant to the parliamentary debate - but also appears untrue. According to reports, Sheikh Rehana who was 16 years of age when the war started in March 1971, spent the whole 9 month period detained by the Pakistan military along with other members of her family in her family house.

The labour MP then puts forward an Awami League perspective of the 1971 independence war by stating that “3 million people were killed” and that “it is called a genocide.”

3 million is certainly the Bangladesh government’s official figure, indeed a shibboleth of the country’s governing party, which if contradicted can result in prosecution But all the independent research - in particular a study - done soon after the war in one district suggests that the number of those killed was far lower – somewhere in the hundreds of thousands.

And whilst the Bangladesh government does call the 1971 war a ‘genocide of Bengalis’, it remains a highly contested notion which is neither accepted by the United Nations nor by international lawyers, though of course widespread atrocities and crimes against humanity were certainly committed by the Pakistan military, and some individual acts of genocide may have been committed against the Hindu minority. There is however a concerted Bangladesh government campaign to get the United Nation’s to change its position on naming the 40 year old conflict, which Siddiq must certainly be aware of.

What is this all about? Why first of all would the Hampstead MP refer at all to her mother, a political figure in Bangladesh, and then seek to depict her, inaccurately, as a war hero? Why would she then go onto to use her mother as a means of describing the suffering of the Rohingyas, when there is much detailed testimony available from independent human rights organisations? And why talk about the 1971 war using the same language of a partisan Awami Leaguer?

This is because Tulip Siddiq for all her attempts to depict herself as only representing her constituents in Hampstead, remains highly involved in Bangladesh’s Awami League politics – and is fighting its battles as well as those of the Labour party closer to home.

Moreover, it is not too much to suggest that the reason why Tulip ignored detailed reports of human rights organisations in her speech could have been because these same independent groups have published detailed and critical reporting of human rights violations by the Bangladesh government  including the situation of enforced disappearances

Or indeed that her reference to the “genocide” of the “3 million” in the 1971 war was intended to play towards the sensibilities of Awami League loyalists – both in the UK and Bangladesh.  

Siddiq's new years resolution should be to come clean about her ongoing relationship with the Bangladesh government and the Awami League. This is not an easy thing for her to do, as if she wants to keep her credibility as a British MP, she should not be able to remain silent about some of the more serious human rights violations taking place in the country which includes the widespread practice of forced disappearances and secret detentions. 

Right now in Bangladesh there are credible reports of at least 35 men who have been picked up and remain detained in secret detention cells. It is important to appreciate that whilst we can be sure that the Iranian government wont listen to Siddiq about the release of her constituent Nazanin Zaghari-Radcliffe, her family members who rule Bangladesh (or hold significant political power there) are far more likely to do so about the country's own secret detainees. Siddiq, who apparently spent Christmas in Bangladesh, should at least work to get these men released. 

No comments:

Post a Comment