First year of Netra News: Ten Selected Reports
2019-2020: Ten investigative reports selected by the editors.
Netra News was established as an independent public interest media outlet in November 2019, and started publishing articles on December 26, 2019. As set out in its launch editorial “Journalism for the People”, the overarching mission of Netra News is “serving the public interest by holding the powerful accountable” and that “we will always be fair, cautious and proportionate in our journalism.” In publishing any article, Netra News has pledged to focus on three issues: public interest, fairness and accuracy. In our first years, Netra News has published many investigative reports and analysis. Below, in chronological order, are ten out of the many that we have published, including a few from our blog which started in the middle of the year.
1. Wrist of Luxury
In December 2019, we received information that Obaidul Quader — about to be re-elected as the general secretary of the Awami League — was allegedly receiving bribes in the form of luxury wrist-watches to help get his endorsement of various deals. With the help of a whistle-blower, involved in one of these deals, we uncovered a host of wrist watches that Quader now owns.
2. Khaleda and BNP leaders exonerated by international arbitration tribunal
In January 2020, Netra News exclusively reported on an unpublished international arbitration judgment that exonerated Khaleda Zia, and other BNP leaders from corruption involving the NIKO gas exploration deal – in a major set back for the Awami League government which has tried to keep the judgement secret.
3. Taposh’s Magic Money Tree
In January 2020, Sheikh Fazle Noor Taposh was standing as the Awami League’s mayoral candidate in the Dhaka South City Corporation elections. Just before the election, an investigation by Netra News looked at how, from having a total annual income in 2008 of Taka 22 lakhs ($26,000) and movable assets worth Taka 1.6 crore ($177,000) he managed to become the principal sponsor of a new private bank in 2013 requiring payment of Taka 35 crores ($4.1 million). The answer was Tungipara Fisheries – whose very existence was in doubt.
4. Cashing in Influence
As the deputy press secretary to the prime minister, Ashraful Alam Khokan was a top spin doctor of the Awami League government in Bangladesh. An investigation by Netra News in March 2020 found that Khokan, one of the closest aides of Sheikh Hasina, also acted as a de facto board member of a company which operates the digital financial service brand Nagad which had been given preferential treatment. Documents obtained by Netra News also confirm that two influential ruling party members of parliament, Nahim Razzaq MP and Razee Mohammad Fakhrul MP, were major shareholders of TWTL. Another shareholder of the company was Khokan’s wife Rezwana Nur.
5. What is wrong with the FIR against the Facebook-11
In May 2020, the authorities filed a criminal case against 11 men, arresting four of them, alleging offences under the Digital Security Act. In this article, we showed how the First Information Report, the basis of the police case, provided no justification for arresting these men and that it was another example of the arbitrariness and politicisation of the enforcement of these offences.
6. We Hack Facebook: State sponsored cyber crime in Bangladesh
In a major investigation, also in May, Netra News uncovered how Bangladesh’s military intelligence agency, the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI), had established a sophisticated operation which secretly hacks the Facebook pages and profiles of opposition groups, political dissidents, student activists and journalists in apparent contravention of the country’s cybersecurity law. Whistleblowers, who work as civilian contractors for the DGFI, provided Netra News with testimony and documentary evidence on how two special units within the agency — the Signal Intelligence Bureau (SIB) and the Public Relations Monitoring Cell (PRMC) — are engaged in hacking and other cybercrimes. Both these units rely on civilian contractors for “offensive cyber action” and are overseen by ranking military officers.
7. Retired Lieutenant General in hiding after criticising army chief and government on Facebook live interview
On July 14th, 2020, Lieutenant General (Rtd) Chowdhury Hasan Sarwardy gave an interview on Facebook Live where he spoke disparagingly about the current chief of army staff, corruption in the government and the failure to hold free and fair elections. He also criticised the role of Indian intelligence agencies in the country. Two days later, Netra News broke the story that he had to go into hiding to avoid detention – or worse – by the country’s security forces.
8. DGFI: Retired Bangladesh army major shot dead in police “killing competition”
In August, Netra News exclusively published a leaked report prepared by the country’s military intelligence agency that claimed that a retired army officer, recently killed in a police shooting, was deliberately murdered. Citing eyewitnesses, the report by the military intelligence agency stated retired Major Sinha had never pulled out his gun, but had instead, calmly got out of his car with his hands above his head, and yet he was shot dead instantly. It also accuses the police convoy of intentionally wasting 45 minutes before taking him to the hospital. The report also speaks of “a killing competition” among members of the Teknaf police in the name of eliminating drug trade.
9. Bangladesh’s leading police officer meets convicted murderer, a once notorious gangster
In September, 2020, Netra News published a picture of Benazir Ahmed, who since April 2020 has been Inspector General Police (IGP), and Tofail Ahmed Joseph, the notorious criminal gang member in the country’s capital city of the 1990’s, who was sentenced to death in 2004 for murder before receiving a rare presidential pardon. These are not two people you would imagine seeing together in a social occasion! We wondered whether Joseph – the bother of Aziz Ahmed, the head of Bangladesh’s army – was using his connections with the IGP to prevent any investigation of the fake ID and Passport which we had previously uncovered.
And see the video on the fake ID and passport below
10. Who gets investigated for Corruption?
In November, Netra News looked at the circumstances of a police investigation in Faridpur which uncovered major corruption by Awami Leaguers – and asked why was this investigation allowed to happen and so many others are not?