The Bangladesh embassy in Washington has removed the press statement it had published on its website which inaccurately claimed that US congressman Gregory W Meeks spoke critically of the sanctions imposed by the US government on the Rapid Action Battalion, Bangladesh’s elite police unit. The statement however remains accessible on the Bangladesh Ministry of Foreign Affairs website
Meeks, who is Chairman of the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, had been speaking at a lunch time fundraising event on Monday January 31st 2022, organised by Morshed Alam, an Awami League activist based in the US.
The embassy statement, published the same day as the meeting, was removed from the Bangladesh government after aides to the Foreign Affairs Committee contacted the embassy about their concerns over the release, Netra News has learnt.
“Personally I can’t tell you what was or was not said in that meeting. I wasn’t there.” an aide to the committee told Netra News. “It was an off the record engagement. But I can tell you the Chairman — and the most important thing that [the embassy statement] didn’t get accurate — he supports the administration’s designations of the RAB. He has been a champion for human rights and he is a supporter of the use of Magnitsky [law] for that purpose.”
The Bangladesh embassy statement, which was subsequently published by the country’s state news agency and covered widely in the media was titled the “US does not want to impose any sanctions against Bangladesh: Congressman Meeks.” The statement had also claimed that the US Congressman had said that a “vested quarter from inside and outside Bangladesh is strongly lobbying for imposing sanctions against more officials and the politicians as well.”
Concerns about the accuracy of the Bangladesh embassy statement were first noted by Just News, who obtained video footage of most of the event.
On February 4th, Meeks issued his own statement making clear his support for sanctions against RAB, though not referring to the meeting, “I strongly support the Biden Administration’s designation of the Rapid Action Battalion and several of its current and former members under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights and Accountability Act for human rights violations.” He however also made clear that he did not “believe wholesale sanctions on Bangladesh are currently warranted.”
He went on to add, “I continue to support the strengthening of the US-Bangladesh relationship and look forward to working to help address human rights and democracy challenges in the country, including ensuring that the country’s next elections are free and fair.”
The aide to the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, provided Netra News with more details about Meeks’ view on the upcoming elections in Bangladesh. “His view is that the government needs to take steps to ensure that the next election is free, fair and credible, unlike the previous one,” the aide said. “I think that the view is that if that does not happen then there will likely be a lot more consequences than what happened under the Trump administration.”
“We are hoping that the government will find a way to bring credibility back into that process. … It is not for us to decide [how to achieve this] but you could always go back to this caretaker government method which had its pluses and minuses, but there were times when the Awami League liked that kind of system. But clearly there is a deterioration of trust in the elections because of what has happened [in the previous election], and so they have to find a way for the elections to be credible, and free and fair and for the Bangladeshis to believe they are free and fair elections.”
He said, “What we are seeing is a slow deterioration of democratic norms and institutions in the country,” but added that there were “positive things” happening in Bangladesh, pointing to “the role of women in the country” and how “some baseline [social development] indicators are projecting in the right way and we want to make sure that also continues.”
Neither the Bangladesh embassy in Washington, nor BSS, the state news agency, has responded to requests for comment.●