Last week, Netra News published details of the money the Awami League government has spent on US lobbyists since 2014 — a total of nearly $2.4 million. Just over $2.3 million was spent on one lobbyist BGR Government Affairs, around $320,000 a year. So what has BGR spent this money on?
The lobbyists will have set up meetings with US legislators and government officials — the details of which we know little about, though our original article provides some information on whom the lobbyists met. So some of the money will have gone on the costs of doing that work.
Other money was spent on sending out information material as part of the lobbyist’s attempt to get the Bangladesh government’s message out.
And this we know more about.
The Foreign Agents Registration Act requires lobbyists to provide to the US Department of Justice all “information materials” — known also in the law as “political propaganda” — sent out by the lobbyists on behalf of the Bangladesh government.
Below we have listed all the materials/propaganda which the US lobbyist sent out since January 2021. These are available thanks to OpenSecrets.
Some interesting points jump out. While most of BGR’s messages concerned the promotion of the economic situation of Bangladesh, there was particular interest in putting out the government’s arguments relating to:
— Allegations of enforced disappearances;
“Nongovernmental organizations like HRW have repeated these kinds of unproven allegations for years against countries that are not yet wealthy and non-white. This kind of bigotry must stop.”
— Allegations of torture and killings;
“under the leadership of Prime Minister Hasina Bangladesh maintains a zero tolerance policy toward criminal actions committed by law enforcement officials.”
— The arrest of the journalist Rozina Islam;
“Rozina Islam was not exercising her rights as a member of the press.”
— the death of Mushtaq Ahmed
“[Mushtaq Ahmed] was not abused in any way. When he fell ill, he was rushed to the hospital.
— The Digital Security Act;
“Curtailing the press’s free speech is the last thing the government is seeking to do with the Digital Security Act.”
— The detention of the opposition leader Khaleda Zia;
“Al Jazeera is out of line when it suggests that Zia is a “victim of Prime Minister Hasina’s ‘personal vengeance'”
— Government’s decision to move Rohingya refugees to Bashan Char.
“Bangladesh has outfitted an island called Bhasan Char with modern amenities to shelter the refugees.”
The “propaganda” is set out below in reverse chronological order. Click on the date links to see the full communication.
November 29th 2021: Khaleda Zia
In response to an article in Al Jazeera, the firm sent a letter, written by the political director at Bangladesh’s Washington embassy, to different people within Al Jazeera, seeking its publication. Letter says: “Al Jazeera is wrong when it claims in its November 24 article that criminal charges against former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia are politically motivated. Zia was found guilty of embezzling funds from a children’s orphanage trust.” The letter also says: “Al Jazeera is out of line when it suggests that Zia is a “victim of Prime Minister Hasina’s ‘personal vengeance'”
November 29th 2021: Bhasan Char
Sends letter to Human Rights Watch, in response to a HRW press release, saying “Human Rights Watch is wrong when it claims that Bangladesh has violated its agreement with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in relocating Rohingya refugees to Bhasan Char.”
Sends a quote from Irfan Nooruddin, Director of Atlantic Council’s South Asia Centre which states: “Many countries in the world have a great deal to learn from Bangladesh’s experience with its refugee population, not least to see the compassion and humanity that Bangladesh has used to solve this problem.”
Sends quote from CSIS scholar (name not clear): “Bangladesh … is a shining star in South Asia. It has gone from being one of the poorest nations in 1971 to reaching lower middle income country status by 2021.”
October 29th 2021 (p.11): Bhasan Char
Sends a letter from Ferdousi Shahriar, the Deputy Chief of Mission for the Bangladesh embassy in Washington DC to Voice of America stating that “Contrary to Voice of America’s reporting, however, Bhasan Char is not ‘unlivable’. On the contrary, Bhasan Char is well protected from extreme weather, including cyclones. On Bhasan Char, water levels rise and fall seasonally and with storm activity, causing shorelines to retreat and extend a matter of feet. But the char never submerges. To guard against storm surges, the government has built earthen berms 8 feet high and 8 miles long around the facility.”
Sends copy of oped, published in Real Clear Policy by Tahseen Ali, a professor of South Asian history at BRAC University, about Bangladesh’s pioneering efforts to combat climate change.
October 19th 2021; Digital Security Act
Sends a “Fact Sheet” supporting the use of the Digital Security Act and arguing against, “Several Western media outlets and non-governmental groups [who] have mischaracterized the new laws, wrongly accusing the Government of Bangladesh of quashing press freedoms and the freedoms of its citizens.” It states: “The Bangladesh government has long nurtured the rights of its people to speak openly and freely, while simultaneously fighting to protect minority rights. Curtailing the press’s free speech is the last thing the government is seeking to do with the Digital Security Act.”
Sends an online banner which reads: “To celebrate the September 28 birthday of Prime Minister Hasina, Bangladesh vaccinated millions against COVID.”
Sends an online banner titled, “Bangladesh Boosts Gender Equality Among Police”.
Send an online banner celebrating that “Bangladesh Increases COVID-19 Testing”.
Sends an online banner titled, “Bangladesh Gives COVID Aid to Indonesia”.
August 24th 2021 (p.9): Digital Security Act
An email to the Editor of The Diplomat containing a letter written by Shah Alom Khokon, the Counsellor (Political & Press) at Bangladesh’s Washington Embassy about an article The magazine published, titled, “Bangladesh’s ‘Fake News’ Law Is Used to Stifle Dissent.” The letter states: “Under Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Bangladesh has fully embraced the free expression of its people. The Digital Security Act is an attempt to protect that right while also ensuring the safety of citizens.” It said that during Covid, “a few individuals” had used digital platforms, “to spread misinformation and to create fear, confusion, and division” and that Mushtaq Ahmed’s arrest “falls into this category”. It also says that before he died in custody, Mushtaq Ahmed “was not abused in any way. When he fell ill, he was rushed to the hospital. Despite the government’s efforts to help him, Mr. Ahmed was declared dead after being transferred to the medical college hospital.”
August 19th 2021 (p.7): Enforced Disappearances
Sends an email to Human Rights Watch, containing a letter written by Ferdousi Shahriar, the Deputy Chief of Mission at Bangladesh’s Washington embassy concerning its report, “’Where No Sun Can Enter’: A Decade of Enforced Disappearances in Bangladesh”. The letter claims that the HRW report is “built on questionable sources of information that in many instances should not be believed.” It goes on: “HRW’s report is dependent on interviews with unidentified individuals, including 60 interviews with unnamed people, 81 citations from unnamed individuals, and 7 witnesses who are allowed to remain anonymous. While it takes seriously and investigates every reported disappearance, Bangladesh cannot, logistically or legally, give credence to anonymous sources that suggest law enforcement officials are abducting individuals in broad daylight when there is zero evidence — in arrest records or records of those detained — that corroborate those events.” It ends by saying, “Nongovernmental organizations like HRW have repeated these kinds of unproven allegations for years against countries that are not yet wealthy and non-white. This kind of bigotry must stop.”
August 18th 2021 (p.5): Enforced Disappearances
An email to Associated Press which contained a letter written by Ferdousi Shahriar, the Deputy Chief of Mission at Bangladesh’s Washington embassy concerning its articles, “UN urged to probe alleged disappearances in Bangladesh” on a Human Rights Watch report about disappearances. The letter is almost identical to letter written to HRW on August 19th (see above).
Sends an online banner titled, “Bangladesh Vaccinates Rohingya Refugees”.
Sends an online banner about Bangladesh economic recovery.
Sends information on the new graphic novel, “Mujib” published by the Centre for Research and Information.
Sends an online banner on vaccination of Rohingya refugees.
Sends an online banner about the rise in exports.
Emails the Washington Post with a letter it wanted published which was written by Ferdousi Shahriar, the Deputy Chief of Mission at Bangladesh’s Washington embassy, criticising an article about the relocation of Rohingya refugees at Bhashan Char. It appears that the letter was not published.
July 13th 2021 (p.3): Rapid Action Battalion
Sends email to Human Rights Watch, asking them to consider a response, written by Ferdousi Shahriar, the Deputy Chief of Mission at Bangladesh’s Washington embassy, concerning their press release, titled “Bangladesh: Hold Security Forces Accountable for Torture.” The letter claims that, “under the leadership of Prime Minister Hasina Bangladesh maintains a zero tolerance policy toward criminal actions committed by law enforcement officials.” It also says, “[RAB] is under constant scrutiny and has undergone reforms,” and “The Government of Bangladesh is determined to abide by the rule of law. It oversees police and law enforcement authorities with this always in mind. Its actions are subject to scrutiny by the press and other interested parties. There is simply no way for the police to get away with kidnapping or killing people as has been alleged.”
Send an online banner about “Bangladeshi exports zoom”.
Sends an online banner about Bangladesh having second highest growth in South Asia.
Sends an online banner titled, “Bangladesh’s Foreign Currency Reserves Soar”.
Sends an online banner titled, “Bangladeshis’ Income Rises Despite Pandemic”.
May 25th 2021: Rozina Islam arrest
An email to Human Rights Watch containing a letter, written by the deputy chief of Bangladesh’s Washington Embassy which claims that its article, “Bangladesh: Arrest of Journalist Investigating Corruption” mischaracterises the arrest of Rozina Islam and misstates Bangladesh’s attitude toward the press. It states: “Bangladesh welcomes robust criticism from the media and agrees with Human Rights Watch’s assertion that ‘encouraging a free press should be central to the government’s strategy to strengthen health services in combatting the pandemic.’ In this case, however, Rozina Islam was not exercising her rights as a member of the press. Rather, Rozina Islam was found in possession of confidential and sensitive government documents, including illegally-photographed images of materials she found in a government office.”
May 25th 2021: Rozina Islam arrest
An email to Amnesty International containing a letter, written by the deputy chief of Bangladesh’s Washington Embassy which claims that its article, “Bangladesh: Rozina Islam must not be punished for her journalistic work” was inaccurate. It is the same basic letter as the one to Human Rights Watch.
Sends an online banner which reads: “As part of the centennial celebration of the birth of the Founding Father of Bangladesh, Bangabandhu, the government will build houses for 53,500 homeless families.”
May 20th 2021: Rozina Islam arrest
Sends separate emails to over ten publications — including US News, Associated Press, Washington Post, ABC News, San Diego Union Tribune, Seattle Pi, Seattle Times, New Haven Register, and the Philadelphia Inquirer — asking it to publish a letter written by the deputy chief of Bangladesh’s Washington Embassy in response to an associated press article it had published concerning Rozina Islam. “The government is not persecuting a journalist but rather is upholding the rule of law in this case,” the letter states. It appears the letter was not published.
May 20th 2021: Rozina Islam arrest
Sends an email to the Committee to Protect Journalists containing a letter, written by the deputy chief of Bangladesh’s Washington Embassy which claims that its article, “Bangladeshi authorities arrest journalist Rozina Islam under Official Secrets Act” was inaccurate.
Media advisory informing journalists that the foreign minister was in Washington and “Dr. Momen is eager to speak about Bangladesh’s COVID-19 response, uncertainty created by the virulent COVID variants in India, vaccine supply chain disruptions, Bangladesh’s immediate needs to defeat COVID, how the U.S. can support its allies during COVID, and the ‘vaccine diplomacy’ of India, China, Russia and the U.S.”
Sends an online banner stating that “Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina launched a cash disbursement plan to support 3.6 million pandemic-hit families.”
Sends an online banner stating that “Bangladesh’s infant mortality rate dropped to 173 per 100,000 live births in 2020 from 600 per 100,000 live births in 1975.”
Sends an online banner on Bangladesh’s Floating Gardens Boost Farming.
Sends an online banner titled, “Female Literacy Rate Soars in Bangladesh”.
Sends an online banner titled “Bangladesh Poverty Plummets Over Decade”.
Sends an online banner which states, “Power generation capacity has grown from 4,942 megawatts in 2009 to 24.421 megawatts”.
Sends an online banner stating “Foreign exchange reserves increased from $1 billion in 2009 to $43.16 billion in 2020”.
March 17th 2021 (p.2)
Sends an online banner which states, “Bangladesh Exports Grow Manifold in Last Decade”.
March 9th 2021: Sajeeb Wazed
Text of an “op-ed by Sajeeb Wazed, the Information and Communications Technology Advisor of Bangladesh and son of the prime minister, about Bangladesh’s transformation into a technologically advanced nation published in Newsweek.
Send an online banner which states, “Bangladesh’s Gross Domestic Product per capita nearly doubled from $2,659 in 2008 to $5,139 in 2020 adjusted by purchasing power parity or PPP.”
March 1st 2021 (p.3)
Sends an online banner which states, “Bangladeshi incomes treble over decade”.
Sends an online banner which states, “Annual GDP nearly tripled from $115 billion in 2009 to more than $300 billion in 2020.”
Sends an online banner about work beginning on “Bangladesh’s Underground Rail”.
Send information about “Bangladesh Providing Homes to 900,000 Families”.
January 21st 2021 (p.4)
Sends an online banner titled, “Bangladesh largest solar power plant comes online”.
January 19th 2021 (p.5)
Send an online banner titled, “Bangladesh improves cyber security”.
January 14th 2021: Bhasan Char
Sends an email which promotes a video on Bhasan char: “Bangladesh has undertaken a herculean humanitarian effort to protect Rohingya refugees who escaped a genocide in neighbouring Myanmar. The below video reveals how extensively Bangladesh has outfitted an island called Bhasan Char with modern amenities to shelter the refugees.”
Sends an online banner which states, “Life expectancy in Bangladesh rose by 14.4 years to 72.6 years between 1990 and 2019, according to a UN report.”
January 4th 2021 (p. 6)
Sends an online banner which states, “Bangladesh readies free Covid-19 vaccinations”.