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Interview with Parvez Alam – Part 1

Dear Parvez, could you first introduce yourself to the audience?

Photo credit Baki Billah

Photo credit Baki Billah

I am from Bangladesh. I am a writer and activist. In Bangladesh, I have been writing regularly in different blogs, newspapers, magazines and I wrote a few books. Most of them are about history of knowledge and more specifically about the intellectual history of Islam and also the political history of Islam. I have been working with several non-governmental organisations and activist groups in Bangladesh. We had a community library there, where I worked for 9 years. As well I was working with several human right groups focussing on minority rights mostly. I came to the Netherlands during 2015.; I had to flee my country because I was seriously threatened because of my writings, like many other critical thinkers from Bangladesh.

How did you get involved in The Hague Peace Projects?

When I came here I came into a project of the NGO Justice and Peace. A friend of mine worked for the NGO and for HPP at this time and we have spent a lot of time together because she was really interested in Bangladeshi bloggers in exile in Europe. So, I connect her with some Bangladeshi bloggers and together we developed the idea of the book fair for HPP and I was involved for the first time in a HPP project in February 2016 when the first book fair took place. In Bangladesh, there is an annual book fair in February as well, but many writers and publishers can´t be there as now they are in exile. In 2016 there was the chance that Avijit Roy’s (who was murdered a year before in front of the book fair) book so we wanted to do a symbolic book fair in The Hague. It was kind of a protest against the attacks, censorship, book bans and exile of publishers or writers. Another intention was to bring the exile writers of Bangladesh together. And from September 2016 I am working more intensively together with the HPP.

How would you describe the development from the first book fair in 2016 to the second in 2017?

When I look back I can say that the development was enormous. In 2016 we have had a half day of book fair without selling any books. Only couple of publishing house was officially involved, and we just displayed some banned books and also books written by Avijit. We had one panel discussion. It was a start and this year we planned everything for months. The result was a book fair with several publishers being present, from and for different countries like Bangladesh, Somalia, Turkey and Netherlands. Moreover, we had several events, books were sold and it lasted for 4 days.

Did you promote the opening for other countries where writers are banned as well?

Yes, I did. The expansion was one of the first things we decided during the planning process, because the situation in Bangladesh is not unique. It is connected to developments in other countries as well. The rise of censorship and the decline of freedom of expression are similar to many other parts of the world. We thought we should bring more countries, more publishers together and have discussions about freedom of expression. Maybe this can be the foundation concept for future book fairs in The Hague, city of Peace and Justice.

The Interview is continued in Part 2 with some more information about the coming book fair and Parvez´s political opinions.

Parvez was interviewed by Miriam Reinhardt.

Declaration and Plan of Action on the role of diaspora media in peacebuilding in the Great Lakes Region

Pour traduction française, voir ci-dessous

 The Hague Peace Projects (HPP) in conjunction with International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) recently concluded the second edition of Diaspora Conference on the Great Lakes Region with the main theme: “The role of media in conflict and peace building”.

The 3-day conference on November, 24, 25 and 26 attracted bloggers, media workers, teachers, advocates, activists, artists, peace workers, students and NGO workers.

The conference is a continuation of the broader mission of The Hague Peace Projects to create and facilitate a positive environment in which the Diaspora communities can contribute to peace building processes through dialogue among all parties encouraging violent conflicts in their home countries.

This year’s conference topic was “The role of media in conflict and peacebuilding” Jakob de Jonge, the director of The Hague Peace Projects convened the debate with the subject of the role of media in conflict and peacebuilding. Many of the contributors reflected on the role of Diaspora media in peace-building in the African Great Lakes region.  One delegate said: ‘This conference is like a blanket; we are getting warm already’.

The delegates encouraged a common shared vision of building a Great Lakes Diaspora media initiative which can work for peace, preach against hate, prevent violence and influence the social and mainstream media to help spread the word!

Moving forward to the next year’s conference, 3 key points were identified as the priorities to be addressed:

  1. Unity in Diversity
  2. Engagement and Responsibility
  3. An Action Plan for the Great Lakes Diaspora Media
  1. Unity in Diversity

We have common historical experiences of war and violence. We can learn a lot from the past, and from one another to inform our future. We do not wish to be messengers of hate.  This conference was a fact check for us. Whenever someone from Uganda or Burundi mentioned challenges, someone from Rwanda or Congo would share a similar experience. This helped to bring us together. Mutual understanding among us requires sensitivity to hurts and hopes of everyone: Burundians, Rwandans, Congolese, Ugandans, Tanzanians, indigenous people, women, youth and (social) media workers and audiences. We learned some lessons about unity in diversity in Africa Great Lakes Diaspora (social) media:

The conference also served as a reminder not to forget the situation of the indigenous people of the Great Lakes region, especially the Batwa. As the first people in the region, we should use media to promote the indigenous people’s right to land, to culture, and to a dignified existence. We can do this through ensuring they have fair representation in our Diaspora media, including in social media.  Indigenous people have taught us about how to live with our environment, and their knowledge should be valued, for future generations.

  1. Engagement and Responsibility

Blaming and hate speech trigger violent actions on the ground. Our responsibility is to prevent and avoid misuse of media for politically violent philosophy of “The end justifies the means “marked with motives for political and commercial manipulations of media expression. We should look at media as an instrument that needs to deal with the facts and not the opinions. And the media should try to remain impartial. If neutrality or impartiality were like colors, then these are the colors the media should wear when it informs and communicates with the public.

We should not assume that others in the rest of the world know better than we do how to make progress. We want to defend what is best in (social) media; solving problems and reporting responsibly. As one delegate said, media is like a Hammer; tools that can destroy or can mend and help solve problems.  We in Diaspora (social) media connect Great Lakes Diaspora with people in the region. This gives us some special responsibilities in strengthening the role of media in peace-building.

Our reporting should recognize that indigenous people are often the first victims of violence and of war. Diaspora media should draw attention to the situation of this group

We meet to:

  • Recognize journalists in the Great Lakes Diaspora media, and in the region who have tried to ensure balanced reporting;
  • Acknowledge those who have paid with their lives for media freedoms, and support others who live in fear, also in Europe;
  • Support the challenge of countering false information and hate speech;
  • Report on violence and conflict in the Great Lakes region in a balanced way;
  • Move away from political reporting to economic and social affairs;
  • Address issues so that people can solve their own problems where possible;
  • Avoid irresponsible insults, harsh judgments and partial truths that can incite violence.
  • Strive for fairness in reporting, including in social media.
  1. Action Plan for Diaspora Media

We need to remind policy makers in Europe that they should consult with the Great Lakes Diaspora communities in Europe. Whether they are NGO or government seeking to promote rule of law in the Great Lakes region, or the IND seeking expertise in the region, the voice of the Diaspora should inform them. We should lobby them through our programs to enable to Diaspora to contribute to good governance, peace building and accountability in the region. Diaspora people have many skills they can contribute to ensuring that NGO and government interventions help avoid conflict and polarization. They can also help advise private companies, and agencies concerned to promote peace and development in the Great Lakes region.

We propose this Action Plan to unite us in our diversity in practical and responsible ways.

The main planned actions are listed here:

  • To create a database of Diaspora (social) media organizations and individuals, especially those working on peace and justice issues;
  • To encourage (social) media practitioners to mentor and train others in responsible (social) media;
  • To agree on basic guidelines for peace journalism for Great Lakes Diaspora;
  • To use Diaspora media to raise the visibility of the need to end violence;
  • To show that conflict is a means of getting rich and securing political office in the African Great Lakes region;
  • To learn lessons from experiences in Africa and Beyond; we were inspired by Diaspora actions in Geneva for peace and justice in Eritrea;
  • To value the diverse languages of the Diaspora;
  • To establish Diaspora TV and Diaspora radio, for peace and balanced reporting.
  • To seek training opportunities, for example in peace journalism and non-violence, for those in Great Lakes (social) media.
  • To seek independence from political agendas and politicians;
  • To ensure we lobby to be consulted by NGOs, government and private firms about policies and programs in the Great Lakes region.
  • To ensure media attention for the rights and voices of indigenous people, women, and youth in the Great Lakes region and the Diaspora.

As well as journalists, those who use social media are part of the media.  They are central to this action plan, alongside professional journalists and those who work in radio, TV, the press, and who maintain on-line blogs and websites.

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The Hague Peace Projects

Communiqué de presse:

Sujet: Déclaration et plan d’action de la conférence sur « le rôle des médias dans les conflits et la consolidation de la paix dans la région des Grands Lacs en Afrique » qui avait eu lieu le 24-25 & 26 Novembre 2016

En collaboration avec l’Institut des Sciences Sociales (ISS), The Hague Peace Project a réalisé une seconde édition de conférence-débat avec la diaspora des Pays des Grands-Lacs sur le thème « Rôle des médias dans les conflits et la consolidation de la paix ».

Tenue dans les bâtiments de l’ISS, cette conférence-débat de trois jours a commencé le 24 novembre et s’est terminée le 26. Elle a attiré non seulement des professionnels des médias et des blogueurs mais des enseignants aussi, des étudiants, activistes des droits humains, artistes, des artisans de paix et même des ONG. La qualité des orateurs, tel que souhaité et invité par Jacob de Jonge, directeur de The Hague Peace Project, était basé non seulement sur leurs connaissances et expériences dans le domaine des médias mais aussi sur leurs pays de provenance dont la plupart venait des pays en conflits et où les médias avaient joué un rôle crucial.

Faisant suite à la mission de HPP, cette conférence s’était fixée l’objectif de faciliter un dialogue entre les différents membres de la diaspora et de permettre un environnement favorable d’échanges d’idées pour la consolidation de la paix dans leurs pays d’origine fragilisés par plusieurs sortes de conflits.

Trois points-clés avaient été identifiés comme priorités qui devaient figuraient à l’agenda de the Hague Peace Project au cours de l’année prochaine :

  1. L’unité dans la diversité
  2. L’engagement et la responsabilité
  3. Un plan d’action pour les médias diasporiques de la région des Grands Lacs

1.Unité dans la diversité

Nous, la diaspora, avons des expériences en commun, surtout de la guerre et des violences. Nous sommes prêts à apprendre du passé des uns et des autres. Nous ne voulons pas être des messagers de la haine. Pendant cette conférence nous nous sommes confrontés à la réalité. Chaque fois qu’un participant parlait des défis de l’Ouganda ou du Burundi, une tierce personne du Rwanda ou Congo partageait une expérience similaire. La compréhension mutuelle entre nous, demande de la sensibilité à nos souffrances et à l’espoir de chacun : Burundais, Rwandais, Congolais, Ougandais, Tanzaniens, populations autochtones, femmes, jeunes, et utilisateurs des réseaux sociaux et publics. Nous avons appris quelques leçons sur la diversité des médias et réseaux sociaux de la diaspora des Grands Lacs.

La conférence nous a aussi rappelé de ne pas oublier la situation des peuples autochtones de la région, spécialement des Batwa. En tant que premiers habitants de cette région, nous avons le devoir d’utiliser les médias pour promouvoir leurs droits à la terre, à la culture et à la dignité humaine. Nous devons assurer le reportage de ces sujets dans les médias diasporiques et les réseaux sociaux. Les peuples indigènes nous ont enseigné comment vivre avec notre environnement pour cela leur savoir doit être valorisé et protégé pour les futures générations.

  1. Engagement et responsabilité

Les accusations et les discours de haine conduisent à des actions violentes sur le terrain. Il est de notre responsabilité en tant que diaspora de prévenir et éviter des mauvais usages des médias dont les philosophies politiquement violentes de “ la fin justifie les moyens” incitent à la haine et aux conflits interminables. Il faut éviter l’usage de manipulation pour des motivations politiques et commerciaux. Nous devons considérer les médias comme un instrument qui gère des faits et non pas des opinions. Les médias doivent essayer de rester impartial. Si neutralité et impartialité étaient des couleurs, ceux-ci seraient les couleurs que les médias doivent mettre en informant et communiquant avec le public. Nous ne devons pas assumer que d’autres personnes dans le reste du monde savent mieux le genre et la nature des conflits dans nos pays que nous-mêmes. Nous voulons défendre le meilleur des médias et réseaux sociaux ; résoudre des problèmes et rapporter de manière responsable.  Un délégué a dit : les médias sont comme un marteau ; un outil pouvant soit mener à la destruction soit aider à la résolution des problèmes ». Nous, en tant que diaspora, faisons le lien entre les médias diasporiques et nos populations dans la région. Ceci nous accorde une responsabilité spéciale dans la promotion et le renforcement du rôle des médias dans la consolidation de la paix.

Nous nous sommes rassemblés pour :

  • Faire connaissance avec les journalistes des médias diasporiques de la région des Grands Lacs, des personnes qui essayent d’assurer un reportage équilibré
  • Reconnaître ceux qui ont payé de leur vie à cause de leur engagement pour la liberté des médias et supporter d’autres qui vivent dans la peur, aussi même en Europe
  • Combattre la fausse information et les discours de haine
  • Rapporter sur les violences et conflits de la région des Grands Lacs d’une manière équilibrée
  • S’éloigner de rapports politiques et converger vers des sujets économiques et sociales
  • Adresser des sujets pouvant permettre à nos populations de résoudre leurs problèmes si possible
  • Éviter des insultes irresponsables, jugements sévères et vérités partiales qui peuvent inciter à la violence,
  • Favoriser la tolérance entre nous quelle que soit la nature de nos conflits au pays,
  • Faire tout notre possible pour garantir l’impartialité des médias et des réseaux sociaux.
  1. Plan d’action pour les médias diasporiques

Nous devons rappeler les responsables politiques qu’ils doivent consulter les communautés de la diaspora de la région des Grand Lacs en Europe. Aussi, les ONG et gouvernements qui veulent encourager un état de droit dans la région des Grands Lacs sont encouragés à parler avec les membres de la diaspora afin de recevoir des informations sur la région. Aussi les indépendants qui cherchent de l’expertise dans la région peuvent être informés par la diaspora. Nous devons exercer une pression par la promotion de nos programmes et ainsi contribuer à la bonne gouvernance, à la consolidation de la paix et aux responsabilités dans la région. La diaspora a beaucoup de compétences qu’elle veut utiliser pour veiller à ce que les interventions des ONG et gouvernements soient aidées à éviter les conflits et la polarisation. Ils peuvent aussi aider à conseiller des entreprises privées et organismes travaillant dans le domaine du développement et de la consolidation de la paix dans la région.

Nous proposons ce plan d’action pour nous réunir dans la diversité.

Les principales initiatives sont énumérées ici :

  • Créer une base de données de tous les médias diasporiques et individus, spécialement ceux travaillant sur les focus liés à la paix et justice
  • Encourager les acteurs des médias sociaux à guider et former d’autres personnes sur l’usage des médias sociaux de manière responsable
  • Parvenir à un accord concernant des lignes directrices d’un journalisme éprit de paix
  • Utiliser les médias diasporiques pour augmenter la visibilité et nécessité de terminer la violence
  • Montrer que le conflit est un moyen pour s’enrichir, accéder et assurer un pouvoir politique dans la région des Grand Lacs en Afrique
  • Apprendre des actions de l’Afrique et de la diaspora : l’expérience de la diaspora érythréenne et les actions de paix et justice qu’ils ont organisées à Genève nous ont édifiés au cours de notre séminaire
  • Apprécier la diversité des langues de la diaspora
  • Etablir des programmes télévision et radio de la diaspora pour promouvoir la paix à travers un reportage équilibré
  • Chercher des possibilités de formation pour journalisme de paix et de non-violence, pour les acteurs des médias sociaux
  • Chercher à maintenir l’indépendance des agendas politiques et politiciens
  • Veiller à ce que nous soyons consultés par des ONG, gouvernements et entreprises privées concernant leurs programmes dans la région des Grands Lacs
  • Assurer que les médias fassent attention sur les droits et voix des populations indigènes, femmes et jeunes dans la région.

Ainsi que les journalistes , les personnes qui utilisent les réseaux sociaux font partie des médias. Ils jouent un rôle central dans ce plan d’action ensemble aux cotés des journalistes, ceux qui créent des programmes de radio, télévision, presse écrite et ceux qui maintiennent des blogues en lignes et sites Internet.

En conclusion, de nombreuses personnes ont participé et contribué à la réalisation de notre conférence débat sur le rôle des médias et de la diaspora sur les conflits et la consolidation de la paix dans la région des Grands lacs. L’un des participants a déclaré : « Cette conférence est comme une couverture, nous sommes déjà en train de nous réchauffer ». Tous les participants ont soutenu une vision commune pour établir une initiative des médias de la diaspora originaire de la région des Grands Lacs. Cette initiative doit supporter le travail pour la paix et lutter contre la haine afin de prévenir les violences et les conflits dans la région.

La Haye

26 novembre 2016

Bangladesh blocks Istishon blog, continues suppressing freedom of speech

A popular Bangla community blog named Istishon was blocked by the BTRC (Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission) for users in Bangladesh; this is yet another attack on freedom of speech in the country. Founder and Editor Nur Nobi Dulal said on Monday that many users could not access Istishon since Sunday night and he urged the government to withdraw the “ban” immediately, according to the Dhaka Tribune. Banning and blocking individual and community blogs have become regular phenomena in Bangladesh since 2013. Several atheist bloggers from Somewhere in… blog and other blogs were banned by a government’s order in 2013, four of the bloggers were later arrested under the infamous act 57 of the ICT law for hurting religious sentiment. As a result, the Bangla blog community went in to black out, with no avail. Around the same time, an Islamist blog named Sonarbangla Blog was also banned. Such bans were part of a bigger picture of harsh censorship over public media – that also saw the bans of newspapers and TV channels, as the country was facing a near civil war crisis.

Under this restriction, the Bangla community blogging culture is in decline ever since. Istishon is a rare case in this regard; the community blog platform was launched in early 2013 and since then only increased in popularity. According to Parvez Alam, who regularly writes on Istishon, the blog has millions of followers. On Facebook he writes: “It’s a blog platform read by millions. My own blog alone has more than a hundred of blog posts and almost half a million views. Now the blog is not accessible anymore for Bangladeshi viewers, being another victim of severe censorship at the hand of Bangladeshi Government.” Some consider Istishon as a secular and left leaning blogging platform, but it actually is a blogging platform where bloggers with diverse world views speak their minds, some of them are also Islamists. Bangladeshi bloggers, writers and activists of all kinds of alignment are protesting against the blocking of the website. Asad Ali, a popular Islamist writer wrote: I am writing in Istishon blog for the last couple of years… A platform that generally has all sorts of bloggers, some theists, some atheists, some belong to Awami League, others to BNP or Jamaat. So there will always be some blog posts that criticize religion or the Government…I condemn such an imprudent decision by the government and ask the Government to unblock the site.

Acute Censorship has become part and parcel of the difficult reality Bangladeshi society is facing in recent years. The 73-year-old atheist writer Shamsuzzoha Manik languishes in prison since February 15 2016, for publishing a book that allegedly hurts religious sentiments. He was arrested under act 57, which does not give him right to bail, and if found guilty, he faces 14 years of jail. Recently, a leftist student leader named Dilip Roy was also arrested under the infamous ICT act, for criticizing Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Facebook regarding her statement on the ongoing Rampal Power Station  project near Sundarban, the largest mangrove forest in the world – yet another example of the ICT law being used to silent critics of the Government. Currently, Dilip Roy is simply being held in the jail without any chance for bail.

Arresting vocal critics of the social, religious and political status quo of the country and holding them in jail for an indefinite period has become common in Bangladesh; all kind of critics are under such persecution. Iftekhar Jamil, a popular young Islamist writer was also arrested recently and since then was not granted bail. Police charged him for being a member of Islami Chatra Shibir, the student wing of Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh. Although the organization is not an illegal entity in Bangladesh, the police have been extra hard on its members in recent years and have arrested many just for being involved with the organization. In Jamil‘s case, he had no affiliation with the organization. Calling him a Shibir member was just an excuse to arrest him.

We condemn the blocking of Istishon and ask for its immediate unblocking. This situation does not only undermine the freedom of speech in Bangladesh, but will also make things worse by taking the country in a downward spiral. We want the release of Dilip Roy, Iftekhar Jamil and Shamsuzzoha Manik. We demand a revised ICT law and the abolition of the draconian act 57.

Read more: “Istishon blog blocked for Bangladesh users” in the Dhaka Tribune