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Flashback: How 2017 treated Bangladesh

by December 31, 2017 General

The resignation of former chief justice Surendra Kumar Sinha has been one of the most talked-about events of the year. 

But the biggest challenge the country faced in the outgoing year is to give shelter and manage hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees who fled from the homeland in Rakhine State in the face of persecution. Bangladesh is now hosting nearly a million Rohingya refugees and negotiating with Myanmar for their repatriation.

Public examinations under different education boards were marred with question leaks. The malpractice went on unabated throughout the year when concerned ministry and board authorities remained seemingly helpless.

The country moved upwards in different economic rankings, but exorbitant prices of rice brought financial hardship to the majority of the population.

Law enforcers seem subdued the militancy with frequent raids on suspected hide-outs but faced criticism over the numerous cases of forced disappearances. Human rights watch groups both home and abroad pointed finger at the law enforcement agencies for those disappearances.

Reports of gang rape and murder grabbed the headlines time and time again raising the issue of law and order and the public safety.

Police brutality also came to off and on. Students took to the streets when police blinded Titumir College student Md Siddiqur Rahman by firing a tear gas shell directly to his face.

Barisal UNO Tariq Salmon was on the news for several weeks when he was charged by a court on alleged distortion Bangabandhu’s photo.

Issues in social media like ‘Suicidal Blue Whale game’ hit the headlines and sparked discussions on media. The internet regulatory authorities had to issue the warning about the ‘suicidal game.’

The country witnessed more than 150 casualties in landslides in outgoing 2017. The spread of mosquito-borne Chikungunya virus in the capital created panic among the residents.

Rohingya crisis

A total of 624,000 Rohingyas crossed the border into Bangladesh since Aug 25 when the military crackdown began on Rohingyas in the Rakhine state of Myanmar, according to Bangladesh’s disaster management ministry.

The Rohingyas, mostly Muslim, fled the western state of Myanmar to escape a military offensive in response to insurgents’ attacks on dozens of police posts and an army base on Aug 25.

The mass exodus and violence have drawn massive global attention with the UN describing it as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.

Rohingya refugee issue is a decades-old crisis as Myanmar denies them citizenship. Hundreds of thousands of them have been living in Bangladesh for over two decades.

Bangladesh government started collecting biometric details of the newly-arrived and existing refugees from Sept 12.

Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi reportedly promised to facilitate the process of taking back Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh at the 31st ASEAN summit in November.

Volatile judiciary

Justice Surendra Kumar Sinha, who was sworn in as Bangladesh’s 21st chief justice, was the first in the country’s history to have stepped down from office. He was also the first chief justice from minority Hindu community.

Amid criticism by the ruling Awami League over his verdict scrapping the 16th constitutional amendment, Sinha left Bangladesh for Australia in October on leave.

The same month, the Supreme Court issued a rare statement with damning allegations that tainted the top judge’s career, just three and a half months before his retirement. The statement signed by the top court’s Registrar General Syed Aminul Islam came, hours after Sinha left for Australia.

Sinha’s colleagues reportedly refused to work with him over a barrage of allegations, including graft and moral lapses, against him.

The former chief justice sent his resignation letter to the president’s office on Nov 11 from Singapore on his way to Canada from Australia, after a little less than three years in office.

President Abdul Hamid appointed senior Appellate Division Justice Md Abdul Wahhab Miah as acting head the Supreme Court during Sinha’s absence.

Unabated question paper leaks

Leaks tarnished this year’s Junior School Certificate and Primary School Certificate exams. Questions for the public exams surfaced on the social media and later matched the ones that used in the actual exams.

Education Minister Nurul Islam Nahid blamed teachers for question paper leaks before exams. Private coaching centres have also been identified as the sources of the leaks.

The minister, however, would not mention what steps the government was taking to identify the culprits.

A special team of the Anti-Corruption Commission said in its findings that some unscrupulous staffers of the education board, Bangladesh Government Press and exam centres are behind the crime.

It also found that coaching centres, teachers and random crime rings are involved in the leaks.

The government will shut the coaching centres once the new law is passed, Nahid said.

Spiralling rice prices

The prices of rice spiralled out of control as the blame game between wholesalers and millers continued, and experts predicted a ‘food crisis’ in the making.

Millions of low-income people in the country were worst-hit by the price hike. Coarse rice consumed by people with low income were sold at a minimum rate of Tk 46 per kg.

The fine variety was on sale at no less than Tk 60 per kg.

Wholesalers claimed the hike was nothing but the result of an artificial crisis created by a syndicate of millers.

They claimed that mill owners were using crop losses caused by flash floods as an excuse to increase the rates, he said.

Deadly landslides

Torrential rains, triggered by a low-pressure system in the Bay of Bengal, caused landslides in Bangladesh’s five districts in June leaving as many as 150 people dead.

A total, 105 bodies were retrieved in Rangamati.

The death toll from the landslide stood at 29 in Chittagong, six in Bandarban, two in Cox’s Bazar and one in Khagrachhari, according to the disaster management ministry.

Adverse conditions left seven more dead in Chittagong. They drowned in floods or were crushed under uprooted trees and collapsing walls, according to ministry officials.

Anti-militancy drives

The law enforcers conducted 18 anti-militant raids in 2017 killing 28 suspected militants.

A total 36 people were detained in these raids. The law enforcement units briefed the media over the raids that they found the cache of explosives in most of the suspected militant hide-outs.

Members of the counter-terrorism unit sealed off a house in Kotbarhi, a residential neighbourhood in Comilla in March.

The same month a suicide bomber blew himself up at the RAB barracks in the capital’s Ashkona, injuring two RAB personnel.

Within 24 hours of the attack, RAB foiled another possible suicide bombing at one of their check-posts at Dhaka’s Khilgaon, killing the suspected attacker.

Raids were conducted at Chittagong’s Sitakunda, Sylhet’s Shibbarhi, Moulvibazar’s Nasirpur and Borohat, Comilla’s Kotbarhi.

In April, anti-militancy raids were carried out in Chapainawanganj’s Shibganj, Jhenaidah’s Maheshpur, Rajshahi’s Godagari.

The following month, raids were conducted at Rajshahi’s Tanore.

In July, a raid took place at Dhaka’s Ashulia. Another raid was conducted at a residential hotel at Dhaka’s Pantha Panth the next month. Dhaka’s Mirpur, Sherpur and Naogaon saw anti-militancy raids in September, October and November respectively.

Mysterious disappearance of Farhad Mazhar

A staunch government critic, Farhad was found on a bus in Jessore while travelling from Khulna to Dhaka, 18 hours after he reportedly went missing from the capital on Jul 3.

His family alleged in a police complaint, which was later recorded as a case that he was abducted after he had left home early in that morning to buy some medicine.

On Nov 14, investigators filed their report with the court, where they said no truth was found in the claim that the columnist had been abducted and sought permission to prosecute the columnist’s wife for filing a false report.

The final investigation report said the case initiated by Farhad’s wife Farida Akhter is fabricated and it was done in a bid to cover up the actual events.

A court in Dhaka has summoned the couple on charges brought by police. The couple has been ordered to appear before a metropolitan magistrate on Jan 30, 2018.

Rape and Apan Jewellers

Apan Jewellers owner Dildar Ahmed’s son Shafat Ahmed stands accused of raping two university girls at a hotel in Banani and currently behind bars.

The Customs Intelligence and Investigation Directorate opened an inquiry into the allegation of “illegal transactions” against the Apan Jewellers owners, a few days into the arrest of Shafat and his friends in May.

It confiscated 15.3 maunds of gold and 7,369 pieces of diamond jewellery from different outlets of the brand and sent them to the Bangladesh Bank later that month.

A chamber judge of the Appellate Division has stayed a High Court order granting bail to the owners of Apan Jewellers.

On Dec 14, a High Court bench granted bail to Apan Jewellers co-owners, Dildar Ahmed, Gulzar Ahmed and Azad Ahmed, in three cases.

Gulzar Ahmed and Azad Ahmed were released while Dildar remained behind bars as the court issued a ‘standover’ on his bail petition in two cases filed with Uttara and Dhanmondi police stations.

The three brothers are accused in five cases over money laundering and other charges filed with Gulshan, Dhanmondi, Ramna and Uttara police stations.

End of Shakib-Apu marriage secrecy

Filmstars Shakib Khan and Apu Biswas came out of the closet about their secret marriage in 2017.

But within a few months, Shakib Khan sent a divorce letter to his co-star wife Apu Biswas, citing her not becoming a housewife after the marriage under Muslim law as the reason.

Apu Biswas converted from Hinduism to Islam before the marriage.

In the divorce letter, Shakib alleged Apu “went abroad with her boyfriend”, leaving her son 14 months old Abraham Khan Joy locked at home with a house help.

Apu had denied the allegation, saying she went to Kolkata for treatment and left Joy with her sister due to cold weather in India.

Shakib and Apu were cast as a pair for the first time in a 2006 film, ‘Koti Takar Kabin’, meaning a marriage with a Tk 10 million dower promised to the bride.

The duo went on to star in a number of box office hits. Rumours swirled around their romance ever since.

The two tied the knot in 2008, but kept it a secret until April this year, when Apu appeared on live television in an interview with their son, born in September last year.