Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has described the Myanmar military’s use of false pictures as propaganda against Rohingyas which she finds ‘disgusting’.
What Myanmar is doing is disgusting,” she said. “They are ruining their own reputation. They are diminishing their position on the world stage.”
The prime minister made the remarks in response to a question regarding the Rohingya crisis during a news conference on the BIMSTEC summit at the Ganabhaban on Sunday.
The Myanmar military had distributed a book on the ‘True News’ of the Rohingya crisis in July. A media investigation of the book found that three photographs in it had been falsely represented as being from the Rohingya crisis.
Two of the photos were originally taken in Bangladesh and Tanzania. A third was falsely labelled as Rohingyas entering Myanmar from Bangladesh, when in reality it showed migrants leaving the country.
One of the photographs was of a man recovering the body of Bengalis after a 1971 massacre in Dhaka. The book said the picture showed the brutal killing of Myanmar’s ethnic population by Bengalis.
Over 700,000 Rohingyas fled to Bangladesh from across the border in Myanmar in the wake of a military crackdown in Rakhine State last August. Nearly 400,000 other Rohingyas had also fled to Bangladesh at various times in the past few decades.
Last December, in the wake of international pressure, Bangladesh and Myanmar signed an agreement on the repatriation of the Rohingyas to Myanmar. But the process has yet to begin. Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi has suggested that Bangladesh is responsible for the delay.
Suu Kyi skipped this year’s summit of the BIMSTEC regional group, which consists of seven nations with connections to the Bay of Bengal. Myanmar President Win Myint attended the summit instead.
Hasina was asked whether the regional forum had discussed the Rohingya crisis and she said bilateral issues are usually not discussed at the event. The prime minister did, however, speak to President Myint on the matter briefly.
“He acknowledged the agreement that we have signed. They say they are ready to take them back. We discussed that much. I also spoke to the Thai prime minister.”
Bangladesh has never wanted conflict with Myanmar, she said.
“We are always continuing discussions regarding the return of Rohingyas. Myanmar never objects. They say they will take them. But the reality is that they say it, but don’t do it.”
Limited EVM use
The prime minister said she was in favour of testing the electronic voting machines or EVMs during the impending parliamentary elections.
Hasina made the statement amidst the BNP and most other parties’ opposition to the use of EVMs.
“We cannot suppress it,” she said at news briefing on Sunday. “It is a matter of practice. We must test them out.”
The EVMs first came into use in Bangladesh in 2010, but they have only been used during local government elections.
The Election Commission has recently proposed a change to election laws to use them for the general elections in December. A proposal was put forward to use EVMs for one-third of the parliamentary seats, but has yet to be finalised, said Chief Election Commissioner KM Nurul Huda.
The EC’s sudden decision has led to a backlash from political circles. The BNP has vocally opposed the move, saying that the government was planning ‘digitally rig’ the polls with the EVMs.
“We want to begin using them in some places to test them,” said Hasina during Sunday’s briefing. “We need to see if there is any system loss in the technology. If we see any indication of problems we will remove them. But this is not the final word on the matter. Let’s start using the technology on a limited scale.”
‘No talks with BNP’
Hasina once again ruled out the possibility of having dialogue with the BNP or taking measures to make sure the party contest in the next general elections.
The BNP says it will not join the next parliamentary polls if the Awami League government does not step down and release BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia from jail.
“It’s up to the parties whether they will contest in elections. What do we have to do here?” Hasina asked.
“We can neither obstruct them from contesting in the election nor can we invite them to the polls,” she added.
On being asked if she was considering any response to the BNP’s call for talks, she referred to the refusal of Khaleda to meet her after the former prime minister’s son Arafat Rahman Coco died in 2015.
“No way! No matter what you say. It doesn’t matter whether I am in power or not,” she said.
The prime minister said Khaleda’s lawyers failed to prove her innocence in Zia Orphanage Trust graft case and the government has nothing to do with the case.
“They can free Khaleda through the court. And if they want it quick, they must seek the president’s pardon,” Hasina suggested.
Bangladesh praised at Nepal summit
The prime minister said Bangladesh was praised at different levels of the Fourth BIMSTEC Summit in Kathmandu.
She went to Nepal on Thursday to attend the summit. After addressing the opening session, she joined the retreat.
She also met India Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Nepal Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli and Bhutan’s advisor to interim government Tshering Wangchuk on the sidelines of the summit.
“The BIMSTEC Summit and the other related meetings were important for Bangladesh on the whole. All the quarters praised my participation in the summit and Bangladesh’s role in the other meetings,” Hasina said.
She said she called for joint efforts to tackle poverty, effects of climate change, terrorism and others issues in the Bay of Bengal region and for speeding up the process to start these efforts at the summit.