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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Father of UMass Boston Professor Held as Political Prisoner

Long before Assistant Professor of Political Science Jalal Alamgir began his successful career in academia, now entering its fourth year here at UMB, Alamgir spent his youth in Bangladesh, a state that has become the setting of a devastating personal chapter in Alamgir’s life.

And even though that inspiring chapter, filled with political struggle, unrivaled perseverance, and unconditional love, is unique to a very intelligent and charismatic Alamgir, its morals are part of a larger book; the withered, looted, yet always enduring, book of justice.

Alamgir’s own father, Muhiuddin Khan Alamgir is a prominent economist, civil servant, and writer in Bangladesh who served the state for much of the period that followed Bangladesh’s’ independence in 1971.

Today, Khan Alamgir sits awaiting justice in a jail cell in one of Bangladesh’s inhumanely overcrowded prisons, serving a 13 year sentence for a crime Alamgir and many international human rights organizations say was based on malicious political intent.

“In Bangladesh, there have been some genuinely corrupt, bad individuals who have been detained, but my father had no such reports at all, and he was targeted as a political prisoner because he would be a threat to a military government,” Alamgir explained.

A military government that at the beginning had international support from many nations, including America. But that was over a year ago. Today, Alamgir said, international pressure mounts for Bangladesh to conduct elections that have been postponed since last year.

In 1996, Khan Alamgir participated in a mass uprising that brought the secular Awami League into power after the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) tried to stage one-sided elections. When the BNP finally came to power in 2001, Khan Alamgir was detained without charges and brutally tortured for his progressive views coupled with his role in toppling the BNP party’s ascent to power just five years earlier.

After Alamgir’s tireless vindication campaign to free his father received international support, his father was finally released in September 2002. Like a recurring nightmare, though, Khan Alamgir was re-arrested last year during a state of emergency imposed in Bangladesh by the military government that tried to restore legitimacy in a corrupt bureaucracy by ousting the BNP from power in January 2007.

“By declaring the state of emergency, the government basically suspends the fundamental rights, the right to free speech, the right to organize, and freedom of movement,” Alamgir said. “So basically it allows them to create these summary tribunals, these kangaroo courts, and to charge and convict people to huge amounts of jail time.”

In jail and deprived of food and drink, Khan Alamgir was forced to, by memory, prepare a statement of his entire life’s income and assets. After he failed to account for approximately $70,000 in the appreciation of his home since it was built, Khan Alamgir was convicted on extortion and corruption charges. Alamgir said that his father didn’t try to hide the value of his home, but since he was in jail and wasn’t planning on selling his home, he had no idea its current worth, something he mentioned to the officials.

“Whether its corruption or the treason charges that they brought up earlier, they will keep coming up with fictitious charges just because they see him as a threat,” Alamgir said. “At first, they [the military government] were welcomed because it was seen that there was no other way out, but it really wasn’t anticipated that they would go on to this kind of destruction of institutions of justice.”

Alamgir said he believes the situation of political prisoners in Bangladesh hangs in the balance until democracy is restored with the help of both grassroots organizations and persistent, determined international pressure.

“If democracy is restored, I think things will improve, at least in the legal side, dramatically, because then people can start challenging their detention and arrest, and I know, without a doubt, for example in my father’s case, if such a challenge is done, it will be extremely easy to show how there was no due process and he will be out in no time, except we don’t know when democracy will be restored and at that time, a number of years of his life will have been lost in jail,” he said.

Until then, Alamgir said he will never give up on democracy, pushing for his father’s right to a fair trial with fundamental rights and due process of law, and desperately trying to turn yet another page in the stubbornly blind book of justice.