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Senator Criticizes Academic Arrests

After Bangladeshi general speaks at KSG, Kennedy condemns military crackdown

Senator Edward M. Kennedy ’54-’56 protested the arrests of 12 Bangladeshi academics in a letter to the nation’s government last Friday, just days after the chief of Bangladesh’s military spoke at Harvard and drew criticism for his regime’s crackdown on academic freedom.

General Moeen U Ahmed, who participated in a Kennedy School of Government executive education course in 2002, has sent troops to quell protests and arrest professors at Rajshahi University and at the country’s flagship institution, the University of Dhaka. A military-backed provisional government has led Bangladesh since January 2007.

“I’m writing to express my deep concern about twelve prominent intellectuals from Dhaka and Rajshahi University who have been detained without charges,” Kennedy wrote in the letter, which was addressed to Bangladesh’s ambassador to the United States.

“I’m especially troubled by accusations that they have been tortured,” Kennedy added. “Holding these twelve men without charge for political reasons is a major assault on the integrity and independence of the academic community of your nation and calls into question your government’s commitment to human rights and the law.”

Moeen spoke at the Kennedy School—an institution named after the senator’s older brother—in a two-day session last week.

The events, hosted by the Ash Institute, were closed to the public in order to “allow for frank, free and meaningful discussion,” according to a press release.

But the Ash Institute has come under fire for closing the events.

“It is incredibly ironic that at the very moment he speaks at Harvard University, he is presiding over an unprecedented crackdown on Bangladeshi academic institutions,” Emran Qureshi, a fellow at Harvard Law School’s Labor and Worklife Program, told The Crimson in a phone interview Monday.

The arrests at the Bangladeshi universities were a response to protests following an August incident in which soldiers attacked a student who was blocking their view of a soccer match.

“The demonstrations taking place in Bangladesh come after eight months of repressive emergency rule, which has restricted the rights to protest and fails to respect basic due process rights,” the advocacy group Human Rights Watch said in a report.

Bangladesh declared a state of emergency in January 2007, with Moeen deploying the armed forces to end riots in the nation’s major cities. The provisional government will leave office in December 2008, Moeen has said.

—Staff writer Paras D. Bhayani can be reached at pbhayani@fas.harvard.edu.
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