Bangladeshi journalist who asked US, UN about Kejriwal points to ‘death threats, Indian media campaign’

Living in exile in the US, Mushfiqul Fazal Ansarey has often been accused of being a partisan voice by several Bangladeshi outlets.

WrittenBy:NL Team
Date:
Mushfiqul Fazal Ansarey and US state department's Matthew Miller.

It was in response to queries by an exiled Bangladeshi journalist that the US State Department and the United Nations commented on Arvind Kejriwal’s arrest and the freezing of the Congress’s bank accounts.

And considering the global glare, right-wing and pro-government voices have since chosen to train their guns on the individual that posed the questions – the Washington-based Mushfiqul Fazal Ansarey. 

How? By suggesting that he is linked to billionaire philanthropist George Soros, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, the banned Bangladesh political outfit Jamaat-e-Islami, the Khaleda Zia-led Bangladesh Nationalist Party, and “anti-India” The Wire.

Before we examine those claims, let’s look at who Ansarey is.

Exiled journalist or partisan voice?

Ansarey, who regularly attends press briefings of the White House, the US State Department and the UN in New York, is the executive editor of foreign policy magazine South Asia Perspectives and editor of a Bengali news site Justnewsbd. The YouTube channel of Justnewsbd only has videos of him, interacting with foreign dignitaries on issues of foreign policy and human rights. 

The exiled Bangladeshi journalist earlier worked as the assistant press secretary to former Bangladesh Prime Minister Khaleda Zia between 2001 and 2006, and is known to ask “pointed questions” about human rights, democracy, and elections in Bangladesh to US officials, according to international magazine The Diplomat. Ansarey is reportedly also a fellow of the Journalism Development Network at the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project.

However, a section of the mainstream media in Bangladesh sees him as a partisan voice misrepresenting the facts on the ground.

Last year, top Bangladeshi papers Daily Star and Daily Sun claimed that Ansarey’s questions to the US state department contained at least two factual inconsistencies.

This came a month after Daily Star was criticised for merely reporting reactions to Ansarey’s queries without pointing out how they were allegedly wrong on facts.

The Daily Sun report claimed that in reference to “a series of past false assertions” by Ansarey,  rights activists and journalists had called for “not counting on a single and controversial source”.

Another prominent media outlet, Dhaka Tribunesaid, “It [South Asia Perspective magazine] is widely known as a BNP-funded magazine run by Mushfiqul Fazal Ansarey as its executive editor” and that Ansarey often “referred to statements in favour of the opposition BNP in the context of asking questions”.

Top news channel Somoy TV’s website claimed that he “has been a common face in the state department’s regular briefing, often asking misleading questions regarding Bangladesh designed to elicit negative responses”.

In 2015, the Bangladeshi mission had reportedly objected to individuals enjoying UN media accreditation despite their “active political roles” and “affiliations”. “If active politicians are given media cards, there will be nothing left to say,” the mission’s press secretary Bijon Lal Deb told bdnews24.com, in an ostensible reference to Ansarey.

The bdnews24 report claimed that Ansarey was part of the BNP’s foreign affairs committee and regularly attended the party’s events in the US as a special guest.

Bangladesh ranks 163rd on the press freedom index published by Reporters Without Borders. Rights outfits have frequently pointed to increasing curbs on freedom of expression under Sheikh Hasina’s rule.

A court upheld the ban on political outlet Jamaat-e-Islami last year and Khaleda Zia’s prison sentence has been repeatedly extended.

Speaking to portal Benar News in 2021, the now Washington-based Ansarey had alleged that Bangladesh’s governing party activists had “vandalised his family home” in Bangladesh’s Sylhet region and government officials “routinely questioned his family members”. He also claimed that his father had to permanently move to the UK “because of the harassment”.  

From ‘so-called journalist’ to ‘absconder’

The Republic TV website described Ansarey as a “so-called journalist” from Bangladesh, who has “gained his two minutes of fame by posting anti-India content” and has been “banned in his own country”. It said Bangladesh had “banned his portal” and “declared him an absconder” and that he belonged to the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, and also “promoted Jamaat-e-Islami, a banned organisation in India”.

This came hours after right-wing propaganda outfit OpIndia carried a similar description of Ansarey and said, “Mushfiqul has a long history of using his credentials to push the United States to meddle in India’s affairs.” It also claimed that Ansarey is a columnist with The Wire – he has written three articles for the Delhi-based portal since February this year.  

It cited “multiple resources” to claim that Ansarey’s organisation Right to Freedom was being “funded” by Jamaat-e-Islami and BNP – the political opposition in Bangladesh to incumbent PM Sheikh Hasina.

Meanwhile, right-wing handles such as The Pamphlet said Ansarey’s questions on India are a sign that the “anti-India lobby” has “activated its every remnant” ahead of the Lok Sabha polls.

Ansarey’s questions

Days after Kejriwal’s arrest and after India summoned the US envoy over its state department spokesperson’s statement on “encouraging fair legal processes”, in a press briefing on March 28, Ansarey asked the department spokesperson Mathhew Miller about the summon and his views on the “political turmoil in India”.    

Ansarey asked: “What is your response to India’s summoning of the US diplomat over comments regarding the arrest of Delhi’s chief minister Kejriwal? And how do you view the recent political turmoil in India, in the freezing of the opposition party’s bank accounts? As Amnesty International described the situation as ‘crackdown on opposition reaches a crisis point ahead of national elections’.”    

On the question, Miller reiterated the US’s stance. He said “continue to follow these actions closely” and “encourage fair, transparent and timely legal processes”.

On the same day, he had a similar question on “political unrest in India” for UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres’s spokesperson Stephane Dujarric through a video link.  He asked: “How do you perceive the political unrest in India just before the national election, with the arrest of Delhi’s chief minister and the freezing of the opposition Congress Party’s bank accounts?  The right groups describe the situation as a crackdown on opposition, reaching a crisis point ahead of the national election.” Dujarric said they hope that in India, “everyone’s rights are protected, including political and civil rights”, like in any country going to polls. She said people must be able to vote in a “free and fair” atmosphere.

Newslaundry reached out to Ansarey over the matter. This report will be updated if a response is received. The questions by Ansarey come months after the online harassment of Sabrina Siddiqui, the White House correspondent who asked PM Narendra Modi about the condition of Indian religious minorities while he stood next to US President Joe Biden. Read here. 

Update at 11.40 am on April 10: Responding to the allegations against him, Mushfiqul Fazal Ansarey told Newslaundry that a campaign had been launched against him by a few Indian media outlets in recent days. “My social media accounts are inundated with harassment, intimidation, and even death threats,” he said.

The headline of this report has been revised with his statement, which has been reproduced in full below:

“I feel compelled to address and rectify the inaccuracies assertions made by Newslaundry in the recent report regarding my professional conduct and history. I am disappointed, though not surprised, by this report, as much of the information appears to have been sourced from pro-regime media outlets in Bangladesh. I have been subjected to unprecedented propaganda by such media for an extended period. Notably, Bangladesh-based outlets like Somoy News, Daily Sun, BD news 24, and few others have been part of this campaign. I have also observed a few Indian media outlets launching a campaign against me in recent days. My social media accounts are inundated with harassment, intimidation, and even death threats.

“Despite these attempts to deter me, I remain steadfast in my commitment to practicing free journalism every day, and I will continue to do so until my last breath. I firmly believe that journalism transcends geographical boundaries and constraints. As a journalist, I have the right to inquire about any and all matters, a principle upheld by the First Amendment rights in the United States. It is newsworthy to seek the US position after the summoning of the US diplomat in New Delhi and to inquire during the UN briefing, especially considering Amnesty International’s description of the situation as a ‘crackdown on opposition reaching a crisis point ahead of national elections’.

“I wish to clarify that truth only as my role was that of an assistant press secretary to the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Begum Khaleda Zia, during her tenure from 2001 to 2006. Following my government contract, I joined UNB as a staff reporter. Unfortunately, UNB circulated fabricated news under government pressure against my free journalism.

“Throughout my journalism career, I have worked for various esteemed publications, including Robbar Publications Limited, and as the diplomatic correspondent for the oldest Bengali daily, Ittefaq. I have also hosted television shows, including on NTV Bangladesh and the state-owned BTV and worked for a short period of time as a work experience reporter at The Times and The Sunday Times in the UK.

“Furthermore, the report’s unwarranted criticism of Just News BD, which is blocked in Bangladesh, as a disseminator of misinformation overlooks the outlet’s role in providing independent news crucial for healthy democratic discourse. Additionally, I’m pleased to engage with the Washington-based opinion magazine, South Asia Perspectives, as its executive editor.

“In light of the declining press freedom in Bangladesh, as highlighted in the World Press Freedom Index, it is essential for Newslaundry to reflect on its role in creating an environment where journalism can flourish without fear or favour. I remain steadfast in my commitment to upholding the principles of ethical journalism and urge Newslaundry to reassess its report in light of the facts and in the spirit of fairness and accuracy. 

“As Martin Luther King Jr famously said, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’ I will continue to uphold justice, equality, and freedom of speech wherever they are challenged. I regularly raise issues in White House, State Department, and UN briefings, covering topics ranging from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, China, and beyond, and compile reports accordingly. Regional media outlets have also covered news reports based on my Q&A sessions, and I remain undeterred.”

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