Bangladesh minority group disavows its leader’s comments in Trump meeting

Published: July 20, 2019 11:05:04

Screengrab of ABC4 Utah video

An association of minorities in Bangladesh has refused to take responsibilities for allegations of persecution raised by one of its leaders in a meeting with US President Donald Trump.

Priya Saha, an organising secretary of the Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council, was among five Bangladeshis and two Rohingya refugees the US Embassy in Dhaka sent to the meeting with Trump at the White House in Washington, DC last Wednesday.

They also attended the second ministerial meeting on advancing religious freedom hosted by the US Department of State in the US capital.

After a video of the meeting where she alleged “disappearance of 37 million” people of the minority groups in Bangladesh went viral on social media, Rana Dasgupta, the head of the council of minorities, said her comments were “personal and not the statement of the organisation”

State Minister for Foreign Affairs Md Shahriar Alam said the government will look into her motive behind the “false allegations”.

US Ambassador Earl Miller declined to comment on her statement, but said Bangladesh is an “example” of religious freedom for the world.

Rana was quoted by bdnews24.com as saying on Friday night that they had been unaware of Priya’s presence in the White House meeting with Trump and came to know about it through media reports earlier in the day.

She is one of the 11 organising secretaries of the organisation but was not among the three representatives it selected for the US tour, according to Rana.

The three are Ashok Barua and Nirmal Rozario, members of the organisation’s advisory council, and Joint General Secretary Nirmal Chatterjee, Rana said.

“We did not have any other representative,” the president of the organisation added.

“What she said there is her personal comment, not the organisation’s statement or decisions,” he clarified.

Rana Dasgupta also said they were waiting for her return, which is likely early on Saturday morning, to know about the issue.

When asked to clarify the “disappearance of 37 million”, as alleged by Priya, Rana said she would be in the best position to answer that question.

In the video, Priya is heard telling Trump: “Sir, I'm from Bangladesh. Thirty-seven million Hindus, Buddhists and Christians have disappeared. Please help us - for the Bangladeshi people. We want to stay in our country.”

There are still “18 million minority people” in Bangladesh, she said. “My request is, please help us, we don’t want to leave our country, just help us stay. I've lost my home, they've burned my home, they (have) taken away my land, but no judgment (has) yet taken please, please…”

Trump asked her, “Who took the land and home?”

“Muslim fundamentalist groups,” Priya replied.

“Always they're getting the political shelter, always,” she added.

State Minister Shahriar in a Facebook post “strongly condemned” the “false allegations” and said the government will look into these besides her motive.

Shahriar said he had faced many questions in different forums on human rights, including the full house of the UN Human Rights Council, but never faced any questions or allegations like the ones raised by Priya.

The US ambassador, when asked for his comments on the meeting during a visit to a Buddhist temple in Dhaka on Friday, said: “I am not here to make comment now (on the Trump meeting issue).”

“But I now have enough perspective after being here for eight months and travelling here so widely to recognise that Bangladesh is doing something remarkable,” he added.

The US ambassador visited the Buddhist temple as part of his visit to places of worship of all four major religions in Bangladesh.

He said he visited a mosque, a church and a Hindu temple in Barishal earlier.

Miller said in Bangladesh the “ability for different religious faiths and groups to respect one another no matter how you worship, no matter how you pray, no matter how you relate to your supreme divine being is an example for the world”.

The ambassador said every place he had visited he received the “same message be it from an imam, from a priest, from someone in a temple that no country can succeed unless we work together”.

“It’s a lesson my country can learn from…it’s a lesson the world can learn from,” he said.

Sampriti Bangladesh, an organisation that promotes secular ideals to close divides in society, said Priya’s comments were “tantamount to rejecting and neglecting the ideals of the Liberation War”.

In a statement, its President Pijush Bandyopadhyay and General Secretary Mamun Al Mahtab Swapnil, “strongly protested” against Priya’s “falsification”.

They said it was religious harmony that made it possible for the nation to achieve independence under Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s leadership.

His daughter Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina also proved that Bangladesh is a country for the people of all religions by firmly taming communal forces, the statement said.

“Sampriti Bangladesh hopes all the people will show respect to the everlasting secular ideals of the country,” it added.

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