The government would not take any legal action against Priya Biswas Saha for her recent comments to the US president until she clarifies her statement, Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader said yesterday.
“The prime minister gave me a message last night [Saturday night], saying there is no need to take any hasty decision in this regard,” said Quader, also the Awami League general secretary.
“She [Priya] should make a public statement about what she said and what she intended to say. She should get a chance to defend herself. The prime minister directed me not to start any legal proceedings until then,” he added.
Sheikh Hasina is now in London.
Liberation War Affairs Minister AKM Mozammel Huq, who was supposed to file a case against her, was asked not to do so, Quader said after participating in a programme at Bangabandhu International Conference Centre (BICC).
Quader said he conveyed the PM’s instructions to the home minister to ensure security of Priya’s property.
This development came a day after he said Priya would be sued on sedition charges and the process was underway.
Meanwhile, seven cases were filed against Priya in Dhaka, Natore, Kushtia, Sylhet, and Brahmanbaria. Five of them were dismissed by courts.
Priya, one of the organising secretaries of Bangladesh Hindu-Bouddha-Christian Oikya Parishad, drew huge criticism after she told US President Donald Trump that 37 million people from religious minorities have “disappeared” from Bangladesh.
Attending a programme at the White House on Thursday, she also told the president that her land had been grabbed by Muslim fundamentalists and sought his help so that religious minorities could live in Bangladesh.
After the video of her making the comments went viral, the foreign ministry on Saturday protested and said what Priya told the president were “all the blatant lies”.
Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan on Saturday said Priya must prove her “allegations”, otherwise stern actions would be taken against her for the “baseless, false and fabricated complaints”.
The Oikya Parishad said she did not take part in the programme as its representative.
In a YouTube video posted by her rights organisation SHAREE yesterday, Priya tried to clarify her comments. “It has been mentioned in the religious minority chapter of 2001 census book that there were 29.7 percent minorities in the country in 1947. Now the total population is 180 million, of which 9.7 percent are minorities.”
She said if the population growth had been the same for all communities, the percentage of the minorities would have been the same and that she wanted to say that to the president.
She said she wanted to tell the president that the minority population decreased gradually.
“Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council did not send me.”
In the video, she also said she would return to the country and would continue her work.
Yesterday, Quader after a programme told reporters that Priya made the comments on a very sensitive issue. “However, I think she should get a chance to defend herself.”
Replying to a question that two cases have already been filed against her, Quader said he talked to Law Minister Anisul Huq who told him that the cases were rejected as the government’s prior approval is required to file such cases.
In reply to a query whether she will return home or any measures will be taken to bring her back, Quader said, “She has the right to return to the country and we are not creating any obstacles.”
“I think she can come back to the country in a spontaneous manner and we do not have to take any measures to bring her back,” he added.
Asked about his meeting with US Ambassador to Bangladesh Earl Miller at the secretariat yesterday, Quader said the ambassador was informed of the PM’s directives in this regard and he was “very satisfied” with it.
Meanwhile, Law Minister Anisul yesterday said Priya’s allegations about oppression of minorities in Bangladesh was absolutely false, but it might not be right to label her comments “seditious”.
The minister said Priya made the allegations for personal gains. The government would look into whether any other quarters were involved in this regard, he said.
Due importance should be given to the truth rather than Priya’s statement, he added.
Seven cases were filed against Priya in Dhaka, Sylhet, Brahmanbaria, Kushtia, and Natore. However, all but two cases were dismissed.
PM’s ICT Affairs Adviser and son Sajeeb Wazed Joy yesterday blasted the US Embassy in Dhaka for selecting Priya to visit the US.
“She was a member of a delegation selected by the US Embassy in Dhaka. After much criticism the US Embassy finally issued a statement today [Sunday]. The Embassy stated they do not restrict participants. Which is fine, but why would they not refute an obviously false and outrageous statement made by one of their selected participants to their own Head of State?” he said in his verified Facebook page yesterday.
“This tells me the US Embassy is the one that had an ulterior motive here. They picked Priya Saha because they knew she would make this outrageous statement. The only logical outcome of making such a claim to the US president is to build demand for a military intervention in the region on humanitarian grounds,” he said.
This ties in with another US congressman’s recent statement that Bangladesh should take over Rakhine State, he added.