A member of the British parliament who spearheaded the effort to ban Donald Trump from the U.K. is, ironically, the proud niece of a Bangladeshi prime minister who has been condemned for subverting democracy and committing human rights abuses against refugees.
Labour Party MP Tulip Siddiq is one of her party’s strongest advocates for having Trump barred from entering the U.K. During a Monday debate on the matter (that ended without a vote), she described Trump as a “poisonous, corrosive man” who is inciting hatred between groups. She said Trump’s rhetoric is so strong he doesn’t deserve the protection of free speech.
“His words are not comical,” she said. “His words are not funny. His words are poisonous. They risk inflaming tension between vulnerable communities. Hate crime is being inflamed and stoked by the words that Donald Trump is using … That’s where I draw the line at freedom of speech.”
But ironically, Siddiq has been quite proud of being the niece of a Bangladeshi politician whose actions while in power are substantially more xenophobic than anything Trump has ever done.
Sheikh Hasina is the current prime minister of Bangladesh, in power since 2009. She has previously won praise internationally for being a politically active woman in the Islamic world and for standing up to a Bangladeshi military regime.
In the past few years, Hasina’s tenure has been marked by several major blemishes. Internationally, Hasina’s most notable action is likely her treatment of Rohingya refugees. The Rohingya are a Muslim group in majority-Buddhist Myanmar who have faced persecution from a government that denies them full citizenship rights.
In response to a wave of religious and ethnic violence starting in 2012, many Rohingya fled the country toward Bangladesh. In response, Hasina described helping them as “not our responsibility.” Despite offers of substantial assistance from the world community, Hasina’s government has avoided providing the Rohingya with humanitarian relief or the chance to register officially as refugees. The government has also made plans to move the ramshackle refugee camps that do exist to an island in the Bay of Bengal so that their current location can be developed as a tourist destination.
“Today I remember my aunt the most as she has taught me the most,” Siddiq told reporters when she won her parliamentary race in 2015. “I learned everything about politics from her – social justice, how to campaign and how to reach out to the people.”
Hasina has also had an imperfect relationship with electoral democracy. In 2010, her government abolished the country’s practice of using a military-backed caretaker government prior to elections to ensure fairness. As a result, the country’s 2014 parliamentary election was marred by claims the vote was rigged in favor of Hasina’s Awami League party. Similar allegations, backed up by the U.S. State Department, were made after after 2015 local elections.
Just a couple months ago, Hasina’s government presided over the execution of several opposition political leaders for war crimes committed during the country’s 1971 war for independence. The country’s war crime tribunal, established by Hasina in 2010, has been severely criticized by Amnesty International for focusing only the government’s political foes (although pro-independence forces also committed atrocities) and for failing to administer fair trials and appeals.
Free speech has been another substantial issue in Bangladesh under Hasina. A Bangladeshi citizen was sentenced to seven years imprisonment for writing a song attacking her, and following the murder of several atheist bloggers in the country, Hasina offered a weak condemnation of the violence while warning bloggers they must be careful not to “hurt” the religious sensibilities of others.
Despite her aunt’s substantial baggage, Siddiq has hardly shied away from her family connection to Hasina, instead showering her with praise.During a recent visit to Bangladesh, Siddiq even said that her aunt had lobbied for her to return to Bangladesh and be a politician there. Siddiq said she had no plans to do so, but certainly didn’t cite Hasina’s record as a reason not to do so.
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