Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has disapproved a planned government initiative to expose Priya Saha to sedition charges ahead of obtaining her explanation about her comments during an interaction with US President Donald Trump, road transport minister Obaidul Quader said at Dhaka on Sunday.
“The Prime Minister last night sent me a message (from UK) saying no legal action was required to be initiated hastily,” Quader, also the general secretary of ruling Awami League, told newsmen at Bangabandhu International Conference Center (BICC).
But he said Saha must make a public statement explaining what actually she wanted to tell Trump.
Quader said Liberation War Affairs Minister AKM Mozammel Haque was set to lodge a sedition case against Saha but he already conveyed him the premier’s message and talked to law minister Anisul Huq and home minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal as well in this regard.
Quader’s comments came a day after he said a process was underway to try Priya Saha on sedition charges as her allegation was “absolutely false”.
The government, however, responded immediately with a foreign ministry statement calling Saha’s comments “blatant lies” as she made a complaint to Trump claiming minority communities in Bangladesh were being persecuted.
The foreign ministry suspected that she was led by an “ulterior motive” while the home minister said “we will certainly ask her (about the remarks) when she returns” from the United States.
Quader yesterday also said that as a Bangladeshi national, she made “false, purposeful and treasonous remarks”.
Hours ahead of Quader’s comments, two lawyers filed in their private capacities separate cases against Priya Saha at Dhaka’s Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Court on sedition charges for maligning Bangladesh making false allegations.
The court recorded deposition of one of the complainants saying it would pass an order on his petition later on Sunday, when it was also scheduled to hear the second near identical petition.
Asked for comments about the cases filed by the two lawyers, Quader said the law of the country debarred anyone from filing of any sedition case without government permission and the law minister was expected to take required steps in that regard.
The law minister, meanwhile, said Saha made utterly false allegation to gratify her personal desires and she should be ignored but “I think we should not give so much importance to this Priya Saha”.
“We should highlight the truth and ignore her. I think it is not right to term such small matters as ‘seditious offence’, but it is up to judiciary and judges to decide,” he told newsmen on the sidelines of the opening ceremony of a judges training programme.
He said it was not the Hindu community members alone, “all the people say that we all live amid communal harmony in Bangladesh”.
“If you go through history, you would find that least number of communal riots took place in Bangladesh,” he said.
When asked about chances of any group’s backing behind such blatant lies against the country, the law minister said it was not an impossible proposition but it was matter of investigation.
An organising secretary of the Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council (HBCUC), Saha attended a meeting at the White House in Washington DC recently and a video of the meeting with Trump subsequently went viral on social media and sparked widespread controversy back home.
She was among five Bangladeshis and two Rohingya refugees the US Embassy in Dhaka sent to the White House while she also attended a ministerial meeting on advancing religious freedom hosted by the US Department of State in the US capital.
In the video Saha was seen identifying herself as a Bangladeshi and telling Trump that 37 million people of minority groups disappeared from Bangladesh.
HBCUC, meanwhile, tended to disown Saha’s comments with one of its senior leaders saying the comments she made were of her own and she did not represent the Council in the meeting with the US President.
“We are embarrassed . . . the comments she made were her own and not ours,” HBCUC spokesman Kajal Debnath told BSS.
Debnath added that he believed the remarks she made in her interactions “with the president of a foreign country in a foreign land is unethical and unexpected”.
But he said compared to previous governments of Bangladesh, the incumbent one of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was “much more minority-friendly, and we (minorities) want to live here amid harmony”.