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Riaz book event at Heidelberg University disrupted by activists

male professor speaking with a group of people about his new book

Distinguished Professor Ali Riaz ([pictured 3rd from the left)

The new book by Distinguished Professor Ali Riaz, the inaugural recipient of the Thomas E. Eimermann Professorship, was discussed at an event organized by the South Asia Institute of the Heidelberg University, Germany, on December 7. The event was also reportedly disrupted by pro-Bangladeshi government activists.

Professors Dieter Reinhardt and Jai Prasad discussed various aspects of the book, Voting in a Hybrid Regime: Explaining the 2018 Bangladeshi Election, after Ali Riaz presented remarks on the book. Rahul Mukherji, the director of the South Asia Institute, moderated the session. Both discussants described the book as an important contribution to the Bangladesh studies and to the studies on democratic backsliding.

Ali Riaz said that over the past decade Bangladesh has transformed into a hybrid regime—a system of governance with both democratic and authoritarian traits. Riaz said the 2018 election was manipulated to the extent that even the allies of the incumbent Bangladeshi Awami League (BAL) have acknowledged that it was far from fair. The New York Times described the election as “farcical.” Riaz said the election demonstrated that the line between the state, the government, and the party has disappeared in Bangladesh. The Bangladeshi election was held in December 2018. The incumbent BAL won 98 percent of the total seats of the parliament.

Before the book event was concluded, a group of ex-pat Bangladeshis arrived at the venue and attempted to disrupt the talk. They described themselves as supporters of the Bangladeshi ruling party. According to a report in the German international broadcaster Deutsche Welle, these supporters of the BAL behaved aggressively. They objected to the contents of the book and insisted that the country is enjoying democracy.

The report quoted a Bangladeshi student of Heidelberg University saying “the strangers—the supporters of the AL—entered the venue without any protocols and created a fearful situation. If they had any questions or comments, they could attend the program from the beginning and ask questions through due process. But their intrusion and behavior were frightening and unexpected.”

M. Murshid Hoque Khan, The Minister (political) of the Embassy of Bangladesh was also present at the event. He said that “some leaders and activists of BAL came from Frankfurt and some other places to listen to Dr. Riaz. They might not have liked the discussion he wrote in his book.”

The organizer of the program Dieter Reinhardt said that “the program was open to all. But they (the supporters of BAL) did not follow the rules of the program which is embarrassing to us.”