DHAKA: A Bangladeshi Hindu woman will be tried for sedition after she told US President Donald Trump in Washington that the minority communities in her country were being persecuted, according to a minister.
Priya Saha, organising secretary of the Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council (HBCUC), attended a meeting at the White House on July 19 and a video of the meeting with Trump subsequently went viral on social media and sparked widespread controversy back home.
In the video, she was seen identifying herself as a Bangladeshi national and telling the US President that 37 million people of the minority groups disappeared from Bangladesh. Reacting to her statement, Road Transport Minister and ruling Awami League general secretary Obaidul Quader told reporters that she has made a "false, purposeful and treasonous remarks".
"Saha's allegation was absolutely false. No one will agree with her. A sedition case will be filed against her. The process is underway. We must take measures against her and are in the process of doing so as a Bangladeshi national, she has made false, purposeful and treasonous remarks," he said.
The minister said that he could "firmly state" that no conscientious, patriotic member of the Hindu, Buddhist or Christian community agreed with Saha's assertion. Saha was among the five Bangladeshis and two Rohingya refugees the US Embassy in Dhaka sent to the White House.
She also attended a ministerial meeting on advancing religious freedom hosted by the US Department of State. The foreign ministry in Dhaka termed as "blatant lies" Saha's complaints, suspecting that she was led by an "ulterior motive".
Home Minister Asasuduzzaman Khan Kamal said: "We will certainly ask her (about the remarks) when she returns" from the United States.
The HBCUC, meanwhile, distanced itself from Saha's comments with one of its leaders saying that her comments were her own and that 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 PTI.
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". The HBCUC presidium member, however, defended her remarks, saying it "could be near to truth if the figure is counted from the 1947 partition of the country". "Yet, the word - disappeared - that she chose, is also incorrect as the population were rather 'forced to leave the country' (mostly to migrate to India)," Debnath said.
He said that as compared to the 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".
During the talks, Saha also said there are still "18 million minority people" in Bangladesh and told Trump "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 judgement (has) yet taken place," she said.
When Trump asked her who took the land and home, she said that "Muslim fundamentalist groups (and) always they're getting the political shelter, always".