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A bizarre encounter with Saleem Samad, RSF correspondent
Lost in Translation: How Samad Saleem turned my scoop into a scoop of his own, complete with imaginary details about my article, my background and my life in exile.
Until recently, I knew next to nothing about Saleem Samad. I had previously forwarded a few cases his way to bring to the attention of Reporters Without Borders (RSF), given his position as a correspondent for the organisation. Little did I know at the time that he was a decorated journalist, having earned recognition as an Ashoka Fellow and a Hellman-Hammett Award recipient. Admittedly, my ignorance did not inspire me to concoct falsehoods about him or misrepresent his work. Regrettably, the same cannot be said of Mr. Samad, who saw fit to take liberties with both my personal details and a recent scoop of mine, injecting his own unique spin on matters that were entirely unrelated to the substance of my work.
The encounter with Saleem Samad unfolded after a Rohingya refugee sent me a link incredulous that the author was referring to me in the article. I let out an audible groan. My memory was jolted back to a previous occasion when an OpEd of mine was published in the Washington Post. There followed the usual Twitter snipes and then there was the article by Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, a notorious “journalist”. Choudhury accused me of being a "propagandist for the Islamic State and Caliphate for whom the Washington Post has become a propaganda vessel." I am still attempting to comprehend how this conclusion was reached from the article published. (I shan’t link to Choudhury’s piece but you can easily search for it). My recent encounter with Samad has left me even more astonished at people's ability to conjure up their own interpretations as they read an article, completely unrelated to what is written.
The scoop I worked on, which Samad decided to hijack, was focused on the plan by Myanmar and Bangladesh border forces to attack the No Man’s Land Rohingya settlement. This resulted in the displacement of 4500 Rohingya and several deaths in November and January of 2023. Maung Zarni, an advocate for the Rohingya cause, entrusted me with a translation of a confidential Myanmar junta memo referring to the deadly plan. However, due to the sensitive nature of the story, I faced roadblocks in publishing it in any Bangladeshi media outlet. One editor even outrightly rejected it citing concerns about coverage of the border and armed forces. Ultimately, I published the story in South East Asia Globe. Additionally, I published the legal ramifications of the attack here on Substack and also in Citizen.in.
The article has had very little traction inside Bangladesh because of its sensitivity. However, Samad's peculiar interpretation of the story for his own article did not prevent its widespread syndication. According to a colleague, Samad has a tendency to exaggerate Islamic terrorism, which undoubtedly contributed to the success of his article!
I wrote to Samad (see first email below) pointing out the errors. He wrote back saying:
“…I stand corrected.I sincerely apologise for the errors which have unintentionally crept into the article due to lack of fact-check and also editing. The article was in no way to undermine you or your work you have relentlessly raised on the Rohingya refugee crisis. I hope you will understand and would allow the matter to end here.”
In a nutshell, Samad has given a full apology as well as a full-on refusal to correct his errors! It seems he's content to let the false narrative fester like a bad case of food poisoning. Well, I refuse to let the Rohingyas be served this rotten meal. I'll be sharing our correspondence, so they don't have to suffer the shock of reading his shoddy work without an explanation from me.
It's worth noting that despite Samad's apologetic tone in his response, he still manages to accuse me of “slander” and “personal” attacks. Of course, I did not engage in such behaviour. It's just another example of how Samad likes to put his own spin on things. It seems like he can't resist adding his own creative flair to anything he reads. Therefore, as I said before, I have no choice but to publish our correspondence.
Finally, while researching Saleem Samad’s credentials, I stumbled upon the fact that he is the General Secretary at Forum for Freedom of Expression Bangladesh. It seems that he has taken his freedom of expression to a whole new level by using my article as a basis for his own and completely butchering the message.
My email sent on 10 April 2023
Dear Mr. Saleem Samad,
I hope this email finds you well. I am writing to express my concerns and point out several inaccuracies in your recent article for India Narrative (published 7 April) regarding my work on the attack on No Man's Land. Your article that I am referring to can be found at https://www.indianarrative.com/opinion-news/pakistans-fingerprints-in-formation-of-rohingya-militant-group-arsa-are-unmistakable-129228.html.
First , you have incorrectly stated that I am a Rohingya, which is not accurate. Additionally, you have written that I live in exile, which is also incorrect. Furthermore, at the start of your article you did not reference or credit my work concerning the leaked memo, which is a significant report that I alone filed.
Most importantly, I am writing to address a particularly troubling and offensive misrepresentation in your article regarding my work on the attack on No-Man's Land or Zero-Point.
Your article suggests that I subscribe to the idea that the attack on No-Man's Land or Zero-Point was a result of Myanmar, Bangladesh, and India's shared belief that ISI is involved in raising, funding, and supporting ARSA. Furthermore, you imply that I have written about this notion, asserting that the countries' shared suspicion of ISI's involvement led to the attack on January 18, 2023, which caused the camp's destruction and the displacement of the Rohingya refugees.
Here are the two paragraphs of concern:
Myanmar blames Pakistan’s dreaded spy agency ISI for its share in mentoring the jihadist outfit. Their theory that ARSA has been raised, funded, provides logistics and indoctrination was masterminded by ISI and is also believed by both Bangladesh and India.
Consequently, the encampment at No-Man’s-Land or Zero-Point was attacked once again on January 18, 2023, resulting in the camp’s destruction, and the forced displacement of all Rohingya refugees living there, writes Saifur Rahman, a Rohingya journalist who is living in exile in a third country.
I would like to make it absolutely clear that I have never imagined, thought about, endorsed, or entertained any such idea as the reason behind the attack on No-Man's Land. It is completely unacceptable that you suggest this with a sleight of hand, misrepresenting my views and research.
I kindly request that you correct this misrepresentation in your article immediately and refrain from making unfounded assumptions about my work in the future. It is crucial to maintain accuracy and integrity in journalism, especially when discussing sensitive topics that impact the lives of many.
Aside from these points above which are of direct concern to me, I want to tell you that your article lacks journalistic rigour. It is unbalanced and biased, as you appear to sensationalise ARSA rather than providing a comprehensive and objective analysis. Your reliance on conjecture, hearsay, unnamed sources, and inference to support some of your claims is concerning, especially when discussing sensitive topics such as terror-related issues, ISIS/Jihad connections, and recruitment and indoctrination in the camps. A more thorough understanding of the situation is necessary for accurate reporting.
I must express my strong concern regarding the widespread dissemination of your article by other outlets after its initial publication. This has unfortunately led to the further spread of inaccurate facts and analysis, causing considerable harm to the understanding of the situation at hand.
Lastly, I would like to bring to your attention the misspelling of my name in your article. I look forward to hearing from you.
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Samad’s response sent on 10 April (with another wrong spelling of my name)
I deeply appreciate your critical review and strong rebuttal of the article published in the India Narrative.
As the article has been posted online under my byline, I must take full responsibility of the content of the article.
I understand you know me very well, when you informed me regarding Rohingya journalists and foreign journalists were in trouble. RSF took the freedom of press issue very seriously.
I have received your inputs from another freedom of expression ally in Dhaka.
Where you said, I quote from your rebutal, which is slander mostly against me and less on the content of the article:
"Some of the issues with his piece include:
1. SS wrongly assumes that I am a Rohingya, which is not accurate.
2. SS also assumes that I live in exile, which is incorrect.
3. I did not claim that the attack on No Man’s Land was due to Myanmar and Bangladesh's suspicion that ISI is behind ARSA.
4. SS’s article lacks journalistic rigour, as it is not balanced and objective in its reporting. His aim is to sensationalise ARSA.
5. SS relies heavily on conjecture, hearsay, unnamed sources, and inference to support some of his claims, rather than concrete evidence. The article also contains terror-related verbiage and raises concerns about ISIS/Jihad connections and recruitment and indoctrination. However, SS seems to lack a basic understanding of what is happening in the camps.
6. Lastly, SS misspells my name.
Overall, the article written by SS contains several inaccuracies and lacks journalistic rigour in terms of balance, objectivity, and reliance on authoritative sources."
Despite your slander and personal attack against me, I stand corrected.
I sincerely apologise for the errors which have unintentionally crept into the article due to lack of fact-check and also editing.
The article was in no way to undermine you or your work you have relentlessly raised on the Rohingya refugee crisis.
I hope you will understand and would allow the matter to end here.
My Response sent 10 April
My primary concern is that your publication needs to address the errors present in your article. Not only do you inaccurately present my personal details, but you have also acknowledged substantial mistakes regarding the content of my report.
I must dispute the claim that there is slander or personal attack in my communication to you. I would like to suggest allowing a third party to review my email or the message you received yesterday to provide an impartial perspective on this matter. Let me explain:
Please note that points 1, 2, 3, and 6 are simply factual statements about YOUR ERRORS, while points 4 and 5 express MY OPINION about your article. Although my opinion is critical, it is based on the content of your article and does not constitute slander or a personal attack.
I kindly request that you address the inaccuracies in your article and engage in a constructive dialogue to resolve these concerns.
Despite multiple attempts to contact Saleem Samad via email and WhatsApp to address the inaccuracies in his article, I've received no response except a nonchalant "Happy New Year" message.
Considering Saleem Samad's fabricated portrayal of my background, falsely claiming I am a Rohingya and living in exile, presumably to beef up his argument, and his sensationalist misrepresentation of my article's content, it's disheartening to see that he's a correspondent for Reporters Without Borders (RSF). His actions seem to contradict RSF's mission statement, which champions the right to “free and reliable information”.
RSF's principles include mutual respect, dialogue, transparency, and the refusal of corruption and conflicts of interest. Samad's behaviour, in this case, appears to be at odds with these values. His lack of response to my attempts to address these inaccuracies further undermines the integrity of the organisation he represents.
As a supporter of ethical journalism and the ideals RSF claims to uphold, it's crucial to hold accountable those who undermine these principles through dishonest reporting.