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Bangladesh - Sweden - The World

Culture | 2010-09-12 | 7 comments
Tasneem Khalil came to Sweden from Bangladesh in 2007 as a refugee. Once in Sweden he decided to start a global news magazine for human rights. Today the magazine Independent World Report is up and running since one year with subscribers in 13 countries.Stockholm News met Tasneem Khalil for an interview in his new home-town in Sweden, Örebro.


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The story of Tasneem Khalil and the birth of Independent World Report is intriguing. It clearly shows a strongwilled man with strong ideals who has chosen his own path. Today he lives in Örebro, a middle sized city 200 km west from Stockholm with his wife and small son. Together with his wife, he has started up the magazine on his own.

I met Tasneem over a cup of coffee in a trendy café in the city-centre of Örebro. The interview often turned into a normal conversation and the summary given below is therefore not reproduced word by word.

 

INTERVIEW WITH TASNEEM KHALIL, CHIEF EDITOR OF INDEPENDENT WORLD REPORT

Can you start with giving a short background of what you did before you came to Sweden?

In Bangladesh I was a journalist and i worked for the largest English language daily there at the time, The Daily Star. I was the editorial assistant. I also worked with a monthly magazine called Forum. My reporting was specialised on human rights violations especially of the police and security forces. I was also a consultant for Human Right Watch.

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"No charges were levelled at me, I was just picked up from my home and tortured for 24 hours. I was lucky in a way because I was just beaten up, I have heard others who have been less lucky."

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For how long did you work there as a journalist before the problems started?

For seven years, since 2000 until 2007. In May 2007 I was arrested, or rather detained. Detained because they did not have a public charge against me. I was not even taken to a prison. I was detained by the intelligence agency in Bangladesh. The government spokesperson was confronted after my arrest and he said I was involved in Bangladesh propaganda and that they had discovered some deflamatory material from me. But the only thing they really found in my material was how the Bangladesh military was torturing people to death. Most of them political opponents of the government. During the state of emergency in 2007 they were also cracking down on press freedom shamelessly. So those were the things I was working on at the time.

No charges were levelled at me, I was just picked up from my home and tortured for 24 hours. I was lucky in a way because I was just beaten up, I have heard others who have been less lucky. To a large degree I was released because of pressure from my magazine and from Human Rights Watch.

Were you involved in politics somehow?

No, I was strictly a journalist, I don’t think it is good to mix them both.

So, when did you come to Sweden?

I came to Sweden with my family around June 2007.

Why Sweden?

The reason is that after my release, they (the military) threatened me. They said that this time we will not hold back because of international pressure.

Here I decided that I had to leave. Another choice was to work with them which they suggested but I told them that it was not an option for me. So I went into hiding at a house of a colleague of mine. His wife was one of the top officials at the Swedish embassy in Dhaka at that moment. So for one month they sheltered me, my wife and my six month old son at that time. And as ambassadors they were protected by international law.

Now the question came which country should I flee to. The Swedish ambassador personally intervened and arranged so that I could come to Sweden. So the Swedish political secretary escorted us from the embassy to the airport, there we took a plane to bangkok and from there to Stockholm. After two weeks I got asylum.

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"We came to Sweden with nothing, we had about 500 US dollars."

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What happened when you came to Sweden then?

We came to Sweden with nothing, we had about 500 US dollars. First we stayed three days at a refugee camp in Gävle. Then we stayed at one Bangladesh friend in Stockholm and after that at a Swedish friend. The Swedish penclub also helped us a lot. Then we decided to move to Örebro, it was easier to found an apartment. In Stockholm the housing situation is very difficult.

When did you came up with the idea to start your news magazine?

When I came to Sweden I was initially involved in the campaign to try to change Bangladesh to become a democracy. I continued to work with human rights watch. Once a democratically government was in place in Dhaka I knew I could not comeback. In third world countries the military is still a bit independent from the government. Since I am still on their black list it was impossible for me to come back.

So then i realised that one thing I really wanted to do was to continue with human rights journalism. With this I mean solid reporting and discussing human right issues. The best place to actually do it is in Sweden.

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"This is amazing, if you share your freedom you will never run out of it. It’s gonna expand. The more you share it the more you have"

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Why was Sweden the best place for this?

Well, first: Independent World Report is a global magazine, but it is also a Swedish magazine. If you look at world wide reporting on different issues, for example on Afghanistan, if you read a British magazine you will find stories from a British perspective and if you read New York Times, then it is all about what Obama is doing. But really you don't have a world voice. In other countries, the space for having a cosmopolitan voice is difficult for historical and colonial reasons.  Sweden is on the other hand acting as a melting pot in that area because it has no colonial link.

Secondly, Sweden also has the best freedom of press in the world. It protects freedom of expression and freedom of press very strongly in its constitution.

So that was the first time it struck me, after a year or so. Sitting in Sweden, I am really really a free person. I have here the level of freedom that is inrivalled world wide. So then I asked myself, what to do with this freedom. This is amazing, if you share your freedom you will never run out of it. It’s gonna expand. The more you share it the more you have. That was one of the incentives of starting the magazine here in Sweden.

Was it your idea?

I just came up with a fluid idea to do something and then discussed it with my friends. I had a good circle of Swedish journalists who adviced me.

How did you manage to start up from zero?

I took a small business loan from Almi, a small amount. Then when people started to know about the magazine we got some subscribers. But honestly we are on the edge all the time.

What about the reactions?

The reaction was very very good. People loved the idea and we also good reviews in the Swedish media. Also we got some coverage in the TV, Kulturnyheterna and Tvärsnytt. But also the subcsribers also try to help us.

Any controversial cases you have written about?

in one case we made a reportage on child labour in Uzbekistan. The Swedish company H&M was involved and also Zara. This led to a big uproar mostly in UK. H&M was initially skeptical but after we published our story there was a big campaign that the company should see to that they will not buy the products from child labour countries. H&M did stop doing it I think.

But we are not out to harm people, rather pointing out some problems. We don’t have any agenda really except for informing. We look at the whole issue, the whole problem. We don’t want to be sensationalists.

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"We did not have a single problem with the government agencies, but I had problems with private agencies."

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How is it to start a business in Sweden as a non-Swedish speaker and as a foreigner?

Well it’s near to a nightmare. But the Swedish bureaucracy is very good. We did not have a single problem with the government agencies, but I had problems with private agencies.

The registration for this newspaper took only two weeks, not six months or one year as in Bangladesh. Also the formal registration was also easy. But trying to find for example printers in Sweden is absolutely a disaster, the private companies are really non-communicative and non-professional.

As a new entrepreneur from outside Sweden only knowing some Swedish words, I still don’t get the Swedish business, how the private sector works. The public sector on the other hand is helpful and easy to work with.

Politicians in Sweden always push for the importance for foreigners to learn Swedish. How is it to live in Sweden as a non-Swedish speaker?

I don’t have any problem with this. But...I am not an immigrant. I am a refugee and I am proud of that identity. I have come here because I needed protection and Sweden could give me this.

The most important here is how immigrants can be more integrated to better fit in. But I am more interested in the question of empowerment. How can we empower the people who come here so they can contribute? That is more important.

Ok, I was in danger and I came to your house, you gave me protection and you said 'here is the bed, you can sleep here'. Now, I should not expect or demand that you should feed me for the next seven years. I'd rather get a fry-pan so I can 'fry my own omelettes'.

My goal was never to integrate in the society, but still I feel more home here than in Bangladesh. I feel more free here.

But on the other hand you know English very well.

Yes, English is an international language so that is good for me. But if we look at the SFI (Swedish for Immigrants) courses, they are made to put people in equal level. Whatever you have done before in your life it useless: 'you are just like a baby. And we are going to form you.' This actually demoralises people.

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"...getting a job in Sweden is nearly impossible, start your own business"

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Finally: What is your advice to people who come to Sweden to work or study?

The general advice, workwise: getting a job in Sweden is nearly impossible, start your own business. Group together with other people and start a business. Also learning Swedish is important. This in order to get important information. But it should be the means and not the end. If you come to Sweden, look around. First decide what you want to do. Who should you contact etc. Then learn Swedish and all that stuff. Then you are more motivated.

Even if Sweden has ridiculously high taxes, it has a good environment to start a business.

End of interview
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Short about the Magazine:
Independent World Report is a global news magazine which focuses on human rights issues. It is totally independent from any government or company and also written from a global perspective (not a country filter). This makes the news magazine unique compared with other human rights media which are often depending on state institutions or NGOs and which are also often filtered through a specific country's perspective. It started up in 2009 giving out its first issue in September. The idea is to gather a network of of authors from all around the world who write articles on human rights issues from a critical perspective.

For more information, see the homepage of Independent World Report.

Note: The interview is not reproduced word by word. It is sometimes shortened and reformulated in order to make it easer to read. The substance of Tasneem Khalil's answers is however not changed.

Readers' comments

2011-03-20 12:11 Tuhin Denmark wrote:
Good job man
2011-01-09 23:55 Samiur wrote:
Really you just put the right thing on right way. Its been a great example for all. Best wishes for you.
2010-10-16 10:29 ridwan wrote:
great work i wish u all the success in life.i m a student and studying in kristianstad university in sweden.
2010-09-15 08:09 Asif Kazi wrote:
Great achievement! Live the dream and keep up your hard work. I wish all the best for you and your family Tanim.
2010-09-14 23:16 Lubaba Nusrat Khalil wrote:
"This is amazing, if you share your freedom you will never run out of it." I am proud of you, we all are, you set a great example.Best of luck with the great works.
2010-09-14 10:56 rizwan rahim wrote:
Hi Tasneem Khalil, The effort to bring a comprehensive human rights framework under world report umbrella in a progressive manner is commendable.you having embraced refugee status by experience could be challenged some gray areas of "asylum" especially the dilapidated "Dublin Convention" and this could open the policy makers and the program me designers eyes, in which the DR is a complete ineffective tool at present. eg.the Swiss FOM received only 50 response of 1000 requests sent in 2009 thanks
2010-09-13 09:28 Abdul wrote:
Very interesting article! I wish you good luck Tasneem with your human rights engagemeent. It is needed especially in the third world countriees!!!!


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