Hidden recording between SGA candidates could mean disqualification
Elisha Diaz said he was nervous as he and Tanzeem Chowdhury walked into the Cougar Village II lounge. Chowdhury is the vice presidential candidate for REDvolution, which occupies over 80 percent of SGA’s senatorial seats and is known as the organization’s political powerhouse. Diaz, “The We Party II” presidential candidate, has no experience in the organization.
So when the two spoke for nearly 40 minutes, Chowdhury had no idea that Diaz had been secretly recording the conversation from the start. Since the recording’s release, allegations of coercion against Chowdhury have circulated throughout social media. REDvolution has not released an official response.
“I wanted to protect myself,” Diaz said. “No one would believe me (if foul play occurred), because everyone loves (Chowdhury).”
Diaz said that he was approached by a REDvolution member Friday night who said Chowdhury wanted to speak with him. Diaz said Chowdhury implied that if Diaz is elected SGA president, REDvolution would make it hard for him to achieve his goals.
“Whenever (the SGA president) wants to appoint somebody to something, the senate has to approve it,” Chowdhury said in the recording. “And you saw today who won the senate, right? … Because you know you can’t function without a senate, right? … How are you going to get (support) when 84 percent of the senate is (made up of REDvolution members)?”
Diaz then said that he is “fully expecting to lose” the campaign for the presidency.
“See, if you (expect) to lose, wouldn’t you rather get a position right now, and make a difference on campus?” Chowdhury said. “Because you’re a good guy.”
Diaz said the recording was uploaded YouTube early Sunday morning by a friend. By that afternoon, it had been shared on Facebook by supporters and critics of Diaz and Chowdhury. Two versions of the recording, a “shortened” five-minute version and the full 37-minute version, have circulated, all garnering a collective thousand views and allegations of misconduct from both parties.
SGA presidential candidate Shaun Smith said that recording the conversation without the consent of Chowdhury was a Class A violation of the SGA Election Rules and Regulations, because it breaks the Student Code of Conduct. If either candidate is found within violation of the rules, the penalties will result in “disqualification and automatic referral to the Dean of Student’s Office,” according to the election code.
“This is simply petty and a violation of the UH Student Code of Conduct,” Smith said in a statement. “It further damages the credibility of SGA as a whole — this behavior limits the organization’s ability to advocate effectively, and it does not serve students.”
The UH Student Code of Conduct Section 3.21 Photographing or Videotaping reads: “Photographing, videotaping, filming, digitally recording, or by any other means, secretly viewing with or without a device, another person without that person’s consent in any location where the person has a reasonable expectation of privacy, or in a manner that violates a reasonable expectation of privacy. This section does not apply to lawful security surveillance filming, or recording that is authorized by law enforcement or authorized University officials.”
Diaz said the recording wasn’t a violation because the conversation took place in a Cougar Village II lounge, where Diaz said Chowdhury had no expectation of privacy.
“If it was in his room, that would be a violation of (the election code), but it was in a public lounge,” Diaz said.
He said he read the Student Conduct Code after he recorded the conversation but before he sent it to a friend, who sent the recording to another friend who uploaded it onto YouTube.
In the recording, Chowdhury didn’t reveal how much Smith knew about what he was discussing with Diaz. Speaking for Chowdhury and himself, Smith said the conversation was “taken out of context.”
“Tanzeem approached Elisha to ask him if he was planning to concede; ideally, the student body (and the candidates) wouldn’t have to endure another week of elections,” Smith said in his statement. “There was no coercion or intimidation, just Tanzeem’s honest answers to Elisha’s apparently scripted questions. It’s obvious that they cut the video to cater to a fabricated narrative. If you listen to the entire recording, you realize that it is a candid, straightforward conversation between the two of them.”
SGA Election Commissioner Joshua Freed said the runoff elections on Tuesday and Wednesday have not been altered or cancelled at this time.
-Additional reporting by Sara Samora