The situation in the People’s Republic of Bangladesh is a matter of concern. It has been a matter of concern for a number of years. Importantly, the international community sees it as a country of concern and that is evidenced by the sanctions imposed and maintained by the U.S. Government despite the attempted charm offensive by the Prime Minister and her government.
The last two elections in Bangladesh have been largely unrepresentative replete with allegations of election rigging, intimidation of voters, and manipulation of the political process.
The international community needs to exercise greater pressure on the Government of Bangladesh to end the undermining of democracy and the rule of law. The 2024 general elections must be monitored by members of the international community and independent civil society organisations, so as to ensure fairness and transparency, and the political process must be representative, with the full and unrestricted participation of all political parties, and they must be transparent.
The warning signs are visible and apparent for all to see. The stage is being set for another stolen election and the international community will only have itself to blame if it takes no action.
In a desperate attempt to remove any threat to its one-party rule, the Government is seeking to further undermine Bangladesh’s already fragile democracy by arresting and detaining members of Jamaat-e-Islami, barring them from standing in the elections.
The Awami League Government ought to recognize that such behaviour goes against every principle of democracy, and further, is a direct breach of recognised fundamental rights and freedoms, and cannot be tolerated. Such actions contribute to internal instability, and given the proliferation in Bangladesh, must now have consequences.
The fact that legal experts, who address a range of fundamental human rights, have come together in signing the statement, is a clear reflection of the situation in Bangladesh ahead of upcoming elections.
If the undemocratic practices of the ruling party remain unchallenged, the threat to internal stability, and the wider stability of the region will only be furthered.
Each and every citizen has the right to exercise their democratic right to vote for any individual they may choose, without interference from the ruling party.
The increased use and pattern of enforced disappearances, torture, and extra-judicial killings in Bangladesh by its Security Forces that continue to operate with complete impunity feed the system of instability.
In its 2022 country report on Bangladesh, Human Rights Watch declared:
“The ruling Awami League government made clear in 2021 it has no intention of addressing a pattern of grave abuses, including extrajudicial killings, torture, and enforced disappearances by its security forces.”
The US State Department 2020 country report for Bangladesh stated:
“[The 2018] election was not considered free and fair by observers due to reported irregularities, including ballot box stuffing and intimidation of opposition polling agents and voters…Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings; forced disappearance; torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the government…arbitrary arrests or detentions; political prisoners or detainees…serious problems with the independence of the judiciary…Opposition activists faced criminal charges…”
The process of repression continues. As the US State Department noted, Jamaat-e-Islami remains deregistered as a political party with the government prohibiting candidates from seeking office under the Jamaat name, but even more worrying, members of Jamaat arrested and taken into custody in chains, detained in appalling conditions, with complaints of ill-treatment and lengthy periods without judge and without proper independent oversight of the process. In recent weeks, those arrested include former MPs, Maulana Shamsul Islam, Mia Golam Porwar, Maulana Rafiqul Islam Khan, Shahjahan Chowdhury. Attacks on members of Jamaat has increased with Jamaat’s Nayeb-e-Ameer, Dr. Syed Abdullah Mohammad Taher, becoming the latest victim of an attack by Awami League activists that act with complete impunity.
The time to act is now.