HR record worsens under emergency | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, March 13, 2008 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, March 13, 2008

HR record worsens under emergency

Observes US state department report

The US Department of State in its annual report "Human Rights Practices 2007" on Bangladesh reveals that human rights record worsened in the country as the state of emergency continued to be in effect with elections remaining postponed.
The report mentions the arrests of former premiers Awami League (AL) chief Sheikh Hasina and BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia after repeated efforts of the caretaker government in the first six months since assuming power to force the two into exile failed. The two former premiers were kept under unofficial house arrest during this period, it adds.
The report says both Hasina and Khaleda were denied fair public trial as "the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court frequently overturned politically charged decisions by the High Court Division of the Supreme Court if those rulings went against the government".
Citing different human rights organisations, the report says "preventative and arbitrary detentions" increased after the declaration of the state of emergency, particularly after the anti-graft drive was launched, with the arrests of approximate 200 former politicians, government officials and business leaders on suspicion of corruption, extortion and other power abuse.
The report adds that in many cases the suspects were arrested without having any formal charges or arrest warrants against them and kept in custody or taken to unknown places or at military cantonment either for having confessional statements on some issues under severe physical and psychological torture or to extract information about other suspects. It said the government in many cases filed politically motivated and false cases.
The issue that tops in the report is "arbitrary or unlawful deprivation of life" in which it is illustrated that security forces including Bangladesh Rifles, military and Rapid Action Battalion (Rab) committed numerous extrajudicial killings while the government did not take any action or initiate any public measures to investigate the cases. However, "there was a significant decrease in the number of killings by security personnel", the report adds.
The report reveals that the security forces frequently employed torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment, such as threats, beatings and electric shocks, during arrests and interrogations.
The caretaker government used Emergency Power Rules (EPR) to curtail the freedom of speech and freedom of the press when individuals were not able to criticise the government publicly without fear of reprisal, indoor and outdoor political gatherings remained suspended, legal action was taken against critical editors and journalists, compelled to broadcast or publicise stories supporting the government.
The report says after banning radio and television talk shows in August, the government rescinded the ban after developing strict rules to govern the format.
The report has six sections each with subsections containing evaluation of human rights condition from different points of view including legal and fundamental. It also focuses on the issues of rights of women, children, those with disabilities, the minority communities and indigenous people.
It presents examples for almost every case. It also focuses on different important belated trial.
The report says, "On several occasions when the Appellate Division upheld the High Court ruling to release a high-profile detainee, such as in the case of senior AL adviser Kazi Zafarrullah, the person was re-arrested immediately upon release on a new set of charges.
"While the government said that these were legitimate charges, some cases, such as the filing of charges against former Law Minister Moudud Ahmed and former Communications Minister Anwar Hossain Manju, were seen to be politically motivated. The authorities charged Ahmed and Manju with alcohol possession, normally a minor offence for which bail is granted during trial."
The report gives examples of curtailing rights of freedom of speech and freedom of the press. "Newspaper ownership and content were often subject to direct restriction by the military's Inter-Services Public Relations office and DGFI. Journalists reported being cautioned frequently by DGFI against criticising the government or the military.
"Newspapers that were critical of the government, particularly of the military, came under strong pressure throughout the year," the report says.
"According to journalists, editors, and other media personnel, intimidation and pressure on the media intensified considerably after the declaration of a state of emergency. DGFI officials monitored the various media outlets and cautioned them about airing material deemed offensive to the government or military. Numerous editors and journalists in Dhaka reported being summoned to DGFI headquarters for questioning and encouragement to file positive stories about the government and military," the report adds.
In a point titled "Government Corruption and Transparency", the report says, "Most high-profile cases were handled under the Emergency Power Rules and therefore denied suspects both the right to bail and the right to appeal their cases during the course of the trial."
On indigenous people, it says, "Tribal organisations continued to allege that security forces abused the indigenous population of the Hill Tracts."
The report says about women, "Domestic violence was widespread, although violence against women was difficult to quantify. Research showed that up to 50 percent of all women experienced domestic violence at least once. Some of the reported violence against women continued to be related to disputes over dowries."

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