Concern over extremism, shrinking of political space
Terming political situation in Bangladesh worrying, members of the European Parliament (EP) called for dialogue between democratic parties of the country to reach a political consensus, and for greater respect for freedom of speech.
Referring to the systematic assaults in recent months, especially on minorities, secular bloggers, intellectuals and foreigners, they said the security situation in Bangladesh should be improved to ensure protection and safety of all citizens.
Lawmakers of the European Parliament also expressed concern over the rising of violent extremism and shrinking of political space in Bangladesh.
The government needs to make sure that the situation does not worsen further, they said.
“There is a need for a 'new social and political consensus' in the country….It is now time for the government of Bangladesh and democratic parties together to engage in real dialogue,” said Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders at a debate on Bangladesh in the EP in Strasbourg.
The present political situation might hamper the country's development and could be detrimental to the achievement in poverty reduction in recent years, in which the EU development funding has played a part, said Koenders, also Dutch presidency for the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs, Security Policy and vice-president of the European Commission.
The security situation in Bangladesh has "steadily deteriorated" since the boycott of January 2014 elections by the major opposition parties, he said, adding that democracy, human rights, freedom of expression and political liberty should be promoted and protected in the country.
"It is time to put an end to arbitrary arrest and harassment of opposition leaders to restore tolerance, open spaces for public and political debate," Koenders said.
Taking part in the discussion, Conservative Charles Tannock said freedom of speech and religious tolerance in Bangladesh are threatened "not by the government" but by Islamists.
"Concerns remain that more could have been done" by the government to protect people from attacks, said Dutch Liberal Marietje Schaake.
“The response of the security forces to killings, however, has also been disproportionate.”
It is "disappointing" that the EU has not "been more vocal" on this issue, Schaake told the European lawmakers.
Cristian Dan Preda urged the Bangladesh government to shed light on the recent murders and attacks, ensuring punishment of the attackers.
Several members of the parliament, including Neena Gill, Amjad Bashir and Jean Lambert, took part in the hour-long debate.
Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders in his concluding remarks said the EP would continue following Bangladesh closely and would address their concerns through regular dialogue with its government.
Talking about Bangladesh's development goals, he said achieving the very ambitious target of becoming a middle income nation by 2021 will need involvement and determination of all citizens and institutions as well as support from Bangladesh's international partners.
The Dutch minister disagreed with the suggestion of formally suspending trade cooperation with Bangladesh. He was rather in favour of supporting Bangladesh to achieve its development goals, overcoming challenges.