The Bangladesh government should stop the arbitrary arrests and detention of opposition BNP supporters and others, Human Rights Watch has said.
Hundreds have been arrested or placed under preventive detention ahead of the verdict in the graft case against BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia, and five others, including her son, the global rights group said in a statement yesterday.
The government should publicly order the security forces to abide by international standards on policing demonstrations, it added.
Khaleda landed in the city's old central jail yesterday afternoon after she was handed five-year imprisonment by a Dhaka court for misappropriating a donation fund.
BNP Senior Vice-Chairman Tarique Rahman and four others were jailed for 10 years with a fine of Tk 2.10 crore each in the Zia Orphanage Trust graft case.
“The Bangladesh government is violating the rights to free expression and peaceful assembly by preventing opposition supporters from demonstrating,” said Brad Adams, HRW's Asia director.
“While all political party leaders should warn their supporters against engaging in violence, it's crucial for the government security forces to act with restraint at all times.
Anticipating protests by BNP supporters, the police deployed additional forces, banned gatherings and protests, and arrested several senior BNP leaders, said HRW.
The security forces have previously used excessive and indiscriminate force to contain political protests.
According to the statement, the security forces have arrested, tortured, killed, and forcibly disappeared hundreds in response to opposition supporters who have caused injuries and deaths and committed arson during demonstrations.
At a press conference in Dhaka on Wednesday, Khaleda accused the government of “false allegations to harass” her and her family, but called on her supporters to be peaceful. “The ruling party [Awami League] has curbed the rights to protest, banned processions, in an administrative order as it is more frightened than we are over the verdict,” she said.
Rights group Ain o Salish Kendra said a total of 1,786 people have been rounded up in the last eight days. An opposition spokesman told HRW that thousands had been detained including members of BNP, Jamaat-e-Islami, and others not linked to any party.
Concerns have also been raised that AL and BNP supporters might provoke violence and target each other's supporters, HRW said.
The rights group urged the government to publicly order the security forces to abide by the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms.
“The Bangladesh government's claims to be open and democratic ring hollow as it cracks down on political dissent,” Adams said. “The government has a responsibility to prevent and minimize violence, but it needs to do so in a way that respects basic rights, not flouts them.”