Expressing concern over reports of violence in the run-up to the December 30 polls, the United Nations, the United States and the United Kingdom have condemned the incidents.
Meanwhile, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) yesterday said widespread electoral violence started as soon as the candidate lists had formally been approved, and campaigns had began. It also said there had been violent attacks by supporters of all rival political parties and that the authorities failed to act impartially.
Stéphane Dujarric, spokesperson for the UN secretary-general, said they were concerned by the reports of incidents of electoral violence and arrests of opposition men in Bangladesh.
“We call on all stakeholders to do their part to make sure that the election is inclusive and transparent,” he said at a press briefing at the UN headquarters in New York on Friday. “It's, of course, very important that the security forces act to ensure free and unhindered campaigning by all candidates.”
He said Bangladeshi citizens should feel confident in their ability to safely exercise their right to vote. “Civil society and electoral observers also need to be fully supported to play their role in this process.”
The United States said it encouraged the Bangladesh government to uphold its commitment to a democratic process by ensuring that all Bangladeshis were free to peacefully express themselves and participate in the coming election.
“In the lead up to any democratic election there must be space for peaceful expression and assembly; for independent media to do its job covering electoral developments; for participants to have access to information; and for all individuals to be able to partake in the electoral process without harassment, intimidation, or violence,” said Robert Palladino, deputy spokesperson for US Department of State, in a press statement on Friday.
British Foreign Office Minister for Asia and the Pacific Mark Field condemned recent political violence in Bangladesh and emphasised on a democratic election.
“I take this opportunity to condemn on the record the political violence that we have seen in Bangladesh in recent days…” he said while speaking in Parliament (House of Commons) on Thursday.
Political instability and violence would not help the people of Bangladesh to prosper, he said.
“We urge all in Bangladesh to refrain from further violence, to deliver a democratic election, to give Bangladeshis a properly representative Parliament that can propel their country to greater economic prosperity,” he added.
A repressive political environment in Bangladesh ahead of the election is undermining the credibility of the process, the HRW said in a report released yesterday. “The Bangladeshi authorities should impartially investigate allegations of election violence and ensure that those responsible are held to account.”
The 37-page report, titled “Creating Panic: Bangladesh Election Crackdown on Political Opponents and Critics”, finds that authoritarian measures, including widespread surveillance and a crackdown on free speech, have contributed to a widely described climate of fear.
The police have arrested and detained opposition members, but failed to act properly against ruling party supporters when they target opposition candidates, it said.
“To ensure that the elections meet international standards, the police and the Election Commission should not appear to be acting like extensions of the ruling party,” said Brad Adams, HRW Asia director.
“The violence during the campaign that has mainly targeted the opposition bears out their misgivings about unfair treatment.”
Political leaders in Bangladesh should instruct their followers to end the rapidly escalating campaign of violence, the statement added.
The global rights watchdog has also found that the Bangladesh authorities have tried to stifle dissent and criticism including on newspapers, television networks, and on social media. Journalists said that the Digital Security Act (DSA) effectively prohibited investigative journalism. Bangladeshis are under pressure to self-censor on social media or risk arrest. A newspaper editor told the HRW, “You have a culture of fear, an environment of fear.”
Bangladesh should take immediate steps to uphold its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), including rights against arbitrary arrest and detention, the right to freedom of expression, and the right to political participation, the statement said.
“International actors who care about stability and democracy in Bangladesh should continue to publicly press the Bangladesh government to create the conditions for a credible election.”