Govt targeting opposition activists ahead of polls: HRW
The New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) has said Bangladesh authorities are targeting opposition leaders and supporters ahead of the general election slated for January 7.
In a statement yesterday, HRW said the authorities should impartially investigate all instances of violence, including cases in which each side has blamed the other.
Almost 10,000 opposition activists have been arrested since a planned rally by BNP on October 28, while at least 16 people have been killed during ongoing violence, including two police officers. Over 5,500 people have been injured, it said.
"The government is claiming to commit to free and fair elections with diplomatic partners while the state authorities are simultaneously filling prisons with the ruling Awami League's political opponents," said Julia Bleckner, senior Asia researcher at HRW.
"Diplomatic partners should make clear that the government's autocratic crackdown will jeopardize future economic cooperation."
Based on interviews with 13 witnesses and analysis of videos and police reports, HRW found evidence that security forces are responsible for using excessive force, mass arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, torture, and extrajudicial killings in a recent spate of election-related violence.
Following the October 28 violence, the BNP called for a general strike from October 31-November 2, during and after which clashes broke out between police, opposition members, and ruling party supporters. While there has been violence on all sides, in some instances, police used excessive force in responding to protests, the statement added.
It said videos and witness reports show disturbing evidence of coordination between the police and the Awami League supporters in threatening and targeting opposition party activists.
While the police should investigate incidents of violence by all sides, their impartiality and ability to uphold the rule of law is undermined when they carry out raids alongside Awami League activists, HRW said.
It said Bangladesh authorities are carrying out mass arrests of political opposition in a clear attempt to quash the opposition and eliminate competition ahead of the general elections.
According to the BNP, about half of its five million members face politically motivated prosecution.
HRW said foreign governments should insist that the authorities maintain their international obligations to uphold human rights.
Bangladesh is the main beneficiary of the EU's "Everything But Arms" trade program, and the Bangladesh government has expressed its intention to apply for the GSP Plus, which would extend reduced trade tariffs on key exports including garments.
The government's abuses put into question its eligibility for either programme, it said.
"A free election is impossible when the government stifles free expression and systematically incapacitates the opposition, critics, and activists through arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearance, harassment, and intimidation," Bleckner said.
"Instead of stoking violence and jailing her critics, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina should call for an immediate end to arbitrary political arrests and make clear that enforced disappearances, torture, and killings by security forces will not be tolerated."