HRW concerned about opposition members’ mass arrests; home minister rejects claims
Mass arrests and police raids of opposition party members' homes raise serious concerns about violence and intimidation ahead of the upcoming parliamentary elections in Bangladesh due next year, Human Rights Watch said today (October 10, 2022).
In a statement, it said opposition groups are reporting an escalation of repression by Bangladesh authorities and attacks by ruling party supporters as the country starts preparing for national elections, it said.
Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal, however, rejected the HRW claims, saying: "It is nothing but mere propaganda by BNP and Jamaat to tarnish the image of the government and the country."
"Such allegations are baseless. The allegations of mass arrests and police raids are not true," he told UNB, in response to the HRW report.
Asaduzzaman Khan said police have some regular duties to follow and sometimes they visit homes of the citizens to inquire when they need to do so. Mostly, the Special Branch of Police does this job.
"When they get reports that some people have gone missing, the members of the Special Branch visit their families to know the truth. It's routine work, not otherwise," he said.
The New York-based global rights watchdog called for Bangladesh authorities to respect the rule of law and protect political opposition supporters' right to freedom of association, and peaceful assembly.
It said Bangladesh election campaigns are often accompanied by violence, but the authorities have failed to properly investigate and prosecute members and supporters of the ruling Awami League, who have targeted opposition public meetings and assaulted participants.
"Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has repeatedly said that Bangladesh is a mature democracy capable of conducting elections and a peaceful transition of power, but instead previous polls have been marked by violence, attacks on the opposition, and voter intimidation," said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director of Human Rights Watch.
"These recent cases of political attacks and arrests set an ominous tone for the upcoming parliamentary elections."
It said at least four people have reportedly died and hundreds have been injured in clashes between police, supporters of the opposition BNP, and Awami League supporters, since August 22, 2022, when the BNP staged a series of protests over fuel and commodity price increases.
Quoting BNP leaders, HRW said at least 20,000 cases have been filed against its supporters, in many cases with the accused unnamed. Law enforcement officers have used these open cases as warrants to raid the homes of political opposition members in what appears to be overt political harassment and intimidation.
"Bangladesh law enforcement are under increased scrutiny following US human rights sanctions and with parliamentary elections on the horizon," Ganguly said.
"Diplomats in Bangladesh should raise concerns publicly and privately that such repression threatens the conditions for a free and fair election."