Conditions for human rights defenders and journalists in Bangladesh are dire, and appear to be worsening.read more
Bangladesh security forces have been arresting and intimidating opposition figures and blocked 54 news websites in advance of national elections on 30th December 2018
According to Human Rights Watch, Bangladesh security forces have been arresting and intimidating opposition figures in advance of national elections on 30th December 2018. The organisation found repeated instances of arbitrary arrest and detention of political opposition figures, and acts of violence and intimidation by members of the ruling party’s student and youth wings.
Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch said:
“The Awami League government has been systematically cracking down on independent and opposition voices to ensure that the ruling party faces no obstacles to total political control…members and supporters of the main opposition parties have been arrested, killed, even disappeared, creating an atmosphere of fear and repression that is not consistent with credible elections.”
Thousands of cases, under a variety of laws, have been filed against leaders and supporters of opposition parties, especially the primary opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). According to HRW, in many cases, the charges appear to be groundless.
A number of opposition candidates have also been attacked in recent days. On 12th December 2018, Afroza Khanam Rita, a BNP candidate from Manikganj-3, was attacked while visiting a shrine, allegedly by youth-wing members of the ruling Awami League. In Thakurgaon, the motorcade of BNP Secretary General Fakhrul was attacked on 11th December 2018, while he was campaigning. Vehicles accompanying another BNP candidate, Sharifuzzaman Sharif, were attacked on 10th December 2018.
On 13th December, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemned the Bangladeshi government’s decision to block 54 news websites with the declared aim of preventing the spread of “rumours” in the run-up to the general elections.
After initially announcing on the evening of 9th December that 58 websites were being blocked, the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) rescinded the order the next morning only to reintroduce it that evening, with the number of sites reduced from 58 to 54. The information ministry accused the websites of spreading “anti-government propaganda and fake news” and said they were being blocked ahead of the election on “national security” grounds.
According to RSF, the list of blocked sites includes such well-known ones as risingbd.com, dhakatimes24.com and reportbd24.com. Officials warned that “similar shutdowns will continue against news portals that publish and circulate fake and baseless news".
Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk said:
“It is completely unacceptable that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government is censoring many of Bangladesh’s news media with less than three weeks to go to an election that is vital for the functioning of its democracy…these sites must be unblocked at once for the sake of freedom of expression and journalistic pluralism, without which the election will have no legitimacy.”
In a separate case, on 8th December, The Rapid Action Battalion, an elite police unit, arrested the editor of the Daily71 news website, Sheikh Riad Muhammad Noor, for allegedly “posting seditious, false and baseless news” on social networks. He was placed in pre-trial detention under the controversial Digital Security Act on 10th December 2018.
Monitoring by human rights group Odhikar reported that law enforcement agencies and activists of the ruling party has been obstructing meetings and rallies of the political opposition. On 11th November 2018 a programme organised by Islami Andolan Bangladesh, a political party, in front of the National Press Club, demanding an environment for free and fair elections was halted by the police.
On 18th November 2018, the police barred a meeting organised by BNP members from Bhairab Upazila in Kishorganj. Later the ruling Awami League supported Chhatra League and Jubo League activists attacked the meeting, leaving eight BNP members injured. On 24th November, local Awami League and activists of its affiliated organisations attacked BNP members during an internal meeting at the house of BNP leader Jahangir Alam in Chorkakra Union in Noakhali District.
Bangladesh has a vibrant and mature civil society sector, however the government of Bangladesh is currently considering a law to increase monitoring of CSO activities and impede civil society's autonomy. Advocacy by some CSOs has helped to improve the transparency of the legislative process in Bangladesh
Bangladesh has a vibrant and mature civil society sector, however the government of Bangladesh is currently considering a law to increase monitoring of CSO activities and impede civil society's autonomy. Advocacy by some CSOs has helped to improve the transparency of the legislative process in Bangladesh. However, the government is known to selectively support some organisations, while behaving agressively towards those working on politically sensitive topics. Those working on monitoring human rights abuses perpetrated by state authorities are most vulnerable to abuse of their fundamental freedoms. Garment workers are not encouraged to form trade unions and workers often face harassment and intimidation. On the other hand, CSOs that provide basic services to the community enjoy a degree of government support. CSOs working on governance and corruption often attract unwarranted harassment, intimidation and interference from the state. CSOs receiving foreign funds need to register with the NGO Affairs Bureau (NGOAB), which is a cumbersome and lengthy process. CSO registration also needs to be renewed annually. Civil society reports that they are often pressured to bribe officials to ease the process, while the registration of some controversial CSOs has been cancelled by the authorities.
Some groups are able to organise rallies to protest against issues such as violence against women, and attacks on minorities. These are not interfered with and often receive police protection.
Various groups are able to organise rallies to protest against issues including violence against women and attacks on minorities. These are not interfered with and often receive police protection. However, more politically sensitive protest rallies such as those against environmental pollution, the unlawful acquisition of land, infrastructure development and the displacement of people, are often met with police brutality. Recently, a mobilisation of local people against the construction of a coal-based power plant in Bashkhali was met with aggression, leaving five people dead. Thousands of unnamed people were also arrested and charged with inciting violence. Garment workers also came under attack from the police when they staged rallies demanding payment of salaries. However, police forces use the most agressive tactics when dealing with rallies and processions organised by the political opposition. Organisers of these rallies often do not get permission to stage protest in their preferred locations. Even when they get permission they often face brutal physical attacks by the police using tear gas and baton charges in the name of maintaining law and order.
There are clear efforts to curtail freedom of expression in Bangladesh where mass arrests, arbitrary detention and extrajudicial killings threaten independent dissent.
There are clear efforts to curtail freedom of expression in Bangladesh. Mass arrests, arbitrary detention and extrajudicial killings threaten independent dissent. In the last year and a half 89 people including free thinkers, minorities, university professors and publishers have been killed. The state authorities neither protected them nor took steps to prevent these targeted killings. No credible cases have been filed against anyone as yet. More recently, in the last six months journalists have been jailed with unsubstantiated allegations of treason and conspiracy. An independent media editor was also charged with 84 law suits of defamation and treason in February 2016. The cases were filed by the supporters of the ruling party, and thought to be politically motivated. Two free-thinking bloggers, a gay rights activist and several members of a minority community were murdered in the last six months. The attack against bloggers and free thinkers started in 2013 when Ahmed Rajib Haider was accused of writing against the prophet Mohammed and was murdered. This was followed by the murder of Avijit Roy in broad daylight. Amid massive criticism, thousands of people were arrested in an anti-terrorist drive. The media, which enjoyed a fair amount of freedom until a few years ago, is increasingly coming under state scrutiny. Private companies have been prevented from advertising in independent newspapers. A national broadcasting policy is under consideration which may continue the clamp down on freedom of expression.