Tue. Nov 28th, 2023

Author: Democracy Watch

The economy of Bangladesh is emerging quickly and it is the 35th largest in the world according to visual capitalist (The daily star, 7 Ja 2023; Bangladesh’s economy 35th largest in the world: Visual Capitalist). This booming economy stands on three major sectors, Agriculture, garments and foreign worker remittance. Agriculture is one of the largest employment sectors in bangladesh; which contributes 14.2% of total GDP and 42.7% of total workforce. Approximately 90% of the total foreign currency  income of Bangladesh comes from garments export and foreign workers’ income. These three sectors improve not only the economy of bangladesh but also the socio-economic condition of bangladesh such as poverty alleviation, health, education, infrastructure development, malnutrition etc. In a word, basically, Bangladesh is running on these three wheels, agriculture, garments and foreign workers. 

However, the major income and foreign reserves come from the hard laboring work, the corruption committed by high authority in Bangladesh has been a continuing problem. The public sector operated by the government are the most corrupted sectors of the country. According to transparency international, Bangladesh police is one of the most corrupted public institutions in Bangladesh (Transparency International, 16 Dec 2022; Police, then Judiciary most corrupt public institutions in South Asia, Reveals TI Survey). Bangladesh Police have been identified as a hired muggers and a machine of producing victims of torture and fabrication of criminal charges against civilians and political opponents since long. Bangladeshi people pay more to the police than the government, reported by Asian Human Rights commission (August 9, 2022; BANGLADESH: People pay more to the police than to their government).  Police force takes benefit from political patronage and culture impunity (Bangladesh National Integrity System assessment published 14 May 2014). Bangladesh police often involved in blackmailing (Police officer ‘tried to blackmail Bangladesh Bank official’ threatening Yaba taint. bdnews24.com. Retrieved 24 May 2016); extortion (Police extort money from Bangladeshi expatriate”. Dhaka Tribune. Retrieved 24 May 2016); torture (Bangladesh: Police attack, torture, and kill villagers to facilitate land grab — Asian Human Rights Commission”. Asian Human Rights Commission. 22 May 2016), rape  (Bangladesh police man charged in alleged gang rape of police woman”. GlobalPost. 13 June 2015. ) and extrajudicial killing (Bangladesh Police Kill Protestors, Charge Families With Murders”. The Diplomat. 03 August 2013). Corruption conducted by police has been even rewarded by promoting the police personnel to senior positions (New Age Bangladesh, 4 Jan 2023; Police officers awarded for foiling opposition rallies). It has been reported that a number of police officials were rewarded by the government for foiling opposition rallies and demonstrations, firing scores of bullets, and conducting surveillance in 2022. Especially, additional deputy commissioner of  Dhaka Metropolitan Police’s Ramna Zone, Harun Or Rashid was rewarded  for dispersing Bangladesh Nationalist Party activists when they were staging protests after an arrest warrant was issued against the party’s acting chairman, Tarique Rahman. This is the reality even if you do not believe it!

Bangladesh ranked 162nd out of 180 countries according to the RSF 2022 World Press Freedom Index (The Daily Star May 4, 2022: Bangladesh 162nd out of 180 countries in Press Freedom Index, scores lowest in South Asia). Freedom of expression is seriously controlled by the draconian law, Digital Security Act (DSA). The harsh and abusive law by which Bangladesh authorities enforce power  to harass and indefinitely detain activists, journalists, and others critical of the government and its political leadership. Bangladesh authorities often arbitrarily or even deliberately arrest anyone who criticizes the government, especially the prime minister or her family. The DSA  were used systematically to target and harass dissenting voices, including those of journalists, cartoonists, writers, activists and human rights defenders. According to Human Rights report 2021, The Bangladesh government authorities imprisoned 433 people under the Digital Security Act, the majority of whom were held on allegations of publishing “false or offensive information. This law and  action by authorities is contradictory to Bangladesh’s commitments under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) as well as its domestic constitutional obligations. 

Here is some example as follows: 

In 2021, Human rights defender Shahnewaz Chowdhury was arrested for sharing his opinion in a facebook post and charged for deteriorating law and order. Same year, Journalist Rozina Islam was arrested and accused of stealing confidential documents. Actually she was trying to collect information about the agreement between China and Bangladesh about the COVID 19 vaccines deals. The Bangladesh government has not yet shared the price and deal of vaccines from China.  In October 2021, Bangladesh’s Rapid Action Battalion (RAB- Paramilitary force) arrested Nusrat Shahrin Raka under DSA and Narcotics Control Act.  Actually her brother, journalist Kanak Sarwar was exiled a few years ago from Bangladesh because of publishing a news report of the son (Tareq Rahman) of opposition party’s leader (Khaleda Zia). Now, he is living overseas, he often criticizes the Bangladesh government in his youtube channel. He said that his sister was targeted and arrested in retaliation for his criticism of the government. Raka also filed a complaint with the police about a fake Facebook account that was created using her information to victimize her. With the reference of local human rights group Ain o Salish Kendra, Amnesty International Bangladesh 2021 report said that at least 157 people were killed and 10,833 injured in 932 incidents of political violence and clashes with the police and between supporters of ruling and opposition political parties during 2021. Report also said that on 25 March, at least 14 people, including a journalist, were injured at a demonstration which opposed the visit of Indian prime minister Narendra Modi to Bangladesh. A political cartoonist Ahmed Kabir Kishor was arrested and detained along with writer Mushtaq Ahmed under the Digital Security Act, for posting satirical cartoons and comments on Facebook, critiquing the government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Mushtaq Ahmed died after 10 months in prison without trial due to ill-torture by authority. As well Kishore lost his hearing ability in his right ear due to the massive torture. A number of journalists, scholars are residing outside of the country because of fearness of being a victim of torture and killing.  

The Unisted State Embassy, Dhaka stated that there are a significant human rights issues found in Bangladesh which include unlawful or arbitrary or extrajudiciary killings; forced disappearance; torture or cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the government or its agents on behalf of the government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrests or detentions; political prisoners; politically motivated reprisals against individuals in another country; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; punishment of family members for offenses allegedly committed by an individual; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including violence or threats of violence against journalists, unjustified arrests or prosecutions of journalists, and censorship and the existence of criminal libel and slander laws; serious restrictions on internet freedom; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws on the organization, funding, or operation of nongovernmental organizations and civil society organizations; restrictions on refugees’ freedom of movement; mistreatment of refugees; serious and unreasonable restrictions on political participation; serious government corruption; government restrictions on or harassment of domestic human rights organizations; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence etc. 

With the controversial parliamentary election, December 2018, Sheikh Hasina and her Awami League party won a third consecutive five-year term that kept her in office as prime minister since 2009. This election was not considered free and fair due to reported irregularities, including ballot-box stuffing and intimidation of opposition polling agents and voters (Time, 31 December 2018: They Threaten Everyone.’ Sheikh Hasina’s Landslide Win in Bangladesh Marred by Voter Suppression; Aljazeera, 31 December 2018: Bangladesh election makes mockery of democracy: BNP’s Alamgir; BBC, 31 2018: Bangladesh elections: Deadly clashes mar vote). Even a BBC correspondent  found the filled ballot boxes at a polling center in the port city of Chittagong. During this government regime since 2009 nearly 600 people have been forcibly disappeared by security forces which has been reported by Human rights watch, published on 16 August 2021 (“Where No Sun Can Enter” A Decade of Enforced Disappearances in Bangladesh). Although some victims have been released or produced in court after weeks or months of secret detention, the fate of others victims was found to be death that are falsely claimed to be deaths during gunfights. Alongside with the above -mentioned report, Human Rights Watch created a missing profile of 86 victims in Bangladesh who were forcibly disappeared and still missing. 

Here is one example. Journalist Shafiqul Islam Kajol disappeared. After 53 days of his disappearances ( 3 May 2020), he was found in a field, blindfolded, with his legs and arms bound, then  the border-guards in Benapole (bangladesh-India border) arrested him and accused of attempting to illegally cross the border and charged with trespassing (The daily Star, 3 May 2020: Case filed against journo Kajol for ‘trespassing into Bangladesh from India). Later, Kajol was charged in four different cases against him: three under the Digital Security Act for  his posts on Facebook and an additional charge of trespassing. He was further held in jail under Section 54 of the Criminal Procedure Code and faced 7 years of jail term. After 7 months of his imprisonment, Kajol obtained bail from high court on 17 December 2020 (The Business Standard, 25 December 2020: Journalist Kajol released from jail). Voice of America (VOA) reported on 8 October 2022 (Bangladesh Accused of Rewarding Alleged Rights Abusers) that at least 2,658 people were killed extrajudicially, and 623 became victims of enforced disappearance in Bangladesh between 2009 and June 2022. The Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) is responsible for more enforced disappearances in Bangladesh than any other unit. The RAB is recognised as a notorious and abusive death squad. On 10th of December 2021, the United States imposed sanctions on Bangladesh’s notorious law enforcement unit RAB and its current and former commanders for conducting extra judicial killings.  After the sanctions, through June 2022, at least 25 people were killed extrajudicially, and 11 became victims of enforced disappearance in Bangladesh (VOA report as above).

The major opposition party BNP has been under threat since the Awami League led government in power. BNP leader Begum Khaleda in prison with conditional bailment in home security. She is restricted from participating in any party’s agenda. Her son, Tareq Rahman, BNP’s acting chairman is overseas. A number of  criminal charges were filed against him and he is not allowed to come back to Bangladesh. Recently the court ruled an order to the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) to confiscate the moveable and immoveable properties of BNP acting chairman Tarique Rahman and his wife Zubaida Rahman in a graft case filed by the ACC (The observer, 6 January 2023: ACC Case Court orders confiscation of Tarique, his wife properties). It is noted that the ACC is often being criticized ineffective due to the influence of the ruling party over it (Ref: Syeda Naushin Parnini , 2011. “Governance Reforms and Anti-Corruption Commission in Bangladesh”. Governance and Corruption. The Romanian Journal of Political Science. 11 (1).) It is malfunctioned by the amendment of Anti Corruption Commission Act introduced in 2013 by  the ruling Awami League government, which makes mandatory persimmon from the government to investigate or file any charge  against government bureaucrats or politicians. However, it is not necessary to explain that the ruling party is always biased to their own politician and always ignores the corruption of their party’s leader. Clearly it can be said that ACC has been recognised as a tool to oppose the opposition for a long time (Ref: BD’s anti-corruption body made ineffective”. Dawn. 11 August 2005. Retrieved 27 January 2017;  Iftekhar Zaman, Executive Director of Transparency International Bangladesh (14 November 2013), Anti-corruption Commission (Amendment) Bill Unconstitutional, discriminatory, self-defeating, retrieved 7 May 2016). 

The international communities and organizations are concerned about the brutal human right violation; fairness of next election; fairplay of political parties and cracking down the opposition. They would like to see a free fair election in Bangladesh in 2023/2024. After a meeting with the chief election commissioner and election commissioners on 8 June 2022, US ambassador, Peter Haas said that the US  wanted an election in Bangladesh in which people would be able to exercise their franchise to choose their leaders. The UN and European diplomats have talked to the BNP in successive meetings for the purpose of discussion of free fair election (NewAge Bangladesh, 14 July 2022: Diplomats’ move over next polls puts AL at unease). This move has put the ruling party Awami League (AL) in an uneasy situation. Some of the AL’s leaders showed their anger and frustration against those diplomates. Information and Broadcasting Minister Hasan Mahmud criticized BNP for their meetings with foreign ambassadors and different foreign organizations. He said “Ambassadors or representatives of foreign organizations have no right to vote for anyone in this country”. Agriculture minister and AL presidium member Abdur Razzaque said that BNP should go to the people of the country, not diplomats to return to power.Awami League international affairs secretary Shammi Ahmed that all parties and diplomates should follow norms of diplomatic relations. It is as usual AL leaders always critique the opposition party not to discuss with foreign organizations or diplomates about the election or any issues of bangladesh. However, foreign minister Dr Momen said on one occasion that he requested India to keep Hasina in power for another time, although it is a violation of the country’s sovereignty. Similarly, the General Secretary of the ruling party,  Obaidul Quader,  has said “Eventually, India will not put us in power. The mandate has to come from the electorate. But having India on our [Awami League] side bolsters the party’s strength” (bdnews24.com, 11 January 2023: Having India beside Awami League bolsters the party’s strength, says Obaidul Quader). It is usual for the ruling party’s leader to be reluctant on India’s involvement in Bangladesh’s politics but  tough on other countries, sometimes they do not care about diplomatic norms. On one occasion foreign Minister said that Bangladesh has weakness in democracy but the US has weakness too (Dhaka Tribune, 11 Oct 2022: Momen: Democracy in US has weaknesses too). He also mentioned that Foreigners’ knowledge on Bangladesh is very limited, sometimes, they give idiotic advice. He also advised Bangladeshi journalists not to listen to foreigners’ statements about Bangladesh. He urged that if journalists do not go to them, they would sit idle and smoke hookah (a slang word to insult someone who does not have any duty except smoking) (The Business Standard, 4 January, 2023: Sometimes foreigners give ‘idiotic’ advice: Momen). So, it can be clearly said that poor diplomatic language from the ruling party may take Bangladesh to harsh diplomatic relations with any country.  

However, to clarify the US position regarding the election of Bangladesh, US diplomat, Peter Haas clearly stated  “I want to make one thing very clear here. The United States does not support any particular political party. I’ll repeat it. The United States does not support any particular political party” (The observer,  28 September, 2022: US wants to see free and fair election in Bangladesh, says Ambassador Peter Haas; The Business Standard, 28 September, 2022: US doesn’t support any particular party in Bangladesh: US envoy). However, Peter D Haas expressed his concern openly on critical human rights violations, accountability of Rab, political violence (The Daily Star, 3 Oct, 2022: US watching processes to free, fair polls). In August 2022, The UN high commissioner for human rights,  Michelle Bachelet told Bangladesh government to establish “an impartial, independent and transparent investigation” into allegations of enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killing and torture (VOA, 17 August, 2022: UN Rights Chief Calls for Independent Probe of Bangladesh Disappearances) although Bangladesh authority always deny this disappearances and human right violation. For example, Mofizul Islam Rashed, senior vice president of the BNP student wing, Chhatra Dal was picked up by three or four men from a tea stall on April 4, 2014. Witnesses said that those people claimed that they were  members of the law enforcement  “DB” (Detective Branch). When his family visited the Detective Branch and other police officers and the RAB-4 office, security forces denied arresting him. Instead of telling the truth they taunted Rashed’s wife, Marufa Islam Ruma,  insisting that perhaps Rashed was having an extra-marital affair with other women and had left her. This is just one example of a politicized institution in Bangladesh. In another instance, Johirul Haque Khandaker, Korshed Alam Patwari, and Sayed Akidul Ali were picked up in January 2019 by men wearing RAB uniforms. The three men were held in secret detention for eight months until they were produced in court under vague charges of “involvement in a banned terrorist organization. Shortly after, on October 11, 2019, Khandaker died in the prison annex of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University Hospital in Dhaka. According to media reports, his death certificate stated that he died from a “cardio-pulmonary failure. These two above-mentioned scenarios have been taken from the Human Right Watch Report 2021 (Where No Sun Can Enter-A Decade of Enforced Disappearances in Bangladesh).  Moreover, on 24 December 2022, BNP leader Abdur Rashid was shot dead during the party’s mass procession programme in Panchagarh.  Information and broadcasting minister Hasan Mahmudon said that the death  was due to a heart attack, not a clash with police (Prothom Alo English Desk, 27 December 2022: Panchagarh BNP leader died of heart attack: Hasan).  This kind of lying is common from the ruling party and politically biased government authority. Even when the international community expresses their concern about killing the opposition, AL leaders sometimes blame them too.  For example, the PM Sheikh Hasina claimed that forced disappearances also took  place in UK and US (The Guardian 25 Nov 2017:  Bangladesh PM claims ”forced disappearances take place in UK and US). Even the prime minister’s son, Sajeeb Wazed Joy, denied the all incidents over enforced disappearances (The Diplomat, 23 May 2018: Bangladesh: ‘Disappeared’ Reappear All the Time- The prime minister’s son responds to concerns over enforced disappearances). 

Because of US sanction and international organization’s pressure the ruling party is under stress. It seemed that the ruling party cut the opposition party some slack. On 23 July 2022, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said that  she would  offer BNP leaders tea if they came to seize  her office (Prime Minister’s Office). She also said “I will listen to them – whatever they want to say. I believe in democracy”.  Although she offered BNP leaders tea, cracking down on the opposition party was not stopped. Soon after on 31 July 2022, BNP activist Abdur Rahim was killed by police in Bhola district during a peaceful procession protesting the power crisis and price spiral of essentials. Another BNP activist  Noor-e-Alam, president of Bhola district unit of Jatiyatabadi Chhatra Dal (JCD) was injured on the same day  and died later on August 3, 2022 while undergoing treatment at Comfort Hospital in Dhaka. On 23rd August 2022, even within the hostile situation, the BNP and its front organizations launched nationwide protests against the recent hike in fuel and commodity prices and mismanagement in the energy sector. Police as well as  ruling Awami League supporters reportedly attacked or obstructed BNP rallies in various districts and injured many BNP activists. On 1 September 2022, a young BNP activist Shaon (24)  was killed  during a clash between police and BNP activists in Narayanganj town. Footage published in several newspapers showed that DB police were shooting directly at activists. However, Police lied that the injuries were from brickbats, not bullets.

As part of the three-month campaign to mobilize support and denounce the ruling Awami League (AL) party for inflation, the BNP has called for a protest in Dhaka on 10 Dec 2022. BNP plans to rally in front of its headquarters at Nayapaltan at any means while the government and police have been saying the BNP would not be allowed to hold the rally anywhere but Suhrawardy Udyan. Thousands of BNP activists were standing in front of the party headquarters on 7 December 2022 afternoon. Police cracked down the gatherings and killed one person, the person’s name was Mokbul Hossain. During this crackdown,  BNP Senior Joint Secretary General Ruhul Kabir Rizvi along with 300 other party leaders and activists were arrested. More than 6,000 people, including BNP leaders, activists and their family members, were arrested across the country between 1st and 9th December 2022 in separate operations. In the early hours of 9th December, the BNP’s general secretary, Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, and the BNP former minister Mirza Abbas were taken from their homes by police, then charged with planning mass destruction. They were denied bail from Dhaka court on 13 December 2022. Later, The High Court  granted bail on 2 January 2023.

It is noted that a total  of 92 cases have been filed against Mirza Fakhrul in the past 10 years and a total of 155 cases have been filed against Mirza Abbas since 2007. On 10 December 2022 in Dhaka, tens of thousands of people protested demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League-led government and to call for new free fair elections under the caretaker government to restore democracy. 

In summary, Bangladesh authority or ruling party uses digital security act; forceful disappearance; extrajudicial killing by the name crossed-fire; fake or fabricated criminal charge; etc to crackdown the opposition. Since 2009, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League won a third consecutive  election, keeping her at the top of the power, holding a firm grip  on the country’s politics, and establishing a one-party monopoly. No one can protest against her dynasty. Thus, people of Bangladesh outcry for democracy and seek help from the international organizations to discuss with the Bangladesh ruling party as well as other political parties in order to find a better political solution.  

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