Bangladesh: Amid Demands for Fair Elections, Violence Breaks Out

November 02, 2023
Witnesses accused Bangladeshi police of using unnecessary force during political protests on October 28, 2023, Human Rights Watch said today. Although violence occurred on all sides, these events were part of an ongoing police crackdown against political opposition. At least 11 people, including two police officers, were killed and hundreds more injured in the events of October 28 and the violence that followed. The Bangladesh government is ignoring international calls for restraint and its own promises to hold peaceful, free and fair elections. National elections are scheduled for January 2024. “Many Bangladeshis say they have been fearing an escalation in violence because of the government crackdown on the political opposition in an attempt to subvert participation and voting,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Bangladesh’s international partners should insist that elections cannot be considered fair when the opposition is targeted, harassed, and behind bars.” Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's Awami League-led government has arrested thousands of opposition members, including Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, secretary general of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), and sealed the party's offices. The government has increasingly carried out mass arbitrary arrests over the past year, seemingly in a coordinated effort to suppress protest in the run-up to the election. During the clashes on October 28, Awami League and BNP supporters became violent, injuring hundreds of people, including dozens of journalists. Both sides deny their involvement. While authorities hold the BNP responsible for the violence, the BNP accuses the government of infiltrating the protests to stoke the violence and discredit what it sees as a peaceful movement. Human Rights Watch said political party leaders should urge their supporters to campaign peacefully. The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights called on “all political actors to make clear that such violence is unacceptable and to avoid any statements or actions that could constitute incitement to violence.” Witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch said police fired excessively with rubber bullets and tear gas into the crowd. The government should publicly order security forces to respect the United Nations Basic Principles on the use of force and firearms by law enforcement officials when responding to violent protests. At least 1,500 opposition members were arrested in the days before the protest and BNP leaders said authorities searched party members' homes. Police also set up checkpoints around the capital Dhaka and arrested opposition activists who were participating in the October 28 protest. According to the opposition, nearly 5,000 party leaders and activists have been arrested since similar protests took place in July, while tens of thousands of people have been charged in hundreds of additional cases. “Prisons are being invaded by our party leaders,” BNP leader Ruhul Kabir Rizvi said at a press conference on October 26. The mass arrests appear to reflect orders by police officials to systematically arrest and sentence opposition members to exclusion from participating in national elections. Trials are said to be continuing late into the night to intensify these efforts and according to the BNP, at least 50 people have been convicted. Some detainees said they were tortured. Shahid Uddin Chowdhury Annie, BNP leader, told media that police beat him while he was detained. Chief Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal denied the charges, saying Chowdhury had lied about torture to attract the court's attention. Human Rights Watch said all allegations of torture and other abuse against detainees must be thoroughly and independently investigated, and those responsible held accountable. According to media reports, there has been only one torture case that resulted in a conviction under the country's Prevention of Torture and Death in Custody Act since its enactment a decade ago. In September, the European Union informed the Bangladesh government that it would not send a full election observation mission to the January election, saying the decision “reflects the fact that at the present time, it is not sufficiently clear whether the necessary conditions will be met.” In September, the European Parliament also sounded the alarm over growing abuses in Bangladesh, questioning the EU's ability to receive trade benefits under the Everything But Arms program. Mass arrests targeting the opposition further undermine conditions for fair elections. The United States has said it will “impose visa restrictions on Bangladeshi individuals responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic election process in Bangladesh.” “International partners should make clear that they will not continue business as usual with Bangladesh as authorities carry out election abuses,” Ganguly said. “They should condemn the mass arrests and targeting of the opposition and lay out consequences for trade and diplomatic ties if Bangladesh fails to backtrack on its abuses.” Source: HRW.ORG

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