Dhaka, Sat, Mar 2019
05 April 2018,Thursday, 18:53
The jailing of former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia and the 'state persecution of dissent' have raised fears that the next parliamentary election could turn into a violent sham, says Al Jazeera.
The Doha-based media outlet in a report says that there is a fear that a 2014-like situation will repeat in the country when the parliamentary elections were boycotted by almost all the opposition parties and marred by large-scale violence and killings.
“Since the imprisonment of Bangladesh's opposition leader and two-time Prime Minister Khaleda Zia last month, it is becoming increasingly difficult for the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to reject allegations of turning into an authoritarian regime,” the report says.
The ruling Awami League (AL) government faces allegations of a ‘concerted persecution of its opponents’, it says in the report titled "Is Bangladesh moving towards one-party state?'
“There is widespread concern, even among the common people, "over what lies ahead in an election year".
Parliamentary elections in Bangladesh are due by December.
“While activists and political workers opposed to the government live under an increasing threat of being jailed or worse, there is widespread concern, even among the common people,” says the report, adding that nearly 300 leaders and supporters of the BNP were arrested on the day of Khaleda Zia's verdict and since February this year, over 3,000 members of the opposition party have been put behind bars.
To substantiate its report, Al Jazeera has referred to the German think-tank Bertelsmann Foundation's recently released report that listed Bangladesh as a new autocracy.
The report pointed out that rights groups, both local and international, have reported a deteriorating human rights situation in Bangladesh in recent years.
It quoted a report of local rights body Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK) which said as many as 519 people have allegedly fallen victim to enforced disappearances since 2010 while over 300 people are still missing.
It also quoted a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report released last year that said the Bangladesh government had secretly arrested hundreds of people, mostly activists and political figures, opposed to the Sheikh Hasina government.
Human Rights Watch South Asia Director Meenakshi Ganguly was also quoted in the report who said that Bangladesh may have won international praise for its humanitarian response to the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya by Myanmar but the domestic human rights situation remains a cause for concern.
"The government continues to deny enforced disappearances … It must release individuals taken into custody by the security forces. Many of those disappeared are linked to the political opposition," Ganguly was said to have observed.
She reportedly said Bangladeshi journalists and activists operate in a climate of fear, while many citizens have been slapped with cases for criticising the government on social media.
Al Jazeera report mentioned that on March 13 this year, Jakir Hossain, a leader of Chatra Dal, which is the BNP's student wing, died in police custody after he was allegedly tortured by the police.
Ali Riaz from the Illinois State University in the US was quoted in the report as saying that the current political and human rights situation in Bangladesh is "not suitable" for holding an election, let alone an "inclusive" one.
Riaz said if the beleaguered BNP is forced to boycott the next national election, along with other parties of the political alliance it leads, the election will be "hollow without any moral legitimacy, just like the 2014 elections".
"Continued persecution of the opposition is not only unwise, but also counterproductive. There is a tendency among the ruling parties here to forget that," Riaz was quoted as saying in the report.
Al Jazeera quoted Dhaka University law professor Asif Nazrul as saying that the government denies the BNP and other opposition parties permission to hold rallies and processions "on security grounds", while it continues to hold large rallies in the run-up to the elections.
"It's a government and a political party which believe that they are not accountable to anyone. It's a dangerous sign in a democracy," the law professor was quoted in the report as saying.
However, the report says Information Minister Hasanul Haq Inu has denied all the allegations against the government.
“The opposition party (BNP) enjoys complete freedom in its exercise of the democratic rights,” he report quoted Inu as saying.
The Bangladesh minister also rejected the German think-tank report that called the AL government autocratic as "intentional" and "baseless". He said he was eager to know what data Bertelsmann Stiftung had looked at.
"All the arms of a true democracy, including the judiciary and media, are fully independent in Bangladesh," Inu claimed.
Senior Awami League leader Faruq Khan reportedly said the rights groups' accusation of human rights violation in Bangladesh is not true.
"Our government has, in fact, set up an example before the world of upholding human rights by giving refuge to a million Rohingya refugees who have fled Myanmar," the report quoted Khan as saying.
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