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Opposition being intimidated, EC partisan: HRW alleges

14 December 2018,Friday, 18:03



Staff Correspondent

The New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) has said security forces in Bangladesh have been arresting and intimidating opposition figures and threatening freedom of expression ahead of the December 30 national elections.

The rights watchdog in a statement on Thursday said the United Nations, European Union, United States, India, China, and others should press the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to create conditions conducive to a free and fair vote and to prevent campaign violence.

“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,” said Brad Adams, Asia director.

“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.”

The HRW said its research from October to early December found repeated instances of arbitrary security force arrest and detention of protesters and political opposition figures, and acts of violence and intimidation by members of the ruling party’s student and youth wings.

It said the “crackdown, and the broad and vaguely worded laws” that facilitate it, are contributing to an environment of fear.

“Institutions including the judiciary and the national election commission do not appear to be fully prepared to independently and fairly resolve disputes around campaigns and elections, such as on registration, candidacies, and results,” read the statement.

The rights group said Bangladesh authorities should end the crackdown on the political opposition and on free expression ahead of the national elections to ensure Bangladeshis their internationally protected right to choose their government.

“Serious problems with the electoral process include surveillance, intimidation, detention, and politically motivated prosecution of key opposition members including party polling agents. Other major concerns include a crackdown on independent media and repressive laws restricting speech, association, and assembly.”

Mentioning that the intensified crackdown began in September, the HRW said: “According to the opposition BNP, the authorities have brought more than 300,000 politically motivated criminal cases against its party members and supporters and thousands have been arrested. Supporters of the joint opposition group Oikya Front (United Front) have been targeted. Members of the Jamaat-e-Islami political party have also been arrested.”

It further said allegations against opposition leaders appear arbitrary. BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir is facing 46 cases. A standing committee member, Mirza Abbas, faces 42 cases. And the BNP candidate Saiful Alam Nirob, who is running against the home minister, is facing 267 cases.

 

While Chief Election Commissioner KM Nurul Huda said he wanted to ensure “everyone follows the electoral code of conduct,” opposition parties accuse the commission of backing the ruling party. For instance, while only three ruling Awami League candidates were disqualified, 141 from the BNP were rejected, the statement further mentioned.

On cases filed against opposition leaders and activists, the HRW said in many cases, the charges appear to be groundless. In fact, numerous cases have come to light in which accused people are either dead or were abroad or hospitalized at the time of the alleged offense.

“On October 17, a year to the day after he died, Zasim Uddin Chaudhary, a BNP supporter, was charged with throwing gasoline bombs in Chittagong. Nasrul Islam, who was indicted on September 5, had died five days earlier. Mintu Kumar Das, a Dhaka BNP leader charged with blocking a road on September 11, died in 2007.

Following reports of charges of “planning subversive activities” against people who are dead, abroad, or paralyzed, the inspector general of police, Mohammad Javed Patwary, ordered unit commanders to investigate how these mistakes had been made,” the statement mentioned.

It further said that a number of opposition candidates have been attacked in recent days.

“On December 12, 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 December 11, while he was campaigning. Vehicles accompanying another BNP candidate, Sharifuzzaman Sharif, were attacked on December 10.”

“Reports of campaign violence, mainly targeting opposition candidates and their supporters, are rapidly multiplying. In many cases the police reportedly denied any knowledge of the incidents,” the HRW further said.

 

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