By Asad Ali
Bangladesh is pivotal state in South Asia. Sheikh Hasina, has been the Prime Minister of Bangladesh since January 2009, serving as the head of the Awami League party. While there have been political tensions and conflicts between her Awami League and former Prime Minister Khalida Zia’s Bangladesh National Party (BNP), Sheikh Hasina’s government launched a specific crackdown against opposition parties, including Khaleda Zia, the leader of the BNP.
Under Hasina Wajid’s rule, Bangladesh has witnessed periods of political turmoil and clashes between various political parties. Political rivalry and disagreements have sometimes resulted in arrests, protests, and legal actions against opposition leaders from BNP. The political dynamics can change over time as Dhaka is heading towards next general elections, which are slated to be held in January 2024. Incumbent government in Dhaka will try to manipulate and rig the elections. Owing to Hasina government’s likely political engineering in the elections, the US administration has categorically announced that it will imposes visa restrictions upon those, who try to manipulate the elections.
Similarly, international human rights organizations have also raised their voices against the political victimizations in Dhaka under the ambit of Hasina government. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are well-known international organizations that monitor and report on human rights issues around the world. They aim to promote and protect human rights, including freedom of speech, assembly, and political expression. Regarding Bangladesh and its Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, these organizations have urged Hasina government to respect the constitutions and ensure provision of fundamental rights to the people. Even liberal quarters in Dhaka have also criticized the policies of Hasina government.
It is pertinent to mention that Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, as well as media outlets scrutinize the actions of political leaders and governments around the world. They raise concerns or criticize policies if they perceive violations of human rights, suppression of freedom of speech, or other issues inconsistent with international standards. In Bangladesh’s case, they are very open and unbiased. Their criticism based on facts and ground realities.
In last few years, Hasina government has intensified its crackdown against opposition parties particularly Khalida Zia’s BNP and Jamat e Islami. A number of Jamat e Islami leaders sent to gallows under trumped up charges of treason and sham trial. Likewise, dissident voices are being suppressed across the country. People of all walk of life such as teachers, writers, intellectuals, journalists etc highlighting fascism and autocratic policies of government are being harassed and threatened. In recent past, the country has witnessed massive crackdown against journalists who are criticizing government policies. Journalists, who are not toeing the line of government, are detained under so-called charges of sedition and treason.
DSA (Digital Security Act-2018), anti-cybercrime law is being misused. The DSA is enacted in Bangladesh to address cybercrimes and regulate online activities. The DSA specifically aims to prevent the spread of propaganda, extremist content, and other forms of harmful online material. However, there have been concerns about the misuse of these laws to suppress freedom of expression and target individuals critical of the government. Critics argue that the DSA and the ICT Act have been used to stifle dissent and curtail freedom of speech, as they provide broad powers to law enforcement agencies to monitor online activities, intercept communications, and arrest individuals without proper safeguards or oversight. There have been numerous cases where journalists, bloggers, and social media users have faced charges under these laws for expressing their opinions or criticizing the government.
The laws have faced criticism from human rights organizations, media watchdogs, and international bodies, who have raised concerns about their potential for abuse and the chilling effect they have on freedom of expression. Such criticism has called for a review and amendment of these laws to align them with international human rights standards and ensure their proper implementation.
To further expand its crackdown against opposition and suppress liberal voices, Rapid Acton Battalion (RAB), an anti-terrorist force being used. The Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) is an elite anti-crime and counterterrorism force in Bangladesh. It was established in 2004 with the aim of combating various forms of organized crime, including terrorism, as well as addressing emerging security challenges in the country. Hasina government even politicized RAB and consistently been using it against opposition.
While RAB initially gained public support for its efforts in curbing criminal activities and combating terrorism, there have been concerns and allegations regarding its operations and treatment of opponents and critics. Human rights organizations and activists have raised questions about the excessive use of force, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, and alleged torture perpetrated by some members of the force.
Likewise, it is also responsibility of human rights watchdogs and international media to exert more pressure on Hasina government while urging her to thoroughly investigate the extrajudicial actions of RAB. As per international law, any allegations of misuse of power and human rights abuses should be investigated thoroughly and addressed according to the rule of law. Upholding human rights, ensuring accountability, and maintaining transparency are essential principles for any law enforcement agency to gain and maintain public trust.
The writer is Islamabad based expert of South Asian politics.