Dhaka, Sep 21 (EFE).- Global watchdog CIVICUS Monitor on Thursday added Bangladesh to its watchlist of countries experiencing rapid declines in civic freedoms amid a crackdown on the opposition and the government’s critics.
The Johannesburg-based civil rights group accused the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of doing whatever it takes to crush dissent through legal and other means ahead of a national election slated for January next year.
“Bangladesh is going down a dangerous path. We have seen the authorities ramp up its repression of the opposition, activists and critics with impunity,” Josef Benedict, Asia Pacific researcher for CIVICUS, said in a statement.
“To ensure credible elections in January, the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina must respect fundamental freedoms, including the right to protest and speak freely and ensure a safe and peaceful environment for all political parties to operate,” he added.
The CIVICUS Monitor watchlist, whose release coincided with the 54th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council between Sep. 11 and Oct. 13, highlighted five countries at risk of a sharp downturn in civic rights and freedoms.
The other countries on the list are Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ecuador, Senegal, and the United Arab Emirates.
“The harassment of human rights defenders and journalists and the repressive environment has created a chilling effect in Bangladesh, with many fearful of speaking up,” Benedict said.
So far this year, authorities have carried out mass arrests of supporters of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) taking part in protests and filed thousands of fabricated cases against them, said the group, which assesses the civic space conditions of 197 countries and territories.
According to BNP, until Sep. 20, the government had prosecuted a total of 4,928,492 of its leaders and activists in 1,41,689 cases since 2009.
During this period, 1,539 party activists were killed, including 799 by members of law-enforcing agencies, a BNP spokesperson told EFE.
“In order to retain power, the (ruling) Awami League is grossly violating human rights with attacks, arrests, and fake cases. The government is suppressing not only the opposition but all dissenters,” BNP spokesperson Shahiduddin Chowdhury Annie said.
The Bangladesh government has always denied allegations of rights violations. EFE