HRW denounces Bangladesh crackdown on opposition

Dhaka, Oct 10 (EFE).- The New York-based rights watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRW), in a statement Monday, urged the Bangladesh government to end its crackdown on the opposition and protect the right to freedom of association and peaceful assembly.

At least four people have died and hundreds have been injured in clashes between police, supporters of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), and the ruling Awami League supporters, since Aug.22.

The clashes occurred during events organized by the opposition in protest against hikes in prices of fuel and other commodities.

In early August, Bangladesh authorities had raised petroleum prices by up to 51 percent, as the government struggled to pay for oil imports amid rising prices in the global market.

HRW said that there have been concerning reports of the killing of BNP activists during other recent clashes.

Mass arrests and police raids of opposition party members’ homes raise serious concerns about violence and intimidation ahead of the upcoming parliamentary elections, said HRW.

“Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has repeatedly said that Bangladesh is a mature democracy capable of conducting elections and a peaceful transition of power, but instead previous polls have been marked by violence, attacks on the opposition, and voter intimidation,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

“These recent cases of political attacks and arrests set an ominous tone for the upcoming parliamentary elections,” she added.

Moreover, the nonprofit underlined that the authorities have filed mass cases against BNP supporters following these clashes.

It cited the example of a clash on Sep.21 in which an activist affiliated to the BNP youth wing was killed in Narayanganj, 25km southwest of Dhaka.

Police filed two cases naming 365 BNP leaders and activists as allegedly responsible for crimes, as well as 1,400 others as yet unidentified.

Police often add people to existing cases under those previously unidentified.

According to BNP leaders, at least 20,000 cases have been filed against its supporters, and in many of them the accused remain unnamed.

The use of criminal complaints against large numbers of “unknown” people is a common abusive practice in Bangladesh.

It allows the police to intimidate and threaten virtually anyone with arrest, to repeatedly re-arrest detainees even though they are not named in the cases, and to thwart bail requests, said HRW.

However, a Bangladesh police spokesperson denied any unlawful action on their part.

“The Bangladesh police always work for maintaining law and order, do not take unnecessary action against anyone. We respect all citizen’s rights,” police headquarters spokesperson Md Monzur Rahman told EFE.

Meanwhile, the rights watchdog stressed that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, as well as Awami League and BNP party leaders, should condemn political violence and call on their supporters to respect the right to safely and peacefully gather, and to run for office without fear.

The Awami League and BNP have ruled Bangladesh since 1991, except for a brief quasi-military rule in 2007-08. EFE


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