Bangladesh has come under fire from human rights groups and foreign governments for launching a sweeping and violent crackdown on opposition parties to “eliminate competition” ahead of general elections, including arresting almost 10,000 activists.
The main opposition party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), has accused the ruling Awami League of using security forces and its supporters to attack its rallies, raid its offices, and detain its leaders and activists on false charges. The BNP has also claimed that at least four of its members have been killed and hundreds injured in clashes since August.
The crackdown has intensified in recent weeks, as the BNP announced its plans to hold a massive rally in the capital, Dhaka, on December 10, to mark the International Human Rights Day and demand free and fair elections. The authorities have denied permission for the rally, citing security reasons, and have set up checkpoints and barricades to prevent opposition supporters from entering the city.
On December 7, one man was killed and over 50 others injured during clashes between police, Awami League and BNP supporters in different parts of the country3. On December 8, police raided the BNP headquarters and arrested two senior leaders, Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir and Mirza Abbas, accusing them of inciting violence.
On December 9, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina reportedly told her party leaders and activists, “The hands that would be raised against us have to be broken”.
The crackdown has drawn condemnation from international human rights organizations, which said that the authorities should respect the rule of law and protect political opposition supporters’ right to freedom of association and peaceful assembly.
The UN special rapporteur on freedom of association and peaceful assembly, Clement Voule, said the authorities should guarantee the right to peaceful assembly and not use excessive force against protesters.
Bangladesh is scheduled to hold its 12th parliamentary elections on January 7, 2024. The Awami League, led by Sheikh Hasina, is seeking its fourth consecutive term in power, while the BNP, led by former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, is hoping to make a comeback after boycotting the last elections in 2014. The BNP has demanded a neutral caretaker government to oversee the polls, but the Awami League has rejected the idea, saying it is unconstitutional.
The BNP has also alleged that the government is trying to rig the elections by manipulating the voter list, the electoral commission, and the judiciary. The BNP leader, Khaleda Zia, has been in jail since February 2018, after being convicted of corruption charges, which she denies as politically motivated. The BNP has said that it will not participate in the elections unless she is released and allowed to run.
The elections are expected to be a test of Bangladesh’s democracy, which has been marred by violence, repression, and corruption in the past. The country, which has a population of about 170 million, is also facing challenges such as poverty, inequality, climate change, and the Rohingya refugee crisis.