The UK government said it will continue to address governance and human rights concerns in Bangladesh through diplomatic engagement and development programming.

Key concerns included further restrictions of freedom of expression, including the use of the Digital Security Act (DSA) to suppress criticism of the Bangladesh Government’s Covid-19 response, and continued violence against women and girls.

UK minister for Human Rights, Lord Tariq Ahmad of Wimbledon said their programme to strengthen media standards and protections continued to deliver results, for example in Ethiopia, Bangladesh and Sierra Leone.

The report said Bangladesh dropped to 151 (out of 180) in the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index [footnote 68], its lowest ever position.

Quoting NGO Article 19, the report said 198 cases were brought under the DSA against 451 individuals while 75 journalists were charged in 41 cases, and at least 32 journalists were arrested.

Over 400 other people, including health professionals and people critical of the government’s handling of Covid-19, were charged under the DSA, the report mentioned.

The UK supported the second conference of the Bangladesh Broadcast Journalist Centre, where broadcast journalists and expert panelists discussed the protection of journalists and media freedom, it said.

On the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists in November, the UK co-hosted a virtual pre-conference alongside Article 19 South Asia and the Canadian High Commission, to prepare for the second Global Conference for Media Freedom.

The UK government recognised and commended the fact Bangladesh continued to host around 860,000 Rohingyas in Cox’s Bazar district.

The UK and other partners continued to call for technical and protection assessments by the UN to evaluate the safety and sustainability of Bhasan Char, the report said.

The impact of Covid-19 in the Rohingya camps was less than initially feared, with 367 reported cases and ten deaths.

In October, the UK co-hosted a virtual donor conference on the Rohingya crisis alongside the US, EU and UN, and pledged £37.5 million of new funding.

This brought the total UK commitment to the Rohingya response in Bangladesh since August 2017 to £293.5 million.

UK funding, delivered through UN agencies and NGOs, provided food, healthcare and clean water and sanitation for the Rohingya and host communities.

Local human rights groups estimated that law enforcement agencies were responsible for 225 extra judicial killings, including ‘crossfires’ and incidents of torture, according to the UK report.

There were at least 31 reported cases of enforced disappearances. Two executions were reported, and 218 death sentences were handed down, compared with 327 in 2019, it said.

UK programme funds supported a project to help journalists reporting during the COVID-19 pandemic.

UK programme funds supported a number of other human rights priorities, including democratic governance and tackling modern slavery.

The UK-funded Death Penalty Project examined socio-economic profiles of death row prisoners, aiming to help shape debate with policy makers and civil society on abolishing the death penalty.

There were attacks on 67 minority places of worship, including temples, monasteries and statues, the report claimed.

Hindus reported incidents of land grabbing, particularly following demonstrations against France in November.

In the Chittagong Hill Tracts, the Mro indigenous people demonstrated in November against plans to construct a five-star hotel which threatened to displace them from their ancestral lands.

Local human rights groups reported that 1,627 women had been raped.

Human rights activists blamed the absence of effective law enforcement, exacerbated by Covid-19, for the increase in cases of rape.

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