Home minister rejects HRW statement

Home minister Asaduzzaman KhanFile photo

Home minister Asaduzzaman Khan has rejected Human Rights Watch (HRW) statement that the organisation was getting complaints that authorities and the ruling Awami League supporters were attacking opposition politicians and harassing them ahead of national elections in 2023.

"It is nothing but mere propaganda” to tarnish the image of the government as well as the country.

“Such allegations are baseless. The allegations of mass arrests and police raids are not true,” UNB quoted the home minister as saying. "Nothing is happening like that," Asaduzzaman added.

The home minister said that police have some regular duties to follow and sometimes they visit homes of the citizens to inquire when they need to do so.

“Mostly the special branch of police does this job. When they get reports that some people have gone missing, the members of the special branch visit their families to know the truth. It’s their routine work, not otherwise,” he said.

“The allegations of mass arrests and police raids are propaganda by BNP and Jamaat,” he said.

In a statement, the HRW said that Bangladesh authorities should respect the rule of law and protect political opposition supporters’ right to freedom of association, and peaceful assembly, reports UNB.

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

“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, in the statement.

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

It said at least four people have reportedly died and hundreds have been injured in clashes between police, supporters of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and the Awami League, since 22 August 2022, when the BNP staged a series of protests  over fuel and commodity price increases.

The statement said the authorities have filed mass cases against BNP supporters following such clashes. It echoed a BNP statement that at least 20,000 cases have been filed against its supporters, in many cases with the accused unnamed.

“The use of criminal complaints against large numbers of “unknown” people is a common abusive practice in Bangladesh, allowing the police to intimidate and threaten virtually anyone with arrest, to repeatedly re-arrest detainees even though they are not the named accused in the cases, and to thwart bail requests,” the statement reads.

Meenakshi said that Bangladesh’s law enforcement agencies are under increased scrutiny following US human rights sanctions and with parliamentary elections on the horizon.

“Diplomats in Bangladesh should raise concerns publicly and privately that such repression threatens the conditions for a free and fair election,” she said.