Bangladesh turning into 'one-party state'?

Prothom Alo English Desk | Update:

Al JazeeraThe jailing of former prime minister Khaleda Zia and the 'state persecution of dissent' have raised fears that the next parliamentary election could turn into a violent sham, says Al Jazeera.

In a report published in its English portal on Wednesday, the Doha-based media outlet observed that fear is high that a 2014-like situation will repeat in the country.

The 11th parliamentary election is due in December this year.

Al Jazeera referred to the 2014 parliamentary elections, boycotted by all major opposition parties and large-scale violence and killings were reported then.

The ruling Awami League (AL) government faces allegations of a "concerted persecution of its opponents", according to the Al Jazeera report.

The report titled "Is Bangladesh moving towards one-party state?', said there is widespread concern, even among the common people, "over what lies ahead in an election year".

It mentioned that nearly 300 leaders and supporters of the BNP were arrested on the day of Khaleda Zia's verdict and since February this year, over 3,000 members of the opposition party have been put behind bars.

In support of its report, Al Jazeera also gave the reference to German think-tank Bertelsmann Foundation's report that listed Bangladesh as a new autocracy.

The report pointed out that rights groups, both local and international, have reported a deteriorating human rights situation in Bangladesh in recent years.

It  quoted a report of  Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK) which said as many as 519 people have allegedly fallen victim to enforced disappearances since 2010 while over 300 people are still missing.

It also quoted a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report released last year that said the Bangladesh government had secretly arrested hundreds of people, mostly activists and political figures, opposed to the Sheikh Hasina government.

Human Rights Watch South Asia Director Meenakshi Ganguly was quoted in the report as saying that Bangladesh may have won international praise for its humanitarian response to the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya by Myanmar but the domestic human rights situation remains a cause for concern.

"The government continues to deny enforced disappearances … It must release individuals taken into custody by the security forces. Many of those disappeared are linked to the political opposition," Ganguly was said to have observed.

She reportedly said Bangladeshi journalists and activists operate in a climate of fear, while many citizens have been slapped with cases for criticising the government on social media.

Ali Riaz from the Illinois State University. the US, was quoted in the report as saying that the current political and human rights situation in Bangladesh is "not suitable" for holding an election, let alone an "inclusive" one.

Riaz said if the beleaguered BNP is forced to boycott the next national election, along with other parties of the political alliance it leads, the election will be "hollow without any moral legitimacy, just like the 2014 elections".

"Continued persecution of the opposition is not only unwise, but also counterproductive. There is a tendency among the ruling parties here to forget that," Riaz was quoted as saying in the report.

Dhaka University law professor Asif Nazrul was quoted in the report as saying that the government denies the BNP and other opposition parties permission to hold rallies and processions "on security grounds", while it continues to hold large rallies in the run-up to the elections.

"It's a government and a political party which believe that they are not accountable to anyone. It's a dangerous sign in a democracy," the law professor was quoted in the report as saying.

However, information minister Hasanul Haq Inu denied all the allegations against the government.

"All the arms of a true democracy, including the judiciary and the media, are fully independent in Bangladesh," Inu was quoted to have claimed.

Senior Awami League leader Faruq Khan reportedly said the rights groups' accusation of human rights violation in Bangladesh is not true.

"Our government has, in fact, set up an example before the world of upholding human rights by giving refuge to a million Rohingya refugees who have fled Myanmar," Khan was quoted in the report as saying.

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