The coming election in Bangladesh poses as the country’s last chance to determine the course of its democracy and rule of law. However, abuse of power and the crackdown on the media, human rights activists, critics of the government, lawyers and the civil society, as well as extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and abductions are a cause of concern.
These views were expressed at the debate on Bangladesh’s human rights situation held at the European Parliament on Thursday in Strasbourg, France. A draft resolution was adopted at the end of the debate by the parliament members, calling upon all political parties in Bangladesh to take part in the election. They also called for an amendment of the digital security act.
During the discussion, Austrian politician Josef Weidenholzer said that the election to be held at the end of the year in Bangladesh was important for the country. If the situation deteriorated, this would have an impact on Europe too. He highlighted the escalating oppression and repression of civil society, political activists and human rights activists in Bangladesh, also mentioning that there were reports of extrajudicial killings, mass arrests and enforced disappearances. The media too was under threat, he said.
Weidenholzer said that opposition leader and BNP chairperson Khaleda Zia would not be able to contest in the coming election and that the party supporters maintained that she was imprisoned in politically motivated cases filed against her. He called upon the Bangladesh government to create an environment conducive to the election, where people could express their views freely and cast their votes in free and fair polls.
British politician and member of the European Parliament Charles Tannock said that there was development in many sectors in Bangladesh, but the state of human rights was deteriorating, as was evident in the arrest of photographer Shahidul Alam.
British politician Sajjad Karim said, there was a lot to be done for the improvement of democracy and human rights in Bangladesh.
Another speaker said that if the coming election was not inclusive and peaceful, Bangladesh’s democratic continuity would be hampered.
The people and the government of Bangladesh were lauded for their constructive role in accepting Rohingya refugees from neighbouring Myanmar. However, it was also said that the repatriation of the refugees should only take place in conditions for a safe, dignified and voluntary return.
EEU commissioner for humanitarian aid and crisis management Christos Stylianides said that EEU had long been expressing concern about Bangladesh human rights situation. Journalists and students in Bangladesh were under attack. The digital security act curbed the freedom of expression and freedom of the press. He called for a transparent, neutral and inclusive election and also called upon the government to ensure a safe environment for the polls.
At the end of the debate, the European Parliament drew up a draft resolution regarding Bangladesh, expressing serious concern about human rights in the country, including the crackdown against media, students, human rights activists and the political opposition. It called upon the media to conduct independent investigations into reports of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and excessive force, including the disappearance of former ambassador Maroof Zaman and Mir Ahmad Bin Quasem.
The draft resolution called for the immediate release of photographer Shahidul Alam, amendment of the digital security act, abolition the death sentence, reforming the labour laws, removing the clause allowing marriage under 18 in ‘special circumstances’, ensuring safe and dignified repatriation of Rohingyas, identifying challenges to human rights and resolving these challenges.