30 Dec election not free, fair: US

Staff Correspondent . Dhaka | Update:

File PhotoThe United States has termed Bangladesh's 30 December national election "lopsided" saying that it was marred by reported irregularities, including ballot-box stuffing and intimidation of opposition polling agents and voters.

The US Department of State in its latest annual report titled ‘Bangladesh Human Rights Report -2018’ states, "Prime minister Sheikh Hasina and her Awami League party won a third consecutive five-year term in an improbably lopsided December parliamentary election that was not considered free and fair, and was marred by reported irregularities, including ballot-box stuffing and intimidation of opposition polling agents and voters."

In the report published on Wednesday, the US Department of State also criticised the obstacles opposition political parties faced last year before the parliamentary election.

The report also reads, "During the campaign leading up to the election, there were credible reports of harassment, intimidation, arbitrary arrests, and violence that made it difficult for many opposition candidates and their supporters to meet, hold rallies, and campaign freely."

Sheikh Hasina's Awami League won an incredible 288 seats in the 300-seat parliament in the 30 December, 2018 election, with opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) chairperson Khaleda Zia in jail on charges her opponents say are politically motivated.

Photo: US Embassy in Bangladesh On election observers of the 30 December polls, the report states, "International election monitors were not issued accreditation and visas within the timeframe necessary to conduct a credible international monitoring mission, and only seven of the 22 Election Working Group NGOs were approved to conduct domestic election observation."

The US in the report has said unlawful or political killings, forced disappearances, life-threatening prison conditions, freedom of speech limitations, negative government pressure on and fear of reprisal by press and media, and impunity for security force abuses were the most significant human rights problems in Bangladesh last year.

"There were reports of widespread impunity for security force abuses last year, while the Bangladesh government took few measures to investigate and prosecute cases of abuse and killing by security forces," says the report.

It also considered a number of rights issues, such as torture, arbitrary detentions, corruption, trafficking, overly restrictive NGO laws, workers' rights, use of the worst forms of child labour, and violence against LGBTI persons; unlawful interference into privacy, censorship, site blocking, peaceful assembly and freedom of association; criminal libel; restrictions on freedom of movement, political participation, trade unions.

The report said the government neither released statistics on total killings by security personnel nor took comprehensive measures to investigate them.

 In regards to the security forces' continued abuses with impunity, it identified lengthy trial procedures, retribution, and police having ties to ruling party men who occupy key positions in law and enforcement agencies.

“Reluctance to bring charges against police also perpetuated a climate of impunity,” it adds.

In terms of freedom of expression, it said the government sometimes failed to respect the right.

"There were significant limitations on freedom of speech with self-censorship persisting due to harassment and fear of reprisal," the report reads.

It also said both print and online independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views; however, media outlets that criticised the government experienced negative government pressure.

It adds, "Civil society said political interference influenced the licensing process, since all television channel licenses granted by the government were for stations supporting the ruling party. There were also incidents of journalists coming under attack by ruling party loyalists and intelligence men."

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