The annual global report on the year 2022 by the Human Rights Watch on Thursday said that the Awami League government was ramping up repression on the political opposition and dissent ahead of the parliamentary elections in Bangladesh next year while intimidating human rights defenders and victim families.
The report stated that the government did not take steps towards reforming the Rapid Action Battalion after it was sanctioned by the USA rather it dismissed the allegations that led to the sanctions in 2021 under the United States Global Magnitsky Act.
The Bangladesh authorities have also begun a campaign of threats and intimidation against human rights defenders and families of enforced disappearance victims, said the report.
The ruling Awami League is promising free and fair elections in response to increased international scrutiny but is belying the promise by ramping up repression, said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at the global human rights body headquartered in New York.
‘Donors and strategic partners should insist that Bangladeshis can express themselves and select their leaders without fear, including by supporting independent election monitoring missions,’ the HRW report suggested.
In the 712-page World Report 2023, its 33rd edition, the Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in close to 100 countries.
The HRW’s acting executive director Tirana Hassan said that in a world in which power has shifted it is no longer possible to rely on a small group of mostly Global North governments to defend human rights.
The Rohingya refugees, facing impossible conditions for a safe and voluntary return to their homeland Myanmar, suffer threats, extortion and ill-treatment by Bangladeshi security forces and other authorities, also observed the watchdog in its annual publication.
According to the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, the report went on to state, at least 20,000 cases have been filed against its supporters, in many cases with the accused unnamed.
Law enforcement officers have used these open cases as warrants to raid the homes of political opposition members in what appears to be overt political harassment and intimidation.
The HRW stated that following the US sanctions against the RAB and some of its former and current top commanders in December 2021, extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances momentarily dropped.
‘However, instead of taking steps toward reform, the government dismissed the allegations that led to sanctions, and the authorities began a campaign of threats and intimidation against human rights defenders and families of victims of enforced disappearances,’ it said.
It also said that the authorities continued to arrest critics under the ‘draconian’ Digital Security Act.
‘Authorities are increasingly going after dissidents abroad,’ the report stated, citing a recent report of the Bangladesh foreign ministry which prepared a list of dissidents abroad who are committing what the ministry said anti-state activities.
Authorities stepped up the targeting of relatives of expatriate dissidents, it further said.
It stated that the government also clamped down on human rights organisations and mentioned that Odhikar, a prominent Bangladesh rights group, was denied registration renewal while its leaders, Adilur Rahman Khan and ASM Nasruddin Elan, are facing surveillance and trials as part of ‘longstanding harassment’.