Bangladesh's 2018 parliamentary election, where Sheikh Hasina's Awami League won a third consecutive term, was neither free nor fair, according to a report published by the US Department of State on Monday.
The US Department of State on Monday released the 2022 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, an annual report required by US law.
“This election was not considered free and fair by observers due to reported irregularities, including ballot box stuffing and intimidation of opposition polling agents and voters,” the report said.
The Awami League also used law enforcement to bring cases and charges against opposition leaders, the report mentioned.
“The BNP claimed police implicated thousands of BNP members in criminal charges related to political demonstrations during the year and detained many of the accused. Human rights observers claimed many of these charges were politically motivated,” it added.
Extrajudicial killings dramatically decreased
Domestic human rights organization Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK) reported 19 individuals died in alleged extrajudicial killings or while in custody, including four in so-called crossfires with law enforcement agencies and eight due to physical torture before or while in custody, reads the report.
“According to another domestic human rights organization, of 25 incidents of alleged extrajudicial killings between January and September, four deaths resulted from law enforcement crossfire killings, 10 persons were shot to death by law enforcement officers, and 10 others died from alleged torture while in custody.”
Impunity for security forces
According to the US report, there were numerous reports of widespread impunity for security force abuses and corruption.
The government took few measures to identify, investigate, prosecute, and punish officials or security force members who committed human rights abuses or engaged in corruption, said the report
However, there were numerous reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, according to the report.
“Human rights groups and media reported disappearances and kidnappings continued, allegedly committed by security services. Between January and September, a local human rights organization reported 16 persons were victims of enforced disappearances. The government made limited efforts to prevent, investigate, or punish such acts,” the report said.
It also mentioned: “Civil society organizations reported victims of enforced disappearance were mostly opposition leaders, activists, and dissidents.
Limitations on freedom of expression
The report said that there were significant limitations on freedom of expression both online and offline. Members of media and bloggers self-censored their criticisms of the government due to harassment and fear of reprisal.
“Throughout the year the government widely used the DSA against persons criticizing the government, including questioning the government's handling of the pandemic,” it said.
“Increasingly, the law was used against speech found on social media, websites, and other digital platforms, including for commentators living outside of the country. In April the Centre for Governance Studies released a report that stated at least 2,244 individuals were accused in 890 DSA cases between January 2020 and February 2022. The report claimed an average of 32 arrests per month under the DSA, with arrest rates increasing in 2021 and during the year,” the report added.
The report also mentioned that the government restricted and disrupted access to the internet and censored online content in numerous incidents. The government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.
Opposition leaders and activists reported numerous restrictions towards organizations throughout the year, the US state department added.
Even though there is no Jewish community in the country, Politicians and imams made antisemitic statements, reportedly to gain support from their constituencies, the report said.
What US envoy says
Peter Haas, the US ambassador to Dhaka, made a statement regarding the report.
“Respecting the rights of individuals helps build a more secure, stable and prosperous world,” he said.
“Our identity as a nation boils down to protecting fundamental freedoms. The United States regularly raises human rights issues with the Bangladesh government in a spirit of honour, respect and partnership. We will continue this trend in the future as well,” he added.
The annual US report on the state of human rights across the globe is prepared in line with the UN treaties on rights and gives an overview of human rights and labour rights in 198 countries and regions worldwide.
The US has published this report for the past five decades. The report has no legal repercussions, nor does it rank or compare countries based on their human rights situation.
BDST: 1245 HRS, MAR 21, 2023