Bangladeshi authorities must investigate the killing of protesters and release prisoners – including a prominent journalist and an opposition leader – arrested this week as part of an apparent crackdown against the opposition Bangladesh National Party (BNP), Amnesty International said.
Two people were reported killed on Wednesday night during clashes between police and BNP supporters in the southern district of Noakhali. At least six people have been killed in protests since Monday.
“The government of Bangladesh has a duty to launch an immediate, thorough and independent investigation into these deaths and bring those responsible to justice,” said Abbas Faiz, Bangladesh Researcher at Amnesty International.
The unrest in Bangladesh comes a year after a disputed election on 5 January 2014 that brought to power the current Awami League government, led by Sheikh Hasina.
The opposition boycotted the election. On the anniversary of the vote this year, the BNP leader, Khaleda Zia, urged supporters to take to the streets and enforce a transport blockade.
Police have reportedly prevented Khaleda Zia from leaving BNP offices in Dhaka since 5 January.
Earlier this week, the police also arrested Abdus Salam, chairman of the Ekushey TV channel, and Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, the BNP’s Acting Secretary General. Several party activists have also been arrested.
There are several indications that the charges against Abdus Salam and Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir are politically motivated.
Abdus Salam was arrested on Tuesday, a few hours after Ekushay TV had broadcast a speech by Khaleda Zia’s son, Tarique Rahman. He has been charged under the Pornography Act, stemming from a complaint last November by a woman who said her reputation had been damaged by a programme about prostitution.
A court subsequently banned the media from reporting speeches by Tarique Rahman, who lives in self-imposed exile in the UK. According to local media, Ekushey TV may also face prosecution for broadcasting the speech.
BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir was also arrested this week, after attending a gathering organised by his party.
According to a police official, he had been detained on suspicion of involvement in arson attacks on buses – allegedly by BNP supporters.
However, there is no evidence Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir has advocated for or engaged in violent acts.
“These arrests represent clear violations of the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly,” said Abbas Faiz.
“The Bangladeshi authorities must demonstrate their commitment to international human rights law by ensuring no one is arbitrarily detained, harassed or intimidated for exercising their rights.”
Amnesty International has frequently highlighted the shrinking space for freedom of expression in Bangladesh. Newspapers and TV editors have been under severe pressure not to publish or broadcast the views of government critics.
On the anniversary of the 2014 election, the police announced a ban on all demonstrations, saying it wanted to prevent clashes between government and opposition supporters.
Despite the ban, clashes have been taking place between supporters and opponents of the BNP. Several buses and cars have been damaged or set alight in Dhaka and several other cities in the past few days. Opposition supporters have been accused of carrying out the attacks.
During 2014, more than 100 people were killed during opposition protests, in some cases after the police opened fire. None of these deaths are believed to have been properly investigated and prosecuted.