Restore democratic freedoms and end onslaught on dissent: int’l rights groups

Civicus

Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, and the Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC) have expressed grave concern over the unabated incursions on fundamental human rights and democratic freedoms in Bangladesh amid the on-going political violence in the country.

“Bangladesh is currently experiencing a serious constitutional crisis through clampdowns on the right to express democratic dissent,” said Mandeep Tiwana, Head of Policy and Research at  CIVICUS. “Political repression and attacks on independent civil society are undermining stability and the progress made by the country in past years.”

Since 5 January 2015, members of Bangladesh’s leading opposition groups have staged wide scale protests and general strikes to mark the anniversary of disputed January 2014 national elections. Security forces have routinely responded to these demonstrations and other acts of civil disobedience with excessive and sometimes deadly force, mass arrests and targeted persecution of journalists and media groups.

In response to opposition calls for demonstrations on 5 January, the government imposed a blanket ban on all protests and rallies in the capital, Dhaka, under the colonial era section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. At least 14,000 opposition activists and leaders of opposition groups have since been arbitrarily arrested and imprisoned by security forces for violating this ban. According to national watchdog groups, the vast majority of those arrested remain imprisoned.

Moreover, nearly 100 people have been killed and hundreds more have been seriously injured in a spate of attacks committed by opposition groups and security officials across the country. Most recently on 17 March, during clashes between police and pro-opposition activists in support of the hartal (general strike) in Kurigram district, police reportedly used live ammunition and tear gas to disperse demonstrators.

Several journalists and media outlets have also been subjected to targeted persecution for reporting on the conflict. The government has recently arbitrarily closed down numerous pro-opposition electronic and print media houses including Channel 1, Diganta TV, Islamic TV and the daily newspaper Amar Desh.

A number of journalists considered sympathetic to opposition movements have also been summarily detained under spurious charges. Mr. Abdus Salam, Chairman and CEO of private TV channel, Ekushey Television (ETV), has remained in detention since 6 January 2015 for broadcasting a speech of a prominent opposition party leader. Mr. Salam has been charged for allegedly broadcasting pornography and seditious material.  On 16 January 2014, three journalists with the newspaper Daily Inqilab, Robiullah Robi, Rafiq Mohammad, and Ahmed Atique were arrested at their office under the controversial Information and Communication Technology Act, 2006 (amended in 2009 and 2013). The journalists, who were accused of disseminating “false and fabricated” news, have been released on bail while their case remains ongoing.

“Growing authoritarianism is emerging as a severe threat to fundamental freedoms and democratisation of state affairs in Bangladesh,” says Bijo Francis, Executive Director of ALRC. “The continued suppression of the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly and the persecution of civil society actors have placed Bangladesh in a volatile and unstable condition and may contribute to the growth radical groups and threats to regional security.”

CIVICUS and  ALRC  urged the Government of Bangladesh to take all necessary measures to address the legitimate concerns of its citizens and ensure the full realisation of democratic rights enshrined in the Bangladeshi Constitution and international law including:

(i) Releasing all persons arbitrarily detained for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly;

(ii) Immediately halting and investigating the use of excessive and deadly force to disrupt peaceful protests; and

(iii) Dropping all politically motivated charges against independent journalists and media outlets.

The full press release can be read here