TRIBUNE. Opposition parties prevented from meeting in Bangladesh

Democracy is an open practice. Through this, the individual freedom of people blossoms. Democracy does not develop through chains. There is no alternative to democratic state system for the development of state, society and individual mind.

Democracy means that the citizens of the state can do their speech and activities without fear, without any activities that don’t undermine the independence and sovereignty of the state.  All citizens of the state can practice politics openly. Government and state forces will not be able to create any kind of obstacles in meetings and gatherings. Like other democratic countries in the world, the constitution of Bangladesh also guarantees this right of the people.

For example, ‘Article 37’ of our country’s constitution clearly states : “every citizen shall have the right to assemble peacefully and unarmed and to participate in public meetings and processions, subject to reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of public order or public health.” A right regularly flouted by the government.

Today, Bangladesh’s ruling class (composed of President Mohammad Shahabuddin and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, both members of the Awami League) enjoys a reclusive, dictatorial power much like that of North Korea.

Like North Korea, our country’s ruling family wants to make it mandatory for every citizen to show total loyalty to the ruling leader. On the contrary, the government is not taking any time to handcuff the ICT Act.

ounded in 1949, the Awami League is a Bangladeshi political party that played a leading role in the independence of Bangladesh in 1971, and was in power until 1975, when it was ousted by a military coup.

At the end of the 1980s, however, the League joined forces with other opposition parties (notably the BNP, Bangladesh National Party) until the resignation of the President, General Ershad, in 1990.

Since then, the League has consistently competed with the BNP at the ballot box, winning elections in 2008, 2014 and 2018. Today, the League has the most seats in Parliament and dominates the country’s political life.

More than 500 political arrestations

In a press release sent to the media on November 14, 2022, the human rights organization Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK, or the Center for Law and Justice in English) stated that the right to peaceful assembly and association is recognized in the Constitution of Bangladesh (Article 37). This right is also enshrined in various international human rights instruments, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

But this doesn’t stop the Bangladeshi authorities and police from cunningly preventing or disrupting rallies. The most recent event was the bomb scare on November 8, 2022. The police had staged a bomb drama, as a bomb was found in the BNP’s office.

But journalists had seen CCTV footage of police carrying the bomb in a white bag. This is not the behavior of a civilized democratic state. However, under the pretext of preventing the BNP from holding a rally in Nayapaltan, Dhaka’s regional capital, the police blocked the road for four days and created public suffering themselves.

The opposition BNP party wanted to hold a rally in Nayapaltan, but the government only allowed them to locate the Suhrawardy Udyan memorial for December 10, 2022. The government attached 26 conditions to the rally, such as the use of high-resolution cameras for the occasion, a ban on microphones and projectors, a ban on caricatures and anti-state speeches… Conditions that are in no way applicable to a democratic assembly.

That day, the party leaders met in the party office before the rally. This is part of a party’s democratic practices. But the government created an anarchic environment with state police forces. It has killed one person by indiscriminate shooting, shot and wounded many activists and arrested around 500 activists whom it has sent to prison and kept in jail by filing false complaints against them. In addition, the party’s Secretary General, Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, and Standing Committee member Mirza Abbas were arrested and kept in prison. In addition, riots took place in the party offices.

On July 29, 2023, the BNP organized a sit-in program in various localities of Dhaka, where clashes with the police took place in some places. Nearly 800 people were arrested, including BNP members and civilians.

Earlier, there were incidents of blockades of certain towns for rallies, calling for a public transport strike on government instructions to prevent people gathering in BNP departmental rallies. 

It’s sad but true that in Bangladesh, the exercise of this right is increasingly restricted. Political parties or ordinary citizens face a variety of difficulties. Allegations of violations of these rights, attacks, incitement to violence, harassment and arrests in various ways against the police and administration, workers or supporters of government parties are intensifying.

The West on the demonstrators’ side

According to Asker, article 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure has been invoked 945 times in different parts of the country over the last century. It allows magistrates to prohibit certain actions by citizens to protect the nation, such as imprisoning them as a precaution or banning public meetings of more than four citizens.

Foreign diplomats in Dhaka are equally adamant about the right to peaceful assembly. The UN Special Rapporteur on the right to assembly, Clément Voule, has expressed his concern about the current political situation in Bangladesh. He said that since July 2022, attacks and the use of lethal force against peaceful demonstrations in Bangladesh have resulted in deaths.

I’m watching events in Bangladesh closely. The Bangladeshi authorities must guarantee the right to peaceful assembly. At the same time, the use of excessive force against demonstrators must be avoided. Foreign diplomats in Dhaka are also adamant about the right to peaceful assembly.

Gwyn Lewis, the UN Resident Coordinator in Dhaka, urged Bangladesh to uphold its commitments to the UN as a member state of the UN, reminding them of their commitment to freedom of expression, freedom of the media and peaceful assembly.

Meanwhile, the US Ambassador to Dhaka, Peter Haas, has expressed concern over the deaths and injuries at the BNP rally in Nayapaltan. He called on all to respect the rule of law and refrain from violence, harassment and intimidation.

On the occasion of International Human Rights Day on December 10, Dhaka’s 15 diplomatic missions have urged the right to free expression and peaceful assembly. These missions include European Union, Canada, Australia, United Kingdom, United States, Germany, Italy, Japan, Sweden and Switzerland.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price has expressed concern over the crackdown on peaceful gatherings of opposition parties in Bangladesh. “We call on all political parties to respect the rule of law and refrain from violence, harassment and intimidation.”

So we can say, to develop democracy, people must be involved. In a democratic state, decision-making power rests only with the people. By bypassing the people, deceiving, suppressing the free voice, strengthening the pillars of dictatorship by jail-tyranny, oppression-torture, it destroys the pillars of democracy. Destroys the foundations of equality, freedom and constitutional rights. But the main slogan of a democratic state is to establish civil liberties. This was the main motivation of our liberation war. But today the citizens of this country are miles away from that motivation.

Crédits photo : ©AFP – JIBON AHMED, Ligue Awami.

Jamil Ahmed

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