Monthly Coupon

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Bangladesh election not likely in early January


The much-awaited national election to the 12th Parliament of Bangladesh is likely to be rescheduled, and not postponed.

The governing party Awami League’s top leader Obaidul Quader and Minister for Roads and Bridges said on Wednesday that if the election date is rescheduled, his party does not have any objection. But, said subject to holding the election within the timeframe stipulated in the constitution.

However, Quader, General Secretary of Awami League added that the Election Commission has the authority to reschedule the election date and other dates.

There is enough room for an additional two weeks to hold the election.

An Election Commissioner earlier said the national election must be held by 29 January, under the constitution, to avert a potential political volatility akin to anarchy in the country.

Election Commissioner Mohammad Alamgir recently said, “Failure to do so would create a constitutional gap leading to a state of anarchy, which the Election Commission cannot allow.”

The election circus has already begun and the media is abuzz with news and speculative stories of cross-current and undercurrent of negotiating with the principal opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) to set aside their ego and participate in the election.

The political reporters cannot fathom the political development behind the curtain.

Hundreds of former bureaucrats, senior police officers, journalists, cricketers, entertainment industry artists, doctors, engineers, educationists, and lawyers have bought nominations for the Awami League.

The Election Commission is willing to reschedule the 12th parliamentary election if the BNP and other parties boycotting the polls officially change their mind and decide to participate in the election, Election Commissioner Rashida Sultana says.

Well, BNP has not responded to rescheduling the election date.

Last week, the BNP announced to boycott of the elections to the 12th parliament arguing that the election would not be free, fair and credible unless Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina stepped aside and an interim government to hold the election.

Hasina and her party are in power for the fourth consecutive tenure, thus becoming the longest-serving woman prime minister in the world, which is expected to enter into the Guinness Book of World Records.

However, if the opposition and others join, of course would be described as an inclusive election. The Election Commission would welcome their [opposition] participation, said another Election Commissioner Rashida Sultana.

The government has cracked down on opposition since BNP held a rally on 28 October to showcase strength in the capital Dhaka. The rally abruptly ended after police and ‘golden boys’ attacked the crowd.

Thousands of opposition members and more than a hundred key leaders are languishing in prisons on trumped-up charges for arson, vandalism of public properties, etcetera.

Hasina remarked “BNP is a party of terrorists” for their violent anti-government campaign and said there would be political dialogue with “terrorists”.

BNP has launched countrywide anti-government protests, which have been marked with violence, arson and vandalism.

The protest has led to further arrests of the leaders, party members and sympathisers from all over the country.

On the other hand, Hasina and her party stalwarts hectic negotiations with dissident leaders from BNP and the Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) to join newly opened shops.

The Trinomul BNP and Amar Bangladesh (AB) Party formed with dissident leaders who had quit or were kicked out from the BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami parties.

The higher court has banned JeI from contesting the election under the party name and election symbol.

A senior journalist Salauddin Babar of pro-JeI newspaper Naya Diganta, who is familiar with JeI’s policy said, the party has not been banned and therefore can continue in politics, except that the party cannot participate in any elections.

He, quickly added that JeI members, if the election is conducive for the party can contest as an independent candidate and also can join a like-minded political coalition and seek nomination from the alliance. There is no bar in doing that, Babar said.

Political historian Mohiuddin Ahmad says the windows have been opened to showcase the Bangladesh election as inclusive, but there is no guarantee that the election will be free, fair and violence-free.

Bangladesh election is riddled with a history of violence and violation since 1973, the first election, two years after the independence of the country, remarked Ahmad.

To assess the ground situation a pre-election Commonwealth mission is presently in Bangladesh.

The US-based International Republican Institute (IRI) and National Democratic Institute (NDI) have applied with the Election Commission for election international election observer credentials.

IRI and NDI will send five technical experts to assess the electoral violence conditions before, during and after the election day. The team is expected to be in Bangladesh for six to eight weeks.

The technical team will assess different types of election violence that occur in Bangladesh, including inter and intra-party violence, violence targeting women and other marginalised groups and communities, online harassment and threats, as well the role of state institutions in addressing these types of violence.

The European Union plans to send election observers for limited assessment before and after the election.

The question is abuzz who will bell the cat? The political observers means, who will convince the BNP to participate in the election.

If BNP joins, the government will have to bend to agree to a long list of pre-conditions, including unconditional release of their leaders and those arrested after police crackdown on 28th October. Drop all charges against opposition members.

The crucial issue is, whether the self-styled supremo Tarique Rahman, living in exile in London for two decades has no understanding of the ground reality, will allow his Dhaka-based acolytes to bargain with the government, when he is adamant not to hold dialogue with the state.

The nation has to wait and see the next round of political development likely to unfold in days to come.

First published in the Northeast News, Guwahati, India, 22 November 2023

Saleem Samad is an award-winning independent journalist based in Bangladesh. A media rights defender with the Reporters Without Borders (@RSF_inter). Recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He could be reached at; Twitter: @saleemsamad

Sunday, November 19, 2023

Opposition in Bangladesh failing to unseat Sheikh Hasina


Many keen political observers believe that the principal opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) has come to a dead end on the road. Their strategy has been violent to demand that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina should step down and an interim government to hold a free, fair and inclusive national election.

BNP has announced to boycott the upcoming national election in January 2024. The party and its alliance have called for a countrywide general strike (hartal) and blockade (oborod).

The blockade was announced in protest of breaking up the BNP’s 28 October rally allegedly by police in conjunction with the ‘golden boys’ of the governing Awami League.

Political historian Mohiuddin Ahmad said the opposition always envisages winning the election. If they access that they will not win, or even win a reasonable number of seats in the parliament, then they threaten to boycott the elections.

Demanding Hasina to quit power and form an interim government to oversee the elections is not happening. The rewritten constitutional provisions have deleted the sections for holding elections under a caretaker government, said Ahmad.

Winter in Bangladesh comes as a blessing when flowers bloom across the gardens and parks in the country. The village women prepare traditional pita (traditional cake made from fresh rice harvest). Some schools are done with their final exam. While others plan vacations during the winter.

The vibrant tourist industry is now challenged with negative business. This awkward situation has been caused by opposition actions and the governing party along with its alliance joining the election fest. In fear of political actions, the customers cancelled their vacation plans.

Ahmad said it is understood what the BNP wants. But the party leaders before they were arrested and sent to prison had not spelled out what they wanted to do after they won the election.

They have not promised that they will abrogate all draconian laws which hinder democracy. They did not say they would ensure accountability and transparency and zero-tolerance for corruption and human rights abuse of law enforcement agencies. They did not say that the judiciary would become independent with no political influence and not harass and intimidate opposition, critics, and dissidents.

The opposition party has not spoken a word about freedom of expression, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of the press.

Arson, agitation and protest rallies will not change the policy of the government. After boycotting the election they have nowhere to go but sink in a black hole.

There are reasons BNP is aggressive, arrogant and refuses to dialogue with the government parties. Thus arrogance of the BNP has led the party to the end of the road.

Nonetheless, BNP for long is leaderless or rudderless and floating without any compass. The present party leaders are powerless and do not have the guts to manage the party autonomously. It’s no longer news that BNP is managed by a remote controller – sitting in London by a self-exiled leader.

The party chairperson Khaleda Zia is serving jail terms and is restricted in her house. She is barred from politics and unable to contest any elections. The ailing leader with medical complications often shuttles between her home and the hospital.

The party’s de facto leader Tarique Rahman (56), is Senior Vice-Chairman of BNP. A spoiled brat of the military dictator General Ziaur Rahman (1977-1981) and former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia.

The 93-year-old former President Prof Badruddoza Chowdhury once blamed Tarique arbitrarily established a political “powerhouse outside the Prime Minister’s Office” when her mother Khaleda was the Prime Minister (2001-2006).

Tarique never attended any BNP’s central committee or high command’s meetings, but he dictated his decisions. Several ministers and secretaries of various ministries sought his decision and approval of government projects from the popularly known place in upscale Banani, the ‘Hawa Bhaban’, the office of the delinquent.

His schoolmates said he was a flop in the class exam. A below-average student in BAF Shaheen School and College in Dhaka was a timid person and not vocal. He was kicked out of the school for failing an annual exam. Later he was a dropout from studies. The high school certificate and college degree were obtained fraudulently.

Khaleda Zia never expressed embarrassment that her son established a parallel government. She never stopped him from messing with government administration.

Instead, she indulged his son to run an unauthorised powerhouse and also rein the party. Corruption during Khaleda Zia’s regime was not spatial but horizontal – the ‘prince’ did it all.

Discontentment among the senior party leaders and ministers began to surface, which the Prime Minister tried to pacify.

He hated the senior BNP leaders including those Ministers who were inducted into the newly born party by his assassinated father Ziaur Rahman.

He advocates that the country should be governed by new generation (XGen) politicians and not left with the ‘old haggards’.

In the October 2001 election, understanding that the BNP may not be elected to power, he cleverly forged an alliance with the Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami, which surprised many BNP leaders.

In fact, several senior BNP leaders and ministers were 1971 liberation war veterans and also those from the leftists and communists who joined the nationalist party during the tenure of Zia were uncomfortable with the presence of JeI.

The Islamist party opposed the independence of Bangladesh and collaborated with marauding Pakistan troops. The youths of JeI were recruited to form the death squad, Al Badr.

The death squad, a secret outfit abducted hundreds of intellectuals, tortured them in secret locations and later killed them, which was the saddest episode of the liberation war history.

The Pakistan military committed genocide of 3 million, targeting the Hindus, but Muslims who belonged to the Awami League and people sympathetic to independent Bangladesh were also slaughtered and buried in hundreds of mass graves all over the country.

The occupation forces deliberately used rape as a weapon of war to create a new generation of “saccha (genuine) Pakistanis”.

The crackdown created 10 million war refugees of Hindus and Muslims alike. The war refugees were forced to take shelter in neighbouring states of India. The war has also caused internal displacement of 25 million in search of safe refuge.

The refugees were sheltered in India until Bangladesh was liberated in December 1971. Millions of refugees trekked home to their homesteads only to find their villages were parched, houses looted and torched by local militia.

The JeI leader of the eastern province of Pakistan, Ghulam Azam, fled to Pakistan in 1971 living behind his compatriots and Islamic militia to fight alongside the Islamic army.

Later JeI party was banned. Imbued in the 1974 constitution and declared that any party with a religious objective will not be registered as a political party.

Civil society challenged the self-styled professor Ghulam Azam as the Ameer of Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh in 1991, arguing that he was a citizen of Pakistan and should be deported. He, however, held the position until 2000.

Azam hated the independence of Bangladesh and believed the territory (Bangladesh) would be under the hegemony of India. Azam was convicted of crimes against humanity in July 2013.

In a development on November 19, the apex court upheld the scrapping of Jamaat-e-Islami’s registration as a political party, barring the party from contesting any polls. The Appellate Division of Supreme Court upholds a verdict from the High Court that prevents the party from running for elected office, writes the private news portal

This means that JeI is left with no scope to contest the upcoming elections scheduled in early January.

It could not be ascertained whether JeI has any alternative plan to participate in the national election.

A senior journalist who is familiar with the JeI policy said that the party leaders of Majlis-e-Shura, the highest policy-making body of the JeI will meet soon, to discuss the future of the party and relay the decision to the members.

With Jei put out of circulation, the wings of the BNP have been clipped from forming an electoral alliance or having a strong ally in the anti-government movement.

First published in the Northeast News, 19 November 2023

Saleem Samad is an award-winning independent journalist based in Bangladesh. A media rights defender with the Reporters Without Borders (@RSF_inter). Recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He could be reached at; Twitter: @saleemsamad

Friday, November 10, 2023

Was Bangladesh Discussed at the ‘2+2’ Dialogue in Delhi?

The fifth edition of 2+2 dialogue between India and the US has concluded on Friday.


The entire media and foreign offices of South Asian countries are eagerly watching as the development unfolds in New Delhi.

The Southeast Asian countries are also waiting for the outcome of the 2+2 ministerial dialogue from the visit of a high-profile American delegation led by United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin while External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh headed the Indian side.

The agenda for the dialogue on Friday (10 November), on the eve of a weekend, would not discuss the wars in Gaza and Ukraine but would focus on security challenges in the Indo-Pacific and concerns over China.

China has kept all its eyes and ears of the red dragon focused on Delhi to understand what resolutions have been adopted at the so-called 2+2 talks against the giant of Asia.

The 61-year-old Foreign Secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra, responding to a query by journalist Yeshi Seli of the New Indian Express about whether Bangladesh was on the menu, the veteran diplomat said “As I mentioned, extensive discussions took place on different regional developments in South Asia and other parts of the world also. And so far as Bangladesh is concerned we shared our perspective very, very clearly.

“It is not our space to comment on the policy of a third country. I think when it comes to developments in Bangladesh, elections in Bangladesh, it is their domestic matter. It is for the people of Bangladesh to decide their future.

“We as a close friend and partner of Bangladesh respect the democratic processes in Bangladesh and will continue to support that country’s vision of a stable, peaceful and progressive nation that the people of that country seek for themselves.

“We were very clear in sharing our perspective on how we look at situations in different parts of the world and that includes Bangladesh with the US side during these discussions,” the veteran diplomat said softly.

Meanwhile, the United States Ambassador Peter Haas to Bangladesh has flown to New Delhi ahead of Blinken’s arrival.

Sources said, Haas is likely to update the Indian and US sides on where things stand for them in Bangladesh. It could not be ascertained what has transpired from the official briefing by the US envoy, who has been recently threatened to be beaten up black and blue by a ‘golden boy’ from the governing Awami League for Haas, allegedly hobnobbing with the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). The governing party did not take action against the henchman.

The US has been reiterating that there should be free, fair and inclusive elections in Bangladesh. The upcoming national election is expected in early January 2024.

Both India and the USA are concerned about Bangladesh that it should not be allowed to slip into the fold of the Red Dragon. Understanding that the country is in debt due to loans it needs to repay to China under its so-called Belt and Road Initiative. Many define the Chinese motive behind the mega projects are debt trap for a poor country.

The United States, India, Japan and Korea do not want to see a pro-Chinese regime come to power. China is deep down in Bangladesh’s politics and so-called economic development partner.

The United States, India and Japan see China as a threat to regional security having its visible footprint in Bangladesh.

These countries have time and again expressed doubt about the strong pro-Chinese lobbies in the country, which besides the political parties and their leaders, includes the media and the business community remains an influential force.

That is why India and the United States cannot trust the principal opposition BNP, for not only being anti-Indian but also a die-hard pro-Chinese.

China first made inroads into Bangladesh during General Ziaur Rahman’s era when the military dictator made his first official visit to Beijing in 1977.

China recognised Bangladesh after the assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the independence hero.

The military dictator sought China’s political and military blessings to counter Indian influence, which was suddenly disrupted on 15 August 1975 after the death of Sheikh Mujib. Its a long history in short.

India surely does not wish Bangladesh to go away and envisages that Bangladesh should continue to remain a good neighbour.

Delhi is nervous after China’s increasing influence in South Asia and meddling with politics. After Mohammed Muizzu won the elections in Maldives. India, lost its political clout in the island nation located in the Indian Ocean as the country slid into the Chinese lap.

China does not care about free and fair elections, as they do not practice democracy in an authoritarian rule and have rebuked the West without naming any country for “interfering in domestic affairs”.

First published in Northeast News, 10 November 2023

Saleem Samad is an award-winning independent journalist based in Bangladesh. A media rights defender with the Reporters Without Borders (@RSF_inter). Recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He could be reached at; Twitter: @saleemsamad

Saturday, November 04, 2023

Will the Islamists pose a challenge to the Awami League in Bangladesh?


The wind of election fever is sweeping Bangladesh as the national election is coming closer. The Islamist parties, including the lesser-known Islamists are gearing up for the elections expected in early January 2024.

The Islamist parties are formally and informally holding parleys to form an electorate alliance. The question arises, whether the alliance will be a challenge for the incumbent Awami League or the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).

After a long time, Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka witnessed a largely attended crowd at a rally organised by Islami Andolon (Movement) Bangladesh on Friday (November 3), a weekly holiday for the noon Jumma prayer.

The rally was held at Shurwardy Uddyan, where 96,000 Pakistan military signed a historic surrender and a surrender ceremony was held on December 16, 1971.

It is the same placed where Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman made a historic speech on March 7, 1971, which inspired the people to rise against the Pakistan military junta, leading to an independent Bangladesh.

The vast green expanse was the country’s only race course, a legacy of the British Raj, is presently a site in remembrance of the liberation war, and the sacrifices of the martyrs.

The Islami Andolon has asked the governing Awami League to relinquish power within seven days.

What has amazed many political observers is that the Islamist party has expressed solidarity with the ongoing BNP anti-government movement for a caretaker government and asked Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to step down.

The founder of Islami Andolon, Syed Mohammad Rezaul Karim said if the government fails to comply with the demands to quit by November 10, they will discuss with members of the opposition alliance and announce the next course of the movement.

The demands include a national government with members from the parties in the anti-government campaign and urged the President of the country to take measures to avoid further escalation of the violence unleashed during the series of countrywide shutdowns and blockades of road, train and river communication.

They also asked to release all BNP leaders arrested during the wake of the movement in a week.

The Islamist leader Karim warned that the people will not accept sham elections held in 2014 and 2018.

The Islamic preacher spelt out an ultimatum and threatened to launch a tougher movement with all the political parties to hold an election under a national government if their demand is not met by the date.

He warned that they will not be allowed to hold sham elections held in 2014 and 2018 polls. “The government is referring to the constitution saying that it is not possible to go beyond it. Who made the constitution? Awami League? This constitution is also illegal like the Awami League–led government,” he remarked.

He told a cheering crowd of tens of thousands that they would fight in collaboration with all political groups and get Sheikh Hasina off the throne.

On the other hand, the governing Awami League and the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) are vigorously working backstage to get Islami Andolon as an electoral ally. Obviously, it will energise the enthusiasm of the impressive vote bank ahead of the upcoming general elections in early January 2024.

Surely, Karim, popularly known as “Charmonair Pir” has become a factor in politics. And it led the two major parties to make one request to Islami Andolon to join their electoral coalition, instead of going alone.

Notwithstanding, starting their political career from Barishal in March 1987, the party emerged as the fourth most popular political party in the last general election, writes The Daily Star.

The Islamist party categorically told the BNP delegation last February that they have strong reservations about the caretaker system as has been marked by bitter experience which ushered in the infamous 1/11 military-backed caretaker government.

Instead, they proposed a national government comprising members from major political parties to hold the national elections, which did not catch the winds from BNP leadership visiting Islami Andolon headquarters in Barishal.

The governing party is actively engaged in expanding the political base of an electoral alliance with leftist and Islamist parties too.

A government party delegation held parleys with Islami Andolon and proposed to its fold to defeat the opposition BNP.

The ruling party explained to Islamist leaders that joining the alliance would broaden their hope of winning in several constituencies with a vote bank of like-minded parties in the pro-government alliance if BNP decides to participate in the election.

Several Awami League leaders, however, denied holding dialogue or have proposed the Islamist party to join the broad electoral alliance.

The Islamic Andolon contested 299 seats out of 300 constituencies in the national polls held in 2018. Well, the highest by a single party, whereas the Awami League contested in 262 seats, the BNP in 258 and the Jatiya Party in 45 seats.

The Islamic Andolon individually participated in national elections for the first time in 2008. In the last 2018 election, the Islamist party contested 299 seats and got 12.55 lakh votes, which was 1.52 per cent of the vote, according to The Daily Star.

Bangladesh Election Commission has delisted the registration of the Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) and has no locus standi in the electioneering. However, 22 candidates of JeI have contested the 2018 election with the BNP election symbol ‘sheaf of paddy’. All the JeI candidates lost the election.

Since the BNP announced agitations on 28 October, the JeI has also announced a similar agitation programme.

The Qawmi Madrasa–based non-political Islamist organisation, Hefajat-e-Islam are in catch-22 whether to support the government party and release central leaders languishing in prison or challenge Awami League in the upcoming elections.

Several central leaders of Hefajat-e-Islam, are also leaders of smaller Islamist parties and will certainly surface during the electioneering.

On the sideline, lesser-known Islamist parties are gearing up to participate in the elections and plan to merge as a “third force”.

An alliance of Islamist parties has launched the Liberal Islamic Alliance comprising six Islamic and like-minded political parties formed on  1 September.

The six Islamic parties, newly registered with the Election Commission, are Bangladesh Supreme Party led by Syed Saifuddin Ahmed Maizbhandari, Bangladesh Islami Oikya Jote led by Misbahur Rahman Chowdhury, Krishak Sramik Party led by Farhanaz Haque, Aashiqeen-e-Awlia Oikya Parishad led by Alam Noori Sureshwari, Bangladesh Janodal and National Awami Party (NAP Bhashani).

The Supreme Party Chairman Syed Saifuddin Ahmed Maizbhandari said that preparations are afoot to contest in all 300 constituencies, indeed a challenge to other Islamist parties and alliances.

Some of the Islamist parties have reportedly said, that they will decide to participate or boycott after the election date is formally announced by the election commission.

Presently, 44 political parties, including 14 Islamist parties, are registered with the Election Commission, which is obligatory for participation in national and local government elections.

What will happen, if BNP suddenly decides to join the election at the eleventh hour? The Islamist parties will surely join the grand alliance of the government with an impressive vote bank, concludes Partha Pratim Bhattacharjee, political reporter with The Daily Star.

First published in the Northeast News, 4 November 2023

Saleem Samad is an award-winning independent journalist based in Bangladesh. A media rights defender with the Reporters Without Borders (@RSF_inter). Recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He could be reached at; Twitter: @saleemsamad

Thursday, November 02, 2023

Decoding Bangladesh political violence in the West


As predicted, Bangladesh plunged into a political abyss after the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and governing Awami League simultaneously held rallies choking busy streets in the heart of the capital Dhaka on October 28, which has been marred in violence and street anarchy.

The opposition has demanded that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina should step down and the national elections should be held under an interim government to ensure free, fair, credible and inclusive polls planned in January 2024.

Hasina, the daughter of Bangladesh’s independence hero Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, has been the longest serving women prime minister in the world. She has been in power since 2009 and has been accused of targeting political opponents, dissidents, critics and journalists, which she categorically denies.

Moreover, blaming the opposition BNP for anarchism, the pro-establishment news organisations, apologetic Awami League leadership, the government, and law enforcement failed to foresee an impending political violence, which would usher in a political crisis that was approaching like a cyclonic storm.

As hundreds of opposition senior leaders and members were detained and accused of rioting, death of policemen and damaging properties including buses, the United States ambassador to Bangladesh, Peter Haas, hoped that all sides would engage in a “dialogue” without preconditions to de-escalate tensions and find a path forward to free, fair and peaceful elections.

In response to the United States’ call for dialogue, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina responding to journalists, rejected holding any dialogue with the opposition and said, “How can we meet and have dialogue with murderers.”

Hinting the government has taken a hard line with the opposition, she said “The BNP is a ‘terrorist organisation’ and they will be taught the lesson they need to be taught.”

In response to a question at the press conference on November 31, on how to deal with the violence, she said she would “burn the hands of those who start the fire.”

Amid a crackdown on opposition politicians and deadly protests, Bangladesh’s main opposition party BNP, whose top leadership is either jailed or in exile, is betting that if Hasina does not resign and allow in a caretaker government, boycotting the January election will de-legitimise any win for her and possibly invite international sanctions, the spokesperson said. BNP boycotted the 2014 election too but participated in 2018, reports Reuters.

What is damaging for the government’s credibility is that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) suspected ruling party supporters were also involved in the violence that gripped Dhaka city on October 28 during rallies by major political parties.

“We urge the Government to observe the greatest restraint to curb political tensions at this critical time, and to take steps to ensure that human rights are fully upheld, for all Bangladeshis, before, during and after the elections,” said OHCHR.

On the other hand, the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres calls on all parties to refrain from violence or any excessive use of force or arbitrary detention. He also stresses the need to respect the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), in a strongly worded statement on November 1 quoted witnesses to accuse the Bangladesh police of unnecessary use of (excessive) force during political protests on October 28.

The watchdog did not hesitate to say the violence was committed on all sides, the events were part of a continuing police crackdown on the political opposition.

HRW claims at least 1,500 opposition members were arrested in the days leading up to the rally and BNP leaders said that the authorities raided party members’ homes. Nearly a dozen opposition members were shot and killed by police in the last four days.

According to the opposition, nearly 5,000 party leaders and activists have been arrested since similar protests took place in July, while tens of thousands have been accused in hundreds of additional cases.

The US rights watchdog appeals that all allegations of torture and other abuse of detainees should be thoroughly and independently investigated, and those responsible should be held to account.

Whereas, according to Mohammad A. Arafat, an academic turned politician in a post on Twitter (now X), the General Secretary of Awami League has been saying for more than a month that we are ready for dialogue without any pre-condition but BNP responded negatively. Now that Mr. [Peter] Haas proposed a dialogue without any condition, let’s see whether BNP listens to their “trusted friend”.

Is the idea of ‘No-Pre-Conditioned’ dialogue being floated because of the failed attempt on October 28? Who from BNP is going to be available for dialogue, I wonder! Or, this offer of dialogue is to get some kind of amnesty for the perpetrators, he asked.

In September, the European Union notified the Bangladesh government that it would not send a full election observer mission to the polls in January, stating that the decision “reflects the fact that at the present time, it is not sufficiently clear whether the necessary conditions will be met.”

The European Parliament also raised the alarm about growing abuses in Bangladesh, putting into question its eligibility for EU trade benefits under the “Everything But Arms” programme. Mass arrests targeting the opposition further undermine the conditions for a fair election.

The United States pre-election assessment mission has called upon political parties as well as other stakeholders in Bangladesh to initiate a substantive dialogue on key election issues, intending to ensure a credible, inclusive, and violence-free election.

The assessment team, which comprises representatives of the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI), made the call through a publication from Washington on Saturday.

The United States has said it will “impose visa restrictions on Bangladeshi individuals responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic election process in Bangladesh.”

The OHCHR and Human Rights Watch statements were not only damaging but have severely embarrassed the government.

On 28 October, the Dhaka Metropolitan Police headquarters denied Jamaat-e-Islami’s (JeI’s) permission to hold a rally on the same day in the downtown Motijheel, a hub of all nationalised banks, insurance and trade bodies head offices.

Surprisingly police did not disperse the Islamist party rally held at Arambagh, near the downtown.

Salauddin Babar, acting editor of Dainik Naya Diganta, an Islamist newspaper explained why police did not want to disperse or block the JeI’s rally and said the government possibly did not want to open a second front battling two political parties in the streets.

Babar having closed ties with JeI leadership denied any deal with the government and remarked it was wise of the government to avoid battling JeI, which would have provoked other Islamists to join the street protest.

Jamaat-e-Islami for a long hiatus has lent political support for the nationwide hartal (shutdown) on the following day of police crackdown and four-day blockade of roads, train and river communications for October 30-31 and November 1-2 called by BNP and its alliance.

Interestingly, JeI has not been invited by the BNP to join the alliance for their movement asking Hasina to quit and hold elections under an interim government.

On the fifth day (Wednesday), at least 11 people, including two police officers, were killed, and hundreds injured including 30 journalists were heckled and harassed by riot police and attacked by opposition and governing party hooligans during the October 28 and ongoing violence that has followed.

Nevertheless, the police, opposition and Awami League denied their involvement in attacking journalists and damaging or seizure of mobile phones, cameras and video equipment.

Meanwhile, Australia, Canada, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Norway, the United Kingdom and the United States in a joint statement on the recent political violence have called for restraint.

A joint statement issued by the diplomatic missions of these countries in Bangladesh said, “We call on all stakeholders to exercise restraint, eschew violence and work together to create the conditions for free, fair, participatory, and peaceful elections.”

The Bangladesh government is ignoring international calls for restraint and its pledges to hold a peaceful, free, and fair election. National elections are planned for January 2024, stated HRW.

Human Rights Watch has called upon Bangladesh’s international partners to insist that elections cannot be considered fair when the opposition is targeted, harassed, and behind bars.

POSTSCRIPT: In the last few days, Bangladesh police clashed with thousands of garment workers demanding fair wages for the clothing they make for major Western brands. Police said tens of thousands of workers in the country’s largest industrial city, firing tear gas and rubber bullets as agitating workers smashed up factories and blocked roads. The protests left at least two people dead.

First published in the Northeast News, 2 November 2023

Saleem Samad is an award-winning independent journalist based in Bangladesh. A media rights defender with the Reporters Without Borders (@RSF_inter). Recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He could be reached at; Twitter: @saleemsamad