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Bangladesh - Politics

Sheikh Mujibur RahmanAwami League19721975
Ziaur Rahman Nationalist Party1975 1981
Hussain Mohammed Ershad Jatiya Party1982 1990
Prime Minister
Khaleda Zia Nationalist Party1991 1996
Sheikh Hasina Awami League1996 2001
Khaleda ZiaNationalist Party2001 2006
Fakhruddin Ahmedcaretaker 2006 2009
Sheikh HasinaAwami League2009 2018

Extremist organizations claiming affiliation with Da’esh and al-Qaida in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) increased their activities in the country, executing high-profile attacks on religious minorities; academics; foreigners; human rights activists; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community members; and other groups. The government responded with a strong anti-militancy drive, which human rights groups claim has resulted in increased extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detentions for the purpose of extortion, enforced disappearances, torture, and other abuses of human rights. The government further used counterterrorism efforts to justify restrictions of civil and political rights.

The most significant human rights problems were extrajudicial killings, arbitrary or unlawful detentions, and forced disappearances by government security forces; the killing of members of marginalized groups and others by groups espousing extremist views; early and forced marriage; gender-based violence, especially against women and children; and poor working conditions and labor rights abuses.

Other human rights problems included torture and abuse by security forces; arbitrary arrests; weak judicial capacity and independence; lengthy pretrial detentions; politically motivated violence; official corruption; and restrictions on online speech and the press.

Suspicious deaths occurred during raids, arrests, and other law enforcement operations. Often security forces claimed they took a suspect in custody to a crime scene or hideout late at night to recover weapons or identify conspirators and that the suspect was killed when his conspirators shot at police. The government usually described these deaths as “crossfire killings,” “gunfights,” or “encounter killings,” terms used to characterize exchanges of gunfire between RAB or police units and criminal gangs, although the media sometimes also used these terms to describe legitimate uses of police force. Human rights organizations and media outlets claimed many of these “crossfire” incidents actually constituted extrajudicial killings (EJKs), In some cases, human rights organizations claimed that law enforcement units would detain, interrogate, and torture suspects, bring them back to the scene of the original arrest, execute them, and ascribe the death to lawful self-defense in response to violent attacks.

Human rights groups and media reported that multiple disappearances and kidnappings continued, some committed by security services. The government made limited efforts to prevent or investigate such acts. The United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances contacted the government on March 9 concerning the “reportedly alarming rise of the number of cases of enforced disappearances in the country” and had 34 outstanding cases under review as of 18 May 2016, but the working group did not receive a response. Following alleged disappearances, security forces released some individuals without charge, arrested some, some were found dead, and others were never found.

Bangladesh law enforcement authorities have illegally detained hundreds of people since 2013, including scores of opposition activists, and held them in secret detention, Human Rights Watch said in a report released 06 July 2017. At least 90 people were victims of enforced disappearance in 2016 alone. While most were produced in court after weeks or months of secret detention, Human Rights Watch documented 21 cases of detainees who were later killed, and nine others whose whereabouts remain unknown. The 90 cases include three sons of prominent opposition politicians who were picked up over several weeks in August 2016; one was released after six months of secret detention, while the other two remain disappeared. In the first five months of 2017, 48 disappearances were reported. There are allegations of severe torture and ill-treatment while in secret custody.

Most of the abuses were carried out by the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) or the Detective Branch of the police (DB), both of which have long-recorded histories of abuse.

Despite serious problems related to a dysfunctional political system, weak governance, and pervasive corruption, Bangladesh remains one of the few democracies in the Muslim world. Bangladeshis regard democracy as an important legacy of their bloody war for independence, and vote in large numbers. However, the practice and understanding of democratic concepts is often shallow.

Bangladesh has a history of bitter political rivalries, coups and counter-coups since gaining its independence. Despite serious problems related to a dysfunctional political system, weak governance, and pervasive corruption, Bangladesh remains one of the few democracies in the Muslim world. Bangladeshis regard democracy as an important legacy of their bloody war for independence, and they vote in large numbers. However, democratic institutions and practices remain weak.

The Bangladeshi population has a longstanding reputation for tolerance and political participation. Patrick Merloe, senior associate and director for Programs on Election Processes, the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, noted in 2006 that "The electorate, with large voter turnouts, have alternated parties in government in each of the national elections since the military dictatorship ended in 1991. Bangladeshis take justified pride in this. Nonetheless, whether the BNP or the Awami League have been in government, they have not provided adequate opportunities or mechanisms for the development of constructive opposition. At the same time, whenever either of these parties has been in opposition, it has too often chosen destabilizing and polarizing tactics of parliamentary boycotts, street demonstrations; in "hartals," general strikes, backed up by muscle power to ensure that the population appears to go along with the strikes and street actions."

By 2005 new realities on the ground in Bangladesh included: 1) rising security concerns caused by general deterioration in governance, law and order; 2) rising political violence, particularly as the parliamentary election nears; and 3) growing apprehensions about religious and political extremism. But the enduring reality remained the so-called battling begums, Khaleda Zia of the Nationalist Party [daughter of the assasinated first President] and Sheikh Hasina of the Awami League [widow of the assasinated second President], the two women leaders who have polarized politics in Bangladesh for decades. The two rivals are widely blamed for the political upheaval in 2006-2007 which led to the imposition of a state of emergency and a caretaker government assuming power, with the backing of the army.

Selig S. Harrison, Director, The Asia Program, The Center For International Policy, noted in 2006 that "The outgoing BNP government changed the constitution to install its own choice as head of the caretaker government and it has made a farce of the Election Commission that will run the elections. The Election Commission has refused to publish the voter list, as in the past. But they have announced how many voters there will be, and it is truly astonishing. The number they've announced is 93 million. This exceeds, by 13 million, the number of people in the country over the age of 18, based on the number of 13-year-olds recorded in the last census in 2001 and the number of people who have died since then. This is according to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics. Thirteen million - that's a lot of ballot stuffing ... "

Khaleda Zia, head of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), stepped down as prime minister in October 2006 when her term of office expired and transferred power to a caretaker government to prepare for general elections the following January.

In January 2007 the head of state and head of the caretaker government, President Iajuddin Ahmed, declared a state of emergency and postponed elections in response to political violence and allegations of flaws in the preparation for national elections scheduled for January 22, 2007. With military support, he appointed Fakhruddin Ahmed, a former central bank governor, to head a new caretaker government.

The election to the Parliament was held on 29 December 2008. The Awami League (AL) led by Sheikh Hasina Wazed won 230 of 299 Parliamentary seats in elections considered by international and domestic observers to be free and fair and marked by isolated irregularities and sporadic violence. The elections and the peaceful transfer of power that followed ended two years of rule by a military-backed caretaker government.

On February 25 and 26, 2009, shortly after the Government took charge, members of theBangladesh Rifles (BDR), since renamed the Bangladesh Border Guards, staged a mutiny against their commanding officers, killing more than 74 persons, including 52 officers, SF personnel and six civilians, including the Director General of the BDR and his wife. The mutineers, backed by the Islamists, wanted to create a rift between the Hasina Government and the military, in order to overthrow the civilian Government. They failed in the face of an effective and concertedresponse by the military top brass.

On January 19, 2012, it was disclosed that the Bangladesh Army had discovered and neutralized a plot by some serving and retired Army officers, at the instigation of some Bangladeshi civilians at home and abroad, capitalizing on the sentiments of the Islamist extremists. The conspiracy was intended to overthrow the Awami League (AL) led civilian Government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed.

Revealing the details of the plot, Brigadier General Muhammad Mashud Razzaq, Director of the Personnel Services Directorate, and Lieutenant Colonel Muhammad Sazzad Siddique, acting Judge Advocate General of the Army, in a Press briefing on January 19, 2012, circulated a statement saying that “around 14 to 16 mid-level officers were believed to have been involved in the bid”, which came to notice when Lieutenant Colonel (retired) Ehsan Yusuf on December 13, 2011,instigated a serving Major (not named) to join him in executing his plan. The Major revealed the plot through the chain of command. Two retired officers, Ehsan Yusuf and Major Zakir, were arrested. Another plotter, a serving Major, Syed Mohammad Ziaul Haque Major Zia, was on the run.

Meanwhile, a Court of Inquiry was constituted on 28 December 2011, to unearth further information about the plot. At least two plotters have already admitted their linkswith the banned Hizb-ut-Tahrir (HuT, ‘Party of Liberation’) has once again brought focus on Islamist fundamentalist groups that continue to maintain their strong presence in the country’s military establishment. The Bangladesh Security Forces (SFs) on January 20, 2012, arrested another five HuT cadres in connection with the failed coup attempt. This is the second attempt military revolt by hardliners under the Hasina Government since it came to power after the elections of December 2008.

Bangladesh's 18-party opposition coalition said 02 December 2013 it would boycott the general election. In 05 January 2014 Awami League candidates ran unopposed in more than half of the country's parliamentary constituencies. Preliminary results confirmed that ruling Awami League candidates won more than three quarters (232 according to preliminary counts) of the 300 elected seats, giving it a sweeping majority in parliament. Its allies controlled most of the other seats. The opposition BNP, which did not participate in the elections, nonetheless won 68 seats.

Allegations of enforced disappearances began surfacing in Bangladesh soon after Sheikh Hasina Wazed led her Awami League (AL) to power in 2009. She remains prime minister. Human rights groups say about half the victims have been leaders and workers of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP)-led opposition alliance. One Bangladeshi rights group, Ain-o-Salish Kendra (ASK), counted at least 70 victims of enforced disappearances between January and September of 2016, up from 55 through all of 2015. . The Bangladeshi human rights group Odhikar reports that, in the past five years, at least 298 people have vanished through enforced disappearances. Of those, 39 were found dead and 138 returned alive. The rest have not been seen.

Phil Robertson, Asia deputy director of Human Rights Watch, said "In the buildup to the January 2014 elections, thousands of opposition party members were arrested and labeled as terrorists for their alleged participation in election-related protests. Sheikh Hasina and her government have continuously blurred the line between opposition political party members and terrorist or militant forces."

BNP Joint Secretary General Ruhul Kabir Rizvi Ahmed accused the government of victimizing his party members. "We are sure that these disappearances are the handiwork of the law enforcement agencies, and these activities are being supported by the state," Ahmed said. "In the past seven years, the BNP-led alliance [has had] at least 70 leaders and workers, including two former members of parliament, disappeared this way. The law enforcement agencies are indulging in such inhuman activities following the command of the government, to protect the interest of the ruling party."

The Bangladeshi government has long been accused of cracking down on voices deemed critical of the ruling party and authorities. In October 2018, the publisher of the English-language New Nation daily, Mainul Hosein, was arrested. Police said his detention was linked to a television talk show appearance where he called a journalist "characterless" for asking him if he represented the political opposition.

A court in Bangladesh granted bail 19 March 2019 to a FIFA official accused of making derogatory comments about the country's leader. Mahfuza Akhter Kiron had accused the Bangladeshi PM of favoring cricket over football. FIFA council member Mahfuza Akhter Kiron was arrested on suspicion of defamation after saying Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed was neglecting soccer in the cricket-mad country. Mahfuza allegedly accused Hasina of having double standards for the country's football and cricket. "She [Hasina] rewards cricket for personal gain but ignores football," Mahfuza was reported to have said during a news conference.

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Page last modified: 06-06-2021 18:23:57 ZULU