Most power in Bangladesh ‘resides in the Office of the Prime Minister’ Sheikh Hasina although the country’s constitution provides for a parliamentary form of government, the US Department of State said in its report on human rights practices released early Thursday.
US secretary of state Mike Pompeo released the 43rd Human Rights Reports in Washington containing observations on human rights practices of nearly 200 countries, including Bangladesh.
The report said that the ruling Awami League won a third consecutive five-year term ‘in an improbably lopsided’ parliamentary elections not considered as free and fair, and was marred by reported irregularities, including ballot stuffing and intimidation of opposition polling agents and voters on December 30, 2018.
During the campaign leading up to the elections, there were credible reports of harassment, intimidation, arbitrary arrests, and violence that made it difficult for many opposition candidates and their supporters to meet, hold rallies, and campaign freely.
There were reports of widespread impunity for security force abuses as the government took few measures to investigate and prosecute cases of abuse and killing by security forces.
Unlawful and arbitrary killings, enforced disappearance, torture, arbitrary and unlawful detentions of the individuals, arbitrary interference with privacy, censorship, substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, significant restrictions on freedom of movement, restrictions on political participation, restrictions on independent trade unions and workers’ rights were common, the report said.
Security forces continued to commit abuses with impunity with enforced disappearance, threats, beatings, kneecappings and electric shock.
Following alleged disappearances, security forces released some individuals without charge, arrested others, found some dead, and never found others.
The government made limited efforts to prevent or investigate such acts.
The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but the Special Powers Act 1974 was widely cited by law enforcers in justifying their arrests.
The constitution provides for the right of any person to challenge the legality of his or her arrest or detention in court, but the government did not generally observe these requirements.
Plaintiffs were reluctant to accuse police in criminal cases due to lengthy trial procedures and fear of retribution. Reluctance to bring charges against police also perpetuated a climate of impunity.
Officers with political ties to the ruling party occupied many of the key positions in the law enforcement agencies.
The government mobilised law enforcement resources to level civil and criminal charges against opposition party leaders.
Political affiliation often appeared to be a factor in claims of arrest and prosecution of members of opposition parties, including through spurious charges under the pretext of responding to national security threats.
Police routinely arrested opposition activists at their houses, at public places, or when commuting to and from their respective parties’ events.
Law enforcers routinely rearrested bailed individuals on other charges, despite a 2016 directive from the Appellate Division prohibiting re-arrest of people when they were released on bail in new cases without producing them before court.
Bangladesh Nationalist Party chairperson Khaleda Zia, jailed for corruption charges, was unable to take advantage of bail awarded in the case pending appeal because of more than two dozen other charges filed against her in recent years by the government.
Police implicated about 4,35,000 BNP members on criminal charges in the run-up to the national elections and detained many of the accused. Human rights observers claimed many of these charges were politically motivated.
Ruling Awami League-affiliated organisations, including its student wing Bangladesh Chhatra League, reportedly carried out violence and intimidation across the country with impunity, including against individuals affiliated with opposition groups.
The government allegedly used the Anti Corruption Commission as a political tool including having the Anti-Corruption Commission to launch or threaten inquiries into the
activities of some businesspeople, newspaper owners, opposition political activists, and civil society members for criticising the government.
Corruption and a substantial backlog of cases hindered the court system, and the granting of extended continuances effectively prevented many defendants from obtaining fair trials.
The government limited or restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.
Prison conditions remained harsh and at times life threatening due to overcrowding, inadequate facilities, and a lack of proper sanitation.
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