Bangladesh: Hasina’s Despotic Approach in Quelling Political Opponents

By Sajjad Shaukat

General elections in the Bangladesh (BD) are scheduled to be held on a date between October 31, 2018 and January 28, 2019. Pro-Indian Bangladeshi Government of the ruling party Awami League (AL) led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajid is already showing despotic approach by quelling the political opponents and opposition parties through various suppressive tactics before the elections.

Dhaka remained paralyzed during first week of August, this year due to violent student protests triggered by a traffic accident. During the event, the protesting students and journalists were brutally manhandled by activists of Chattra League (AL’s student wing). Such a sit sparked country-wide condemnation, protests, and even a convoy carrying US ambassador to Bagnladesh, namely Ms. Marcia Bernicat which was attacked by armed men in Mohammadpur, Dhaka, resulted in damage of two vehicles. Over 125 students were arrested by Dhaka police including Shahidul Alam (prominent HR activist and photographer) in connection with the protests. The protests subsided on the assurance of Prime Minister Hasina Wajid and approval of Road Transport Bill 2018 by the cabinet.

Apart from condemnation of diplomatic community over the brutal way of manhandling the student protests, Amnesty International also demanded immunity and unconditional investigation of the event regarding. Many other local global bodies and media including Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), PEN international, SAMDEN (South Asia Media Defenders Network), Guardian, the Washington Post etc also condemned the arrests of the students.

In fact, following Indian instructions, current regime of Awami League (AL) has already created the situation of harassment for opposition parties, using various tactics, whereas, on the other hand, it is pressing hard to ensure participation of all political parties in upcoming elections to give out the impression of normalcy by AL towards opposition parties and political opponents. AL government has become synonymous with power abuse, autocratic and suppressive attitude towards the opposition, favoritism and nepotism, continuous human rights violations, forced disappearances and killings by Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs) on behest of AL—lack of freedom of press/media and controlled judiciary.

A majority of the Bangladeshi people does not like Sheikh Hasina’s (And AL’s) pro-Indian policies and favourtism, which are also creating deep dissent in Bangladeshi society. Reportedly, AL also intends to keep Begum Khalid Zia and her son Tariq out of forthcoming elections to retain power.

In this regard, Caretaker Government is a major contentious issue between both major political parties of BD. While AL projects the demands of people, as unconstitutional, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) believes that elections under AL regime can never be fair and transparent.

It is notable that under Sheikh Hasina Wajid’s Government, there have been hundreds of secret detentions of political opponents by using the law enforcement authorities. During 2017, the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances and other UN experts had demanded from Bangladesh to halt an increasing number of enforced disappearances in the country. Reportedly, in 2017, Bangladesh human rights organization “Odhikar” had identified over 180 cases of disappearances in the previous two years with dead bodies of 28 persons found and the whereabouts of over 25 people remain unknown.

Prominent cases of disappearances—including Mubashar Hasan (Bangladeshi scholar) who was picked up and secretly detained by Directorate General of Forces Intelligence-the military intelligence service of the Bangladesh Armed Forces, more commonly known as DGFI, in November 2017. He was later released after six weeks. Mir Ahmed Bin Quasem, a British-trained Barrister was picked up from his flat in Dhaka in front of his wife and children and Hummam Quader Chowdhury-son of Salauddin Quader Chowdhury of Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) was executed in as 1971 war—these criminal acts were also authorized by P.M. Hasina Wajid after DFGI approached her with a concocted story about a conspiracy between them against the government. Awami League government had already full of intent to involve them in July 1, 2016 Dhaka incident. Afterwards, Chowdhury was released. But, Bin Quasem remains missing.

It has been reported that a number of different state agencies, including the paramilitary organisation, Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), the detective branch of the police, the counter-terrorism unit and the special branch and the DGFI are involved in forced disappearances of anti-AL people.

It is, again, mentionable that since the Prime Minister of Bangladesh and leader of the ruling party, Awami League (AL) Sheikh Hasina Wajid came into power, she has been following Indian-backed policies. Thus, New Delhi has succeeded in establishing puppet regime in Bangladesh.

In this respect, by setting aside the water dispute and border issue with India, during her visit to New Delhi on April 8, last year, Prime Minister Hasina Wajid signed 22 agreements in the fields of defence cooperation, civil nuclear energy, space and cyber security among others, following bilateral talks between her and his Indian counterpart. Both the countries also signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) through which India would extend a line of credit of $500 million to support Bangladesh’s defence-related procurements.

Bangladeshi newspapers had showed un-easiness among the masses in Bangladesh regarding the defense deal between India and Bangladesh. Opposition parties also criticized the defence deal by saying that Hasina Wajid wants Bangladesh to become a colony of India. The BNP had already warned on March 7, 2017 that the people would not accept any anti-state defence deal with India, during Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to the neighbouring country.

But, by ignoring the statements of her political opponents, Prime Minister Hasina Wajid has continuously been pursuing Indian secret directions by conducting anti-Pakistan campaign. Therefore, after passing of 42 years to the events of 1971, which resulted into the separation of East Pakistan—in connivance with the judiciary, she hurriedly executed her political opponent Abdul Qadir Mullah-leader of Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) because of his loyalty to Pakistan. Afterwards, some other leaders of the JI were also hanged.

It is worth-mentioning that Indian-Bangladeshi governments have decided to upgrade the Liberation War Museum. In this connection, India’s advanced Bio-Chemistry Lab will jointly work on “1971 War Fossils” with the Liberation War Museum at Dhaka. It will be some sort of scientific research work. An Indian team has visited Dhaka during the month of March 2018 for the same purpose. Indian Government is already in process of handing over 1971 war memorabilia to of BD for placing the same in War Museum of Dhaka, besides, both the government are also preparing to celebrate BD’s 50th victory day in 2021.

Undoubtedly, with the assistance of New Delhi, for her second tenure, Sheikh Hasina had won the general elections 2014 in wake of bloodshed due to her dictatorial steps. In this respect, head of the BNP, Begum Khaleda Zia who was leading the alliance of the opposition parties had boycotted the general elections. Police besieged the Begum Khaleda Zia’s in her office. In order to keep herself in power, Prime Minister Hasina amended the constitution for holding of elections under a non-party set up and the opposition accused her of manipulating the electoral process to establish one party state. The country’s largest religious party JI was also banned from taking part in the elections.

To what extent Prime Minister Hasina has been strangulating the opposition and her political rivals could be judged from the development that on February 8, 2018, when in connivance with the government, a court in Dhaka sentenced the two-time former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia to five years rigorous imprisonment.

Now, Awami League government under Sheikh Hasina which is legitimate has been squeezing the opposition to new limits. In this connection, on January 29, 2018, Bangladesh’s cabinet approved the draft Digital Security Act 2018 (DSA) which would replace certain sections of the existing Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act, namely sections 54, 55, 56, 57 and 66. According to the government, the new law was needed to strengthen the authorities’ ability to tackle cyber crime and protect national security in Bangladesh. On September 19, this year, Bangladesh’s parliament passed the controversial Digital Security Act despite protests by journalists who say the law will severely curb media freedom in the country. The draft Digital Security Act was initially introduced in 2015, but was met with strong resistance from media workers and human rights lawyers in Bangladesh, who feared it could be used to stifle legitimate criticism and public debate online.

However, under the cover of ICT or tackling cyber crime etc., the propose DSA is a set of punishment to support Indian covert agenda of ultra Nationalism, being pursued by AL and to press the voice of the opposition.

Salient provisions of the DSA include 14 years imprisonment for any “Negative propaganda” against the Liberation War or Sheikh Mujib, use of digital media to intimidate people or cause damage to the state, illegal entry in any governmental/semi-government office etc., and secret recoding of any information/documents will be considered as an act of espionage. It is also suggested that hurting someone’s religious sentiments may lead to incarceration up to 10 years.

The personnel of the law-enforcement agencies may not need a warrant to search and arrest, if they suspect violation of the Act.

Timing of the proposed DSA draft is crucial, as journalists and media persons are demanding repealing controversial Section 57 of Information and Communication Technology Act (ICT)-2006 termed as draconian section. Notably, more than 700 cases under this controversial Section are under trial. Besides, Sheikh Hasina has been using such draconian and controversial laws against Bangladesh’s JI leaders extensively and could execute more leaders of this religious party for siding with Pakistan.

On the political front, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has been using every tactic to keep Mrs. Khaleda Zia (BNP leader) under pressure. Mrs. Khaleda Zia has been booked in 34 cases of various sorts. Some of the cases include Zia Orphanage Trust Graft Case, GATCO Graft Case, NIKO Graft Case, Barapukuria Coal-mine Graft Case, Sedition Case, Case for Undermining National Flag, 25 cases related to arson/murder/abetting murder etc. As BNP is currently leading an alliance of around 20 smaller parties, Sheikh Hasina government has unleashed suppressive tactics to cause ruptures in the alliance and forcing desertions/defections within BNP and its allied parties.

Bangladesh jail authorities have prepared a new log book for the visitors, who want to meet Khaleda Zia. Every visitors should submit his/her national identity card and to explain the reason in writing that why he or she wants to meet BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia. The application for meeting her should at first be endorsed from BNP high command and then from Ministry of Home Affairs of BD.

Notably, the major aim of the Digital Security Act is to weaken the political rivals so that the Awami League led by Hisina Wajid could win the forthcoming general elections. In this context, Hasian Wajid had already said on December 13, 2017 that her party would win the next general elections.

On the other side, opposition parties and alliances are likely to increase their activities and finding a strangulating atmosphere, the country is expected to witness more widespread unrest and violence, as compared to the previous elections.

Taking cognizance of Hasina Wajid’s pro-Indian tilt, a writer has rightly remarked, “Hasina Wajid again started Honey Moon Period of relationship with India.”

Nevertheless, Prime Minister of Bangladesh and leader of the ruling party, Awami League Sheikh Hasina Wajid has been pursuing Indian-backed policies blindly. Awami League-India nexus has once again engulfed Bangladesh in the shape of Sheikh Hasina Wajid who has unleashed a reign of terror in the country. Resultantly, disappointment and dissatisfaction of the opposition parties, civil society, sensible media persons etc. is growing, while foreign investment is evaporating and economy has slowed down. But, P.M. Hasina’s despotic approach in quelling political opponents and dissidents continues unabated.

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