Bangladesh's Dec 30 polls ‘lopsided’, US reports

DHAKA (The Daily Star/ANN) - US state dept report says; decries rights abuse

The United States has said unlawful or political killings, forced disappearances, life-threatening prison conditions, freedom of speech limitations, negative government pressure on and fear of reprisal by press and media, and impunity for security force abuses were the most significant human rights problems in Bangladesh last year.

US Secretary of State Michael R Pompeo formally released the 2018 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices and delivered on-camera remarks yesterday morning at the press briefing room of US Department of State in Washington DC.

There were reports of widespread impunity for security force abuses last year, while the Bangladesh government took few measures to investigate and prosecute cases of abuse and killing by security forces, said the report.

It also considered a number of rights issues, such as torture, arbitrary detentions, corruption, trafficking, overly restrictive NGO laws, workers' rights, use of the worst forms of child labour, and violence against LGBTI persons; unlawful interference into privacy, censorship, site blocking, peaceful assembly and freedom of association; criminal libel; restrictions on freedom of movement, political participation, trade unions.

On the role of the police and security Apparatus, the US report said though civilian authorities maintained effective control over military and other security forces and the government had mechanisms to investigate abuses and corruption by them, those were not regularly employed.

The report said the government neither released statistics on total killings by security personnel nor took comprehensive measures to investigate them.

 In regards to the security forces' continued abuses with impunity, it identified lengthy trial procedures, retribution, and police having ties to ruling party men who occupy key positions in law and enforcement agencies.

“Reluctance to bring charges against police also perpetuated a climate of impunity,” it added.

On elections and political participation, the report termed the December parliamentary elections “lop-sided” and said it was considered to be marred by irregularities, including ballot-box stuffing and intimidation of opposition polling agents and voters.

It said the government mobilised law enforcement resources to level civil and criminal charges against opposition party leaders.

The report also highlighted numerous reports of arbitrary or unlawful killings committed by the government or its agents.

It said Human Rights Support Society (HRSS) reported security forces killed more than 400 individuals in crossfire incidents from January through September. Odhikar, another rights body, reported the number to be 415 from January through October.

The anti-narcotics drive in May resulted in an increase of reported extrajudicial killings relative to last year.

Human rights organisations and civil society contended the drive was a government effort to exert increased political control over the populace before the national election.

The report also highlighted claims that the government made limited efforts to prevent or investigate forced disappearances. HRSS stated there were 58 enforced disappearances from January through September. Odhikar said the number was 83 from January to November.

In terms of freedom of expression, it said the government sometimes failed to respect the right.

There were significant limitations on freedom of speech with self-censorship persisting due to harassment and fear of reprisal.

It said both print and online independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views; however, media outlets that criticised the government experienced negative government pressure.

Civil society said political interference influenced the licensing process since all television channel licenses granted by the government were for stations supporting the ruling party.

There were also incidents of journalists coming under attack by ruling party loyalists and intelligence men.

Independent journalists alleged intelligence services influenced media outlets in part by withholding financially important government advertising and pressed private companies to withhold their advertising as well.

In September parliament passed the Digital Security Act, claiming it was intended to reduce cybercrimes. Human rights groups, journalists, media outlets, and political opposition parties denounced the DSA as intended to suppress freedom and criminalise free speech.

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