These people are more vulnerable to election violence than others, the speakers said
Security must be ensured for the religious and ethnic minority groups, as well as the underprivileged population, during the polls, speakers at a round table said on Monday.
Considering the violent attacks during the past elections, citizens belonging to the religious and ethnic minorities may be particularly targeted, they cautioned.
The round-table discussion, titled “Protecting human rights during polls,” was organized by National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and attended by rights activists, researchers and journalists.
Addressing the discussion, NHRC Chairman Kazi Reazul Hoque said women, members of religious and ethnic minority communities, and underprivileged people are always at risk of being attacked, but they become even more vulnerable during elections.
He also pointed out that the days before voting day on December 30 are important, adding that necessary measures must be taken so that no one is harmed in poll-time attacks.
“Other than providing security, the Election Commission must also work to raise confidence among these vulnerable groups,” he added.
“A vested quarter is circulating propaganda online... The youth should be more vocal on social media, keeping in line with the spirit of the Liberation War,” he further said.
The speakers also warned against possible violent attacks by members of Jamaat-e-Islami and its student wing, Islami Chhatra Shibir.
Former Justice Shamsuddin Chowdhury Manik said despite having its registration cancelled by the Election Commission, Jamaat leaders are still participating in the election using BNP’s electoral symbol, which violates the constitution.
“It is a shame for us that the party that is accused of committing war crimes is contesting the election,” he said, adding that Jamaat, with the backing of BNP, perpetrated communal violence in the past.
Terming some of BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia’s remarks “communally inflammatory,” the former Supreme Court judge said the party, due to its fascination with Pakistan, is still backing Jamaat.
He demanded that the next government bring to book those who were responsible for past communal attacks, most of which occurred during the 2001 and 2014 general polls.
Kajol Debnath, a leader of Bangladesh Hindu-Bouddha-Christian Oikya Parishad, said: “We live under the threat of violence every single day – not just during elections.”
Recounting that most of the communal attacks have been initiated by Jamaat in the past, he said such occurrences were far less in the past few years,compared to the BNP-Jamaat tenure and the 2014 poll-time violence.
However, he said, religious minorities have been affected by the Awami League too, referring to a recent attack on a Hindu family in Noakhali, where five houses were set on fire.
Kajol also demanded appropriate security measures in the 26 “risky” and 53 “extremely risky” constituencies that the Oikya Parishad has identified as particularly dangerous for the minorities.
Another speaker,economist Kazi Khaliquzzaman, said the anti-Liberation War forces must not be given the chance to come to power again, or else the development spree and the security of religious minorities would be put at risk.
He also said by forming an alliance with BNP, Jatiya Oikya Front chief Dr Kamal Hossain had taken the side of war criminals.
Sanjib Drong, secretary of Bangladesh Adivasi Forum, said communal attacks have not stopped because the perpetrators seldom get punished.
“The state must ensure equal justice to all,” he said. “The religious and ethnic minorities must be provided with more security as they are more vulnerable.”
Bangladesh Mohila Parishad President Ayesha Khanam, Bhorer Kagoj Editor Shyamal Dutta, Dhaka University Professor Sadeka Halim, and Bangladesh Press Council Chairman Justice Md Mamtaz Uddin Ahmed also spoke at the event.