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US HR report: Government restricts freedoms of peaceful assembly, association

  • Published at 01:29 am March 15th, 2019
Seal of the US State Department
Seal of the US State Department Wikipedia

Despite repeated attempts by the Dhaka Tribune, Law Minister Anisul Huq and National Human Rights Commission Chairman Kazi Reazul Hoque could not be reached for comments about the allegations made in the report

The Bangladesh government limited or restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly, association and expression in the year of 2018, according to a report released by the United States State Department on Wednesday.

The report, titled “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2018,” mentioned quite a few serious human rights issues and stated that the parliamentary election held in Bangladesh on December 30 was not free and fair.

Despite repeated attempts by the Dhaka Tribune, Law Minister Anisul Huq and National Human Rights Commission Chairman Kazi Reazul Hoque could not be reached for comments about the allegations made in the report, released by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

However, a senior government official, on condition of anonymity, told this correspondent that the US Embassy in Dhaka shared the report with the government yesterday.

“The government limited or restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association. The law provided for the right to peaceful assembly, but the government limited this right,” said the report that covered the period between January 1 and December 31 of 2018. 

“Both print and online independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views; however, media outlets that criticized the government experienced negative government pressure,” it said.

The other human rights problems mentioned in the report included unlawful or arbitrary killings, forced disappearance, torture, arbitrary or unlawful detentions by the government or on its behalf, harsh and life-threatening prison conditions, political prisoners, arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy, censorship, site blocking, and criminal libel. 

It also mentioned of substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, such as overly restrictive non-governmental organizations (NGO) laws and restrictions on the activities of NGOs, significant restrictions on freedom of movement, restrictions on political participation, where elections have not been found to be genuine, free, or fair, corruption, trafficking in persons, violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) persons and criminalization of same-sex sexual activity, restrictions on independent trade unions, workers’ rights and use of the worst forms of child labour.

“There were reports of widespread impunity for security force abuses. The government took few measures to investigate and prosecute cases of abuse and killing by security forces,” it said.

“The United Nations reported three allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse against peacekeepers from Bangladesh in 2017; the allegations remained pending,” it added.

“Bangladesh’s constitution provides for a parliamentary form of government, but in fact, most power resides in the Office of the Prime Minister,” said the report. 

“Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Awami League party won a third consecutive five-year term in an improbably lopsided December parliamentary election that was not considered free and fair, and was marred by reported irregularities, including ballot-box stuffing and intimidation of opposition polling agents and voters,” it said. 

“During the campaign leading up to the election, 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,” stated the report. 

“International election monitors were not issued accreditation and visas within the timeframe necessary to conduct a credible international monitoring mission, and only seven of the 22 Election Working Group NGOs were approved to conduct domestic election observation,” it said, adding: “Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.”