Critics of gov’t ensnared in mass arrests . . .
More than 4,000 members of Bangladesh’s largest opposition party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), have been slapped with charges related to violence that broke out during protests across the country in recent months. The protests are a response to Bangladesh’s worsening economic fortunes, including a 40 per cent spike in the price of fuel in August and its ripple effects on other commodities like food staples. Frustration hit a boiling point earlier this month when the national electricity grid failed, leaving 80 per cent of the population without power for roughly seven hours. BNP members have seized on these crises, accusing the Awami League-led government of falling on the job.
Arrests as a political tool . . .
On Monday, a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report noted that authorities have leveraged criminal charges, such as those brought against BNP supporters, to intimidate individuals it sees as politically problematic, including by conducting raids on their homes. HRW also pointed to an alarming new development of targeting family members of those who criticize the ruling government from abroad. Last month, it arrested a BNP politician for allegedly colluding with his U.K.-based brother in posting a remark on Facebook critical of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. The law used to arrest the brother has been flagged by human rights observers, as it allows the police to hold a suspect for 15 days without charge and may even allow for the torture of detainees during that window of time.
Curious timing . . .
While the protests created a pretext for arresting BNP supporters, the timing of this crackdown is also significant. Bangladesh must hold its next general election by the end of 2023. The Awami League, which has been in power since 2013, won an overwhelming number of seats in the country’s parliament after the last election in 2018, whereas the BNP all but collapsed. But the economic headwinds Bangladesh is facing may make PM Hasina and her party more vulnerable in 2023. As a result, we may see more accusations of official abuse of power in the coming year.
- Al Jazeera: Bangladesh opposition says 4,000 charged in gov’t crackdown
- Human Rights Watch: Bangladesh: Crackdown on political opposition
- Nikkei Asia: Bangladesh anger over fuel prices echoes Sri Lanka, Pakistan