International Community Must Urgently Act on Bangladesh



By  Ahmad Shihab  14 December 2022

The international community cannot remain silent while Bangladesh is bleeding under the ongoing fascism. Left to itself, the people will continue to suffer and groan under the heavy hands of autocracy and misrule.

Bangladesh cannot survive without outside assistance, both cash and kind. But the South Asian country under Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina keeps showing thumbs, a sign of defiance, to play by the rules to its political and economic partners. It feels pretty comfortable as long as India, its all-weather backer, continues to stand by its side.

Illegal Power

Sheikh Hasina has been continually in power illegally since 2009 by defrauding the election systems and utilizing fascist practices to ensure her authority. People’s right to democracy, human rights and political freedom have been discarded outright with no recourse to protest or criticism. Political opposition has been systematically destroyed; thousands of their leaders either disappeared or are languishing in jails for no apparent offense or on fictitious charges. Hong Kong’s Asian Human Rights Commission reported that 2658 people were killed and another 623 became victims of enforced disappearances in Bangladesh during the Hasina time. The immunized fearsome Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and police are the tools of fascism. In addition, the draconian Digital Security Act (DSA) kept punishing people, including minors, for criticizing the regime or even writing a parody line against the Prime Minister or her family members. A few victims succumbed to torture while in custody.

Uncontrolled and unlimited administrative corruption and wide-scale looting left the coffer dangerously depleted. Cost of essentials went beyond the reach of common people. Billions of dollars have been siphoned out of the country by the government’s cronies. US-based Global Financial Integrity (GFI) estimates $8.27 billion to be laundered out of Bangladesh annually. The US Country Reports and other international agencies routinely confirmed these facts.

In December 2021, the US administration has imposed sanctions on the RAB and its top officials for serious violation of human rights that included killings, enforced disappearances, abductions, unlawful arrests and torture. The sanctions, though, hit the regime to some extent but they failed to produce the desired result. Hasina continued to defy the US sanctions and its repeated calls for democratic practices.

Country is Bleeding

Reaching the end of limits, people started speaking and protesting against the heavy handed autocratic and oppressive rule. As their voices grew louder, the regime got shaken. Overwhelming success at a dozen opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) rallies around the country demanding the end of the fascist rule and an immediate fair and participatory election under a neutral authority over the past few weeks testify the fact. A grand concluding rally was planned for Dhaka on December 10, 2022. Four days ahead of the rally, on December 6, the UN and the Dhaka-based envoys of large democracies called upon the host government to refrain from obstructing the opposition’s right to assembly and allow peaceful political rallies and activities.

The Hasina regime foresaw a serious threat to its existence. Its lifeline became hyper active. Reportedly, in response to an urgent SOS message from its protege, New Delhi quietly jetted its spy chief, the Director General of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) to Dhaka. And, fascism sprang to a heightened degree. The police swooped on a peaceful gathering of people in front of the BNP office in Dhaka on December 8, resulting in two deaths, hundreds wounded and scores ending in jail. The arrest of opposition people continued unabated, including top ones. Sheikh Hasina had fulfilled her earlier vow to replay the savagery she had committed in 2013 on the peaceful Hefazat, a non-political group of Islamic students and teachers. The Dhaka envoys, once again, expressed concern at the police brutality and urged the authorities to investigate the wrongdoings. But the “wrong headed” woman is not in a listening mood.

Wrong Headed Prime Minister 

There is also a legal issue. In 1995, the Supreme Court of Bangladesh sentenced Sheikh Hasina to be a “wrong-headed person.” As per Article 66(2) of Bangladesh Constitution, a wrong-headed person cannot qualify to be a Member of the Parliament (MP). And, Article 56(3) stipulates that a non-MP cannot be the PM. As such, Sheikh Hasina’s holding of the Office of the Prime Minister of Bangladesh is illegal, notwithstanding the election frauds she committed to be in that position.

The people of Bangladesh are continuing their demand for the illegal fascists to step down and turn over the authority to a neutral administration to hold a fair and participatory election the soonest. At the same time, the international community has a responsibility too to ensure the practice of democracy and human rights by member countries, particularly those who depend on their charity. Due to the renewed fascism following the RAW chief’s secret trip to Dhaka, the opposition movement, in fact, seems to take a downslide, much to the horror of the future of Bangladesh, more so for its democracy, freedom and human rights. The donor countries and international authorities must exert their clouts and leverages to bring Bangladesh to the path of order and sanity. The suffering multitude cannot take any more of Hasina’s fascism.

Writer is a democracy and human rights activist. Authored a few books.