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Wednesday, January 09, 2019

HASINA’S WIN IN ELECTION AND DEMOCRACY OF BANGLADESH

By on Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Election Commission secretary Helal Uddin has announced that the Awami League-led coalition has won 288 of the 300 seats. The Jatiya Oikya Front (National Unity Front), a rainbow alliance led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party that had called for a silent revolution in the ballot boxes, has won just seven seats.
The United Nations on Friday called for an independent and impartial investigation into the December 30, 2018 election in Bangladesh in which Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina won a third straight term amid accusations of violence and voting irregularities.
Hasina's ruling alliance won more than 96 percent of the seats contested in Sunday's election, which was marred by accusations of ballot stuffing, voter intimidation and violence that killed at least 19 people. Opponents rejected the election result, but Hasina and her Awami League have denied any impropriety, saying that the polling was peaceful and there was enthusiastic participation from her supporters.

SHE HAS MUFFLED MEDIA
While the Opposition was being wiped out, the Hasina government consolidated its influence and control on the media. The arrest in August 2018 of photographer Shahidul Alam, who was detained for posting live videos on face book criticizing the government’s response to the 2018 road safety protests, was seen as a challenge to freedom of speech in Bangladesh, with several calls seeking his release.
 Alam was later released on bail, but the incident served to add to Hasina’s image as an authoritarian leader. Such challenges to her authority have, however, been rare. In the run-up to the elections, a majority of the television news channels, with Ekattor and Ekushey TV leading the pack, openly sided with the ruling Awami League. Ekattor TV, which gets its name from the 1971 Bangladeshi Liberation War (Ekattor is 71 in Bangla), is vocal about its support to the “liberation war spirit”, a euphemism for support to the Awami League.
In January 2015, another channel, Ekushey TV, broadcast live a speech and press conference from London by Khaleda’s son Tarique. The government responded by cracking down and arresting its chairman Abdus Salam in an earlier case lodged against the TV station under anti-pornography laws. Within months, a pro-government business tycoon, Mohammad Saiful Alam, took over the channel’s ownership. There is only one channel called NTV, a news channel owned by a BNP leader, has been able to survive despite being critical of the government, though it has had to tone down the criticism.
The two top newspapers, The Daily Star in English and Prothom Alo in Bangla, have, however, managed to remain firm in their opposition to the Hasina government. This is, despite Mahfuz Anam, editor of The Daily Star, being slapped with 83 sedition and defamation cases in 2016. The reporters from this paper were not allowed to cover the PM’s events for the last few years. In recent months, even Prothom Alo’s reporters were denied access.
Top advertisers, including telecom companies and multi-national companies, were asked not to advertise in the paper and their revenue has fallen by about 30 per cent.
The latest attack on critics is a bill regulating online publishing and social media, which parliament approved at the end of September last year. Its draconian provisions include prison terms of up to 14 years for those who spread “propaganda” about the war in 1971 in which Bangladesh won independence from Pakistan. (Sheikh Hasina’s father led the independence movement; she is so vitriolic about his opponents that she could be accused of propagandising herself.)
 Another vague clause bans the posting of “aggressive or frightening” content. Sheikh Hasina says the bill is necessary to prevent the spread of radicalism and pornography, but journalists are terrified. 
CHIEF JUSTICE SK SINHA IS A LIVING TESTIMONY OF HER AUTHORITARIANISM
In her fourth stint overall, she has combined it with ruthless dominance over the country’s political landscape, stamping out any hint of opposition and almost decimating the Awami League’s main rival, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, and imprisoning its leader Khaleda Zia on a Rs 1.73 crore corruption charge.
Zia was arrested in February 2018 after being convicted of embezzling money intended for an orphanage, but the lady Prime Minister of Bangladesh has been acquitted by court. Bangladesh's High Court quashed a $2 billion corruption case against Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, involvement in the awarding of three offshore gas fields to Canadian firm Niko Resources.
The court, which began the final hearing on the Hasina's petition on Wednesday, quashed the 2007 case involving of  the awarding three offshore gas fields to Canadian firm Niko Resources during her first term as prime minister, according to the Star online.
I shall like to explain how she works with judiciary with an example which illustrates her ruthless character to begin with. Hasina’s run-ins with the judiciary are a glaring example of and a proof of her rising authoritarianism.
In 2017, Bangladesh Supreme Court Justice, S K Sinha, was allegedly forced to resign as he scrapped parliament’s authority to impeach Supreme Court judges.
 While the Hasina government has always denied the charge, in A Broken Dream, a tell-all memoir, Justice Sinha who now lives in Canada in exile writes that on October 1, 2017, a day before the court was to hear an appeal on its impeachment ruling, he was invited to a late-night meeting where the president, the law minister, the attorney general and Prime Minister Hasina repeatedly pressed him to rule “in favour of the government”.
“The prime minister appeared to be blind for retaining power and her only objective was how to control the Supreme Court for coming to power in the next election. Her approach was unethical and unconstitutional,” Sinha writes.

RAMPANT HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS
Human rights organization Amnesty International has warned against a growing crack down by authorities on peaceful protests and freedom of expression in Bangladesh.
In its annual report, the international rights body claimed that criticism of the government in Bangladesh, or the family of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, triggered criminal cases which were the reflection of an increasingly hostile environment for freedom of expression.
“The government proposed a new Digital Security Act, which places even greater restrictions on freedom of expression than the notoriously abusive Section 57 of the Information and Communications Technology Act,” the report claims.
“The rights to freedom of peaceful assembly continued to be severely restricted, as members of the political opposition were stopped from organizing rallies and meetings. The activities of NGOs continued to be restricted through the Foreign Donation (Voluntary Activities) Regulation Act.
Enforced disappearances persisted, mainly targeting the political opposition and their supporters,” it adds. Highlighting a case in November 2018, where more than 30 homes belonging to Hindu families were reportedly ransacked, looted and torched in Thakurpara village in Rangpur, Amnesty flagged Bangladesh alongside other countries in South Asia where minorities are unsafe.
“South Asia remains one of the most dangerous regions to be a member of a religious minority. Muslims in India and Sri Lanka, Shi’as in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and Hindus in Bangladesh have all come under attack over the past years. In each case, the governments have failed to protect them, been mute to their fate, or even encouraged a climate of hostility.
The exodus of nearly 650,000 Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar to neighbouring Bangladesh was branded the fastest-growing refugee crisis in recent times. “At the end of the year, their prospects for the future remained very unclear, and the enduring failure of world leaders to provide real solutions for refugees left little reason for optimism,” Amnesty warns.
 USA in its internal report (2018) says explicit details of human rights condition. The most significant human rights issues included: extrajudicial killings, torture, arbitrary or unlawful detentions, and forced disappearances by the government security forces; restrictions on civil liberties, including freedom of speech, press, and the activities of non-governmental organizations (NGOs); a lack of freedom to participate in the political process; corruption; violence and discrimination based on gender, religious affiliation, caste, tribe, including indigenous persons, and sexual orientation and gender identity also persisted and, in part, due to a lack of accountability. Trafficking in persons remained a serious problem; as did restrictions on worker’s rights and the worst forms of child labor. 
OPPOSITION POLITICAL PARTY IS DECIMATED
Ruhul Kabir Rizvi, the BNP’s senior joint secretary general and the man who has emerged as the party’s face, holding its daily press conferences, has been staying in the BNP’s Naya Paltan office for the last six months. He has over 20 political cases against him and he fears he will be arrested if he steps out.
The police and the district administration’s officials both have been refusing us permission to hold public rallies and they have no option, but to hold only local-level meetings in constituencies or go on door-to-door campaigns. Public rallies are the privileges of ruling elites only. Rizvi also complains that Hasina hasn’t extended to Zia any of the courtesies due to a three-time prime minister, keeping her in a dilapidated jail “with rats and cats”.
Zia, 72, is housed in the 19th Century Dhaka Central Jail, which has been turned into a courtroom to try the BNP leader and where she is the only inmate. Zia, who suffers from diabetes and arthritis, is allowed an attendant in jail. Rizvi alleges that Zia’s access to her family members, brother Shamim Eskander, sister-in-law Kaniz Fatema, and sister Selina Islam is restricted to fortnightly visits.
“If they allow the families to meet on Eid, then they cancel the fortnightly meetings. Last Eid, they did not allow the family to bring her home-cooked food. Hours after the Election Commission declared her victorious, Hasina, flanked by her advisors, H T Imam and Gowher Rizvi, admitted Bangladesh was a “nascent democracy” unlike many other democracies and said, “I can’t accept authoritarian and military regimes. I am running the country very liberally. But I will not allow terrorism, drugs and corruption, and I will do my best to save our people from these ills.” And then, in a room gleaming with chandeliers and golden curtains, she added, “I am the Prime Minister of the country, of all the people, not just of a party.” On the lack of an Opposition space, she quipped, “Bengalis love to talk… there are so many talk shows on TV.”
Writer is retired IFS

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