Three UN experts have expressed concerns over the political violence, arrests of senior opposition leaders and the human rights situation in Bangladesh ahead of the 12th parliamentary election.
“As Bangladesh heads towards national elections in early 2024, we are deeply disturbed by the sharp rise in political violence, arrests of senior opposition leaders, mass arbitrary detention of thousands of political activists, use of excessive force by the authorities and internet shutdowns to disrupt protests, and allegations of harassment, intimidation and unlawful detention of family members as a retaliatory measure,” the experts said on Tuesday, as the Human Rights Council completed its periodic review of the human rights situation in the country.
The severe crackdown against workers demanding fair wages and political activists calling for free and fair elections, judicial harassment of journalists, human rights defenders and civil society leaders, and failure to reform laws suppressing freedom of expression in Bangladesh are grave concerns, the experts said.
The joint statement was issued by UN experts Irene Khan, special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Clément Nyaletsossi Voule; special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association; and Mary Lawlor, special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.
They expressed alarm at the threats to media freedom, noting that attacks, surveillance, intimidation and judicial harassment of the press over the past several years have led to widespread self-censorship in the media.
“The weaponisation of the judicial system to attack journalists, human rights defenders and civil society leaders diminishes the independence of the judiciary and erodes fundamental human rights,” the experts said.
“We urge the council and the international community to press upon Bangladesh the urgency and importance of ensuring a safe, open and conducive environment for free and fair elections,” they added.
The special rapporteurs are in contact with the Bangladesh government on these issues, according to the UN statement.