Bangladeshis responsible for ‘undermining democratic election process’ will face US visa curbs: Blinken

Shahriar Alam says the new US policy does not trouble the government as it is ‘committed to a free and fair election’

Published : 24 May 2023, 05:57 PM
Updated : 24 May 2023, 05:57 PM

The United States is going to slap visa embargo on Bangladeshis who it may deem to have undermined free and fair general elections under a new policy.

The Bangladesh government was informed about the new visa policy on May 3, US Secretary of State Blinken said in a press statement on Wednesday.

He said the new policy will “support Bangladesh’s goal of holding free, fair, and peaceful national elections”.

Under this policy, the United States will be able to restrict the issuance of visas for any Bangladeshi individual, believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic election process in Bangladesh, according to the statement.

This includes current and former Bangladeshi officials, members of pro-government and opposition political parties, and members of law enforcement, the judiciary, and security services.

Actions that undermine the democratic election process include vote rigging, voter intimidation, the use of violence to prevent people from exercising their right to freedoms of association and peaceful assembly, and the use of measures designed to prevent political parties, voters, civil society, or the media from disseminating their views, the statement said.

“The holding of free and fair elections is the responsibility of everyone—voters, political parties, the government, the security forces, civil society, and the media. I am announcing this policy to lend our support to all those seeking to advance democracy in Bangladesh,” Blinken added.

In his instant reaction to the new US visa policy, State Minister for Foreign Affairs Md Shahriar Alam said it does not bother the government as “we are committed to a free and fair election”.

“It's not a sanction. BNP should be worried as violence before or during election is another criteria that will trigger visa restrictions.”

Shahriar said the ministry will issue an official reaction after getting the details, likely by the end of Thursday.

The US Embassy in Dhaka said in an FAQ section on its website that no visa restrictions under the new policy have occurred.

“As the Secretary stated, the United States is committed to building a strong partnership with the Government of Bangladesh grounded in democracy and human rights. We welcome the Prime Minister’s expressed commitment to holding free and fair elections.

It said the visa restrictions were not directed against the government or the ruling Awami League. “The United States does not support any particular political party.”

“Restrictions under this new policy target individuals engaging in behavior that undermines the democratic election process, regardless of affiliation.”

Bangladeshis will be notified if their visas are revoked or cancelled, the embassy said.

It hinted at targeting higher level decision-makers if they order individuals to commit the actions mentioned in the new policy. “The policy applies to anyone who is responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic election process in Bangladesh.”

It said the new policy was not in retaliation for the government’s May 14 decision to curtail US Ambassador Peter Haas’s security detail.

“The United States supports free and fair elections everywhere. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her government have committed to supporting free and fair elections in Bangladesh. This policy is designed to support these efforts and the Bangladeshi people, so they may hold elections to choose their leaders.”

Matthew Miller, the spokesperson for the US State Department, said in a daily briefing that the US did not impose new sanctions on Bangladesh on Wednesday.

The US had previously imposed sanctions on the Rapid Action Battalion and several of its former and current officials for “gross violation of human rights”, including alleged extrajudicial killings.

“Our message today to the people of Bangladesh is that we stand behind you. We stand behind free and fair elections, and we are announcing this policy to support democracy in your country,” Miller said.

“We believe there's importance in sending the message that we are ready to use the authorities under this section of the law.

“The point is signalling to anyone in Bangladesh, who may be considering actions that would interfere with the ability of Bangladeshi people to make their voices, that we are watching and we think it's an important step.”