The International Crisis Group has expressed concerns over the ongoing political repression in Bangladesh saying that the government’s abuse of rule of law institutions for political ends has created an atmosphere of injustice that is increasingly exploited by anti-state extremist groups.
To overcome the situation the Brussels-based organisation in its new report “Political Conflict, Extremism and Criminal Justice in Bangladesh” has suggested that the government restore political stability and ensure security, respect the constitutional right to free speech and dissent, ensure due process and end political interference in the justice system, modernise the criminal justice system and push for a broader political reform agenda.
“As the Awami League government’s political rivalry with the Bangladesh National Party (BNP) reaches new heights, so has its repression. At the same time, a deeply politicised, dysfunctional criminal justice system is undermining rather than buttressing the rule of law.
“Heavy-handed measures are denting the government’s legitimacy and, by provoking violent counter-responses, benefiting violent party wings and extremist groups alike,” the report says.
The ICG asked the government to depoliticise and strengthen all aspects of the criminal justice system, including the judiciary, “so it can address the country’s myriad law and order challenges and help stall a democratic collapse.”
On the other hand, the BNP should commit to peaceful opposition, including by preventing party activists from using violence to subvert the political order; and sever ties with political allies who use violence to destabilise the government.
It says the political conflict between the Awami League and the BNP has resulted in high levels of violence and a brutal state response. “The government’s excesses against political opponents and critics include enforced disappearances, torture and extra-judicial killings.”
The group says that the permissive legal environment is creating opportunities for extremist outfits to regroup, manifested in the killings of secular bloggers and foreigners and attacks on sectarian and religious minorities last year.
The ICG has also urged the government to withdraw all cases against journalists, human rights groups and other civil society actors that are based on vague and dubious grounds, such as expressing views deemed “derogatory” of public officials or against the “public interest,” and end press closures and raids on media offices.
It has demanded that the 2014 national broadcast policy be withdrawn and the restrictions on online expression in the Information and Technology Act be removed.
The judiciary should refrain from issuing contempt of court citations to media and other civil society representatives for criticising court judgements, and overturn unjustified contempt convictions in other courts, including the International Crimes Tribunal.
“The government’s reaction to rising extremism, including arrest and prosecution of several suspects without due process and transparency, is fuelling alienation that these groups can further exploit,” it observes.
“Politicising the police and using elite forces, particularly the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), to silence political dissent, are laying the seeds of future violence. By concentrating on targeting the opposition, the police are failing to curb criminality and losing credibility.
The report says that while reforming the dysfunctional criminal justice system – by investing in training, equipping and otherwise modernising the police, prosecution and judiciary, the government must take it out of politics.
“The deeply flawed International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) is an important example of the dangers of using rule of law institutions for political ends. Perceptions of injustice are creating opportunities for extremist groups and fuelling political conflict.”
The report says that the international community can help to promote political reconciliation by, in the US and EU case, using economic levers to pressure Dhaka to respect civil and political rights, and in New Delhi’s by using close ties to urge the AL to allow the opposition legitimate political expression and participation.
“There is no time to lose. If mainstream dissent remains closed, more and more government opponents may come to view violence and violent groups as their only recourse.”