BANGLADESH: A nation held captive to political power games

At 11:15pm on January 11 the president of Bangladesh, Professor Iazuddin Ahmed, publicly announced a state of emergency and ordered a curfew in response to increasingly violent conflict paralysing the country in the lead up to the general election, which has been postponed. He also announced that he has resigned from the position of chief advisor of the caretaker government, with Justice Fazlul Haque replacing him for the moment. Nine other advisors resigned from their positions on the same evening, and the president announced that he will appoint new persons in their places within one or two days.

In his statement, the president blamed the ongoing political crisis on intolerance, cheating, corruption and destructive acts committed by politicians, and the grave consequences of a political clash, including bloodshed, and damage to the country’s economic progress and its international reputation. He opined that all public institutions–including the police, civil administration and senior judiciary–have lost credibility due to political infighting.

The Constitution of Bangladesh allows the president to proclaim a state of emergency if he is convinced that “the security or economic life of Bangladesh… is threatened by war or external aggression or internal disturbance”. Once declared, the government may override a host of fundamental rights ordinarily protected by the constitution, including freedoms of movement, assembly, association, speech, livelihood and property rights, and seek the approval of the courts to suspend any of the rights in its part III.

The effects of the emergency declaration were felt immediately. Private television channels ceased their regular news bulletins and political talk shows. All public and private transport stopped operating. People are today confused about how an impasse will be found to the political deadlock now that basic freedoms have been severely curtailed.

All politicians of Bangladesh share the blame for this situation, in addition to the caretaker government, which failed to take prompt and well-judged decisions that could have averted it. For decades, politicians in Bangladesh have manipulated and destroyed the institutions that could uphold the rule of law and basic human rights. For the sake of political power games they have dragged the country to unprecedented depths. The pre-election caretaker government system was an attempt to overcome the worst consequences of their behaviour, and yet it has itself succumbed to the same practices and political culture which it was intended to guard against.

The Asian Human Rights Commission never welcomes a proclamation of emergency in any place, and certainly not in Bangladesh, where the people are already forced to suffer needlessly year in and year out for the mistakes, ineptitudes and jealousies of the political elite. It calls for the presidential declaration to be revoked without delay, and for a common effort to peacefully explore and expand upon the country’s retarded and limited political space, in order that the destructive practices of competing parties be brought to an end. Above all else, the army and law-enforcing agencies deployed across the country must at this critical time stay patient and show their respect for the law and the rights of citizens, in order that conditions are not worsened. Meanwhile, civil society groups, the media and other concerned persons must act to lead the country out of–not deeper into–the morass in which it now finds itself, and towards the establishing of the standard rule of law and guarantees for protection of human rights.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-010-2007
Countries : Bangladesh,