A Joint Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission and CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation

​​​​​​​CIVICUS, a global civil society alliance and the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) are extremely concerned about reports of arbitrary arrests and excessive force against opposition activists around mass sit-in protests in Bangladesh. Our organisations call on the authorities to release all those arrested for exercising their peaceful right to protest and to undertake a prompt and independent investigation into human rights violations and abuses committed by security forces and ruling party activists.

On 28 July 2023, thousands of opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) supporters rallied in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka demanding Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina step down and make way for a neutral caretaker administration to oversee a general election expected early next year.

The following day, police moved in to clear thousands of protesters fired rubber bullets and teargas to disperse stone-throwing crowds blockading main roads in the capital. According to news reports, clashes between police and protesters took place in at least four locations in the city.

There were also reports of police as well as ruling party supporters – carrying sticks and rods in the presence of police – violently attacking protesters. According to the BNP, 600 supporters were injured by police rubber bullets and attacks by the ruling party people. In one incident recorded on video, Gayeshwar Chandra Roy, a member of the BNP’s National Executive Committee, who was leading a peaceful sit-in protest in Dhaka was severely beaten and arrested by individuals wearing police vests. In another incident, a video showed alleged ruling party activists attacking opposition supporters in front of Notre Dame college. Home minister Asaduzzaman Khan told reporters that at least 700 people involved in the protests were arrested.

Media reports state that over 800 leaders and activists of the BNP were sent to jail in Dhaka two days prior to the protests. The police have charged at least 549 leaders of the BNP in 11 trumped-up cases registered on 30 July 2023 in addition to another 5000 others were charged on 19 July 2023.

“The arrests and violence against protesters in Bangladesh over the weekend once again highlight the lengths the government is willing to go to crush the opposition ahead of the 2024 elections. It also highlights the culture of impunity that exists with the country. Both the police and ruling party supporters must be held accountable for the serious violations against protesters,” said Josef Benedict, Asia Pacific Researcher for CIVICUS.

The opposition have faced repeated attacks in 2023 while holding protests. In January 2023, several BNP supporters were injured in the central city of Faridpur when supporters of the governing Awami League attacked protesters while brandishing sticks and hurling Molotov cocktails. In April 2023, dozens of BNP activists were injured and many were arrested as police and ruling Awami League activists attacked the party’s sit-in programmes in several places across the country .

In May 2023, police fired tear gas and arrested members of the BNP who took to Dhaka’s streets to protest as their leader, former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, went on trial on new charges of alleged corruption. In June 2023, dozens of people were reported injured as the BNP staged protests in several cities against electricity cuts amid a nationwide heat wave.

The CIVICUS Monitor has documented over the last year how the government has also gone after human rights defenders, journalists and critics to silence dissent. Many have been charged under the draconian Digital Security Act (DSA) against critics. Journalists have faced reprisals including arrest, prosecution, torture and intimidation of their families for undertaking their work. Human rights group Odhikar continues to face judicial harassment. 

“The escalating repression imposed by the Sheikh Hasina regime against the opposition and civil society removes any possibility that the upcoming elections will be free and fair.  The international community must step up its efforts to push back on this assault on democracy and human rights and support civil society. Failing to do this will further entrench a one-party state for many years to come” said Mohammad Ashrafuzzaman, Head of Bangladesh Country Desk at the Asian Human Rights Commission.

Document ID :AHRC-JST-005-2023
Countries : Bangladesh
Date : 02-08-2023