UNITED NATIONS, Jan 4 (APP):The United Nations has voiced concern over the violence and human rights violations in Bangladesh before, during and after the Dec. 30 elections, and called for those responsible to be held to account.
More than a dozen people were killed in election-related violence and there were reports of vote-rigging, arrests and jailing of thousands of opponents of the incumbent Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina.
Hasina’s Awami League (AL) party won 96 percent of seats during the parliamentary elections on Sunday, but the opposition completely rejected the results.
“There are credible reports of fatalities and numerous injuries on polling day alone”, a Spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Ravina Shamdasani, said in Geneva on Friday.
“There are worrying indications that reprisals have continued to take place, notably against the political opposition, including physical attacks and ill-treatment, arbitrary arrests, harassment, disappearances and filing of criminal cases”, the spokesperson said, noting reports of disproportionate “violent attacks and intimidation” by ruling party activists, and, in some cases, with the involvement of law enforcement officials.
She asserted that at least two journalists covering the election have been arrested under the 2018 Digital Security Act, which, according to news reports, suppresses free speech and press freedom.
Ms. Shamdasani cited reports of media intimidation and property damage, as well as other constraints that have hindered free and public reporting on the elections.
Moreover, since 10 December at least 54 news and other websites have been blocked, and temporary internet restrictions around election day have constrained freedom of expression.
Pointing to reports of police breaking up peaceful protests demanding a re-election, and arrests under laws such as the Digital Security Act, she said that the space for human rights defenders and organizations, political opposition and the general public, to speak out about the election, had become “restricted”
“Restrictive legislation, including this Act, should be reformed so that human rights defenders, civil society, journalists and all members of the public are protected in their exercise of the freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association and engage freely in debating the election and Bangladesh’s democratic and development processes”, the OHCHR spokesperson stressed.
The UN agency urged the authorities to carry out “prompt, independent, impartial and effective investigations” into all alleged violence and human rights violations surrounding the elections, and to hold those responsible accountable, “regardless of their political affiliations”.
OHCHR said it also encouraged the national Human Rights Commission to play an independent and proactive role.
“We call on the authorities to take urgent measures to prevent further reprisals, and to ensure that law enforcement authorities exercise their powers strictly in accordance with the rule of law and principles of legality and proportionality,” Ms. Shamdasani concluded.
Meanwhile, the New York-based group Human Rights Watch (HRW) has also urged an independent investigation into the alleged election irregularities, with the US., the EU also expressing their concerns.
“International donors, the United Nations and friends of Bangladesh should remember that elections are about the rights of voters, not those in power,” Brad Adams, HRW’s Asia director, said in a statement.