Sunday, June 23, 2024

Bangladesh Ranks Below War-torn Afghanistan in Press Freedom

Washington, DC – Decades ago, Bangladesh was crowned the “Emerging Tiger of Asia.” It was supposed to go very far. Unfortunately, now the country is facing the worst period in its 50 years of independence. It is not on the brink of collapse. It has collapsed in all parameters.

The painful stories of people’s daily life are the draconian Digital Security Act, the approach of total destruction of the opposition voices, massive human rights violations, arrests, disappearances, and brutal tortures of journalists. They gag the media and force them to use self-censorship. They use all law enforcement agencies to fulfill their evil designs and continue torturing opposition, civil society, and rights workers with violence, tools like false cases, trials, disappearance, and killings. All depict a completely dark picture of the present situation. 

In the recently released International Press Freedom Index, Bangladesh stands six steps below war-torn Afghanistan–and last in South Asia–as the country’s position is 162 out of 180 countries. Bangladesh’s media are maintaining self-censorship to avoid the rage of this ruling Awami league-led government. The ruling regime and its top leadership are involved in fabricated propaganda to keep their power by any means. News agency AFP recently filed a fact-check story about serious fabricated propaganda by the regime and its controlled media.

Since 2015, the speeches of the main opposition-Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) leader Tarique Rahman have been banned in the country by the regime. A Bangladesh court banned local media from reporting speeches by the opposition leader after authorities sought to muzzle dissent amid a wave of deadly anti-government protests.

The US Department of State, in its executive summary of the annual human rights report, 2021, mentioned that “Bangladesh’s constitution provides for a parliamentary form of government that consolidates most power in the Office of the Prime Minister. In a December 2018 parliamentary election, Sheikh Hasina and her Awami League party won a third consecutive five-year term that kept her in office as prime minister. This election was reportedly not considered free and fair by observers due to irregularities, including ballot-box stuffing and intimidation of opposition polling agents and voters.”

The last two elections, in 2014 and 2018, were criticized at home and abroad because mass vote-rigging occurred. The ruling party rigged the vote on the election eve. They cast ballot papers at night before the election, and these allegations become the news headlines in local and international media. After the vote at night, this government became more dictatorial than ever. And it continues repression of opposition parties with a hidden design to vanish them all. As part of it, this government is following a Russia-like state policy to gain overall control. 

The New York Times categorized the elections as a farcical vote. In an editorial it wrote, “Hasina is back for another term at the head of what has effectively become a one-party state, ready to further tighten control.”

Terming the 2018 elections as “lopsided polls,” the Washington Post compared the situation with North Korea: “That kind of margin of victory — 96 percent — was a result one might expect in a place like North Korea, not a democratic nation such as Bangladesh.”

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina continues her political vengeance on the main opposition leader and former Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia. She did not even allow critically ill Khaleda Zia to take advanced treatment abroad amid public outcry. The recently released US Human Rights report 2021 categorized her imprisonment as a political ploy to remove the opposition leader from the electoral process. It says, “In March 2020, Zia’s sentence was initially suspended for six months on humanitarian grounds, but she remained confined at home. In both instances, the government restricted Zia from traveling abroad to seek treatment for her ill health, stating she would receive medical treatment in Dhaka. In August, the minister for law, justice, and parliamentary affairs said that Zia could request to travel abroad if she waived home confinement, went to jail, and made her request from there. In 2018 Zia was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment on corruption and embezzlement charges, which were first filed in 2008. International and domestic legal experts commented on the lack of evidence to support the conviction. They suggested a political ploy to remove the opposition leader from the electoral process.

The irony is that nearly two dozen corruption and extortion cases against Hasina and her son were withdrawn after she took office. It includes alleged graft in the purchase of MiG-29s for the air force and Frigate for the navy, in the construction of Bangabandhu Planetarium, and extorted money from businessman Azam J Chowdhury. 

Bangladesh’s Supreme Court Chief Justice Surendra Kumar Sinha was forced to resign and leave the country after refusing requests by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and other senior government officials to change a key ruling. 

A series of trials were launched against micro-credit pioneer and Nobel Laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus after Sheikh Hasina took to the office. He is still facing charges. Prime Minister Hasina wants to punish him along with former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, saying he should be thrown into the river from Padma Bridge as she claimed professor Yunus blocked the Padma bridge funds from the World Bank.  

 On December 10, 2021, the US Treasury Department imposed sanctions on Bangladesh’s elite paramilitary force, the RAB, and its top six officials, including the country’s current police chief Benzir Ahmed due to serious human rights violations. This has created a stir in Bangladesh. Essentially RAB and these top officials are the sincere vanguards of the ruling Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who are fulfilling her will to make her power absolute. 

On Russian aggression in Ukraine, Bangladesh’s Authoritarian Prime Minister supported Russian dictator Putin as Sheikh Hasina told the parliament on March 30, “Russia stood by us in our bad time. and we are surely beside the country.” 

Two weeks later, when I asked about Bangladesh’s position on Russia, the White House press secretary Jen Psaki replied, “I would just say that what we’re doing is encouraging every country to think hard about what side they’re going to be on in history.”


Author profile
Mushfiqul Fazal

M. Mushfiqul Fazal (Ansarey) is a Washington based Bangladeshi journalist working for Just News BD as Editor and White House Correspondent. He covers the UN, US State Department, and Pentagon. Musfique reports extensively on the US and its regional affairs in South Asia, especially in Bangladesh. He is a strong voice for press freedom. Mushfique is involved in a Washington based nonprofit rights organization, Right to Freedom, as Executive Director. His journalistic works forced him to exile, living in the UK where he worked for The Times as work experience reporter in the foreign desk. According to reports, on several occasions, his questions at the White House, UN and State Department press briefings on gross human rights violations directed the governments’ anger towards him resulting in a ban on his return to Bangladesh and blocked the news outlet in the country. Mushfique is a member of the National Press Club, United Nations Correspondents Association, White House Correspondents Association and Bangladesh National Press Club.

Follow him @mushfiqulfazal


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