Nearly 10,000 political opponents arrested, at least 16 people killed and 5,500 injured: this is the grim toll of the protests that have shaken Bangladesh since the end of October, according to a report by the NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW), published Monday November 27, a few weeks before the legislative elections.
It was a rally organized on October 28 by the main opposition party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), and the country’s largest Islamist party, Jamaat-e-Islami, which ignited the situation. More than 100,000 people, according to police, gathered in the capital of this South Asian country, Dhaka, to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and the holding of impartial elections for the next election. , scheduled for January 7, 2024. This gathering was violently repressed by the police, who used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the demonstrators.
Since then, “Bangladesh authorities have been carrying out mass arrests of political opponents with the obvious aim of crushing the opposition and eliminating competition in the run-up to the general elections,” estimates HRW. On Sunday, the BNP, for its part, indicated that in total at least 16,625 of its members had been arrested since October.
The NGO claims to have evidence of “excessive use of force by the authorities, mass arbitrary arrests, forced disappearances, torture and extrajudicial executions”.
This is not the first election that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, in power since 2009, has tried to muzzle. Contested for her authoritarian governance and regularly accused of human rights violations, the leader from the Awami League party also campaigned for the 2014 and 2019 elections in a “climate of violence”, recalls one of the officials. of the Asia division of Human Rights Watch, Meenakshi Ganguly.
“The opposition candidates were then attacked and the Bangladeshis were not able to cast their vote,” she emphasizes. In 2019, the government party obtained 96% of seats in Parliament, in a vote not recognized by the European Union.
Ahead of the next election, the United States has this time joined the European Union in its threats of sanctions. In May, Washington warned the country’s government of possible restrictions on the issuance of visas against Bangladeshi regime supporters. For its part, the European Union has already announced that it would not send observers, considering that the conditions for holding free elections were not met on site.
The EU could also deny Bangladesh access to the Generalized Scheme of Preferences+ economic partnership, which would extend tariff reductions on key exports, such as clothing. “Essential” international pressure, according to Meenakshi Ganguly, to “ensure the holding of free elections”.