US expresses concern about police violence, opposition intimidation
The US has expressed concern about reports of intimidation, political violence, police harassment, arrests of opposition party members and restrictions on the ability of the opposition parties to meet and hold peaceful rallies.
"We call on the government to respect and to protect the fundamental freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly," Ned Price, spokesman for the US state department, told a press briefing in Washington DC on Tuesday.
Price went on to call on all parties in Bangladesh to respect the rule of law and to refrain from violence, harassment and intimidation.
"We call on the government of Bangladesh to ensure that no party or candidate threatens, incites, or conducts violence against another party or candidate."
Genuine elections require the ability of all candidates to engage voters free from violence, harassment and intimidation, he said.
"We encourage the government authorities to investigate these reports of violence thoroughly, transparently, and impartially, and to hold the perpetrators to account."
On the back of Price's comments, the US embassy in Dhaka today issued an alert ahead of the political demonstrations on December 10, saying that the rallies intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and escalate into violence.
Two of Bangladesh's largest political parties have announced rallies in different areas of Dhaka for December 10, the statement said.
"You should avoid demonstrations and exercise caution in the vicinity of any large gatherings. Review personal security plans; remain aware of your surroundings, including local events; and monitor local news stations for updates," it added.
This comes following a similar alert from the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office on December 6.
"An increased law enforcement presence in the days surrounding 10 December 2022 is likely. You are advised to avoid all large gatherings, including political rallies," said the UK FCDO in the statement.
The travel alerts come as 15 foreign missions in Bangladesh in an extraordinary joint statement reaffirmed the importance of free, fair, inclusive and peaceful electoral processes in Bangladesh.
The signatories to the joint statement are the missions of Australia, the UK, Canada, Denmark, the EU, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the US.
They highlighted the fundamental role democracy plays in protecting human rights and promoting development in Bangladesh and the importance of free expression, peaceful assembly and elections, among others outlined in the UN Declaration of Human Rights.
The joint statement comes ahead of Human Rights Day on December 10, a day when the opposition political party BNP is likely to hold a rally in Dhaka though the venue is yet to be decided.
"We support and promote democratic governance as a set of values and principles to follow for meaningful participation, equality, security, and inclusive human and economic development," the statement said.
"We, as friends and partners of Bangladesh, are eager to further support its success, reaffirm the importance of free, fair, inclusive, and peaceful electoral processes in the spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights," the statement added.
US EXPRESS CONCERNS OVER DSA
The US also expressed concerns over the Digital Security Act.
"We are of course aware that you and some of your colleagues -- Pinaki Bhattacharya, Mofizur Rahman -- have been charged under the so-called DSA, the Digital Security Act," Price said in response to a question from Mushfiqul Fazal, the White House correspondent for Just News BD, a web portal.
Freedom of expression should never be criminalised, he said, adding that it should never be a source or a subject of duress or intimidation.
"We have made our concerns about the DSA very clear. We have done so in our Human Rights Report. We have had frank and candid conversations with our Bangladeshi partners as well," Price added.