In a joint statement released on Tuesday, three United Nations experts voiced deep concerns over the escalating political violence, mass arrests of senior opposition leaders, and the deteriorating human rights situation in Bangladesh as the country prepares for its 12th parliamentary election in early 2024.
The experts, including Irene Khan, the special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association; and Mary Lawlor, special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, highlighted a disturbing trend of political unrest. The concerns were raised as the Human Rights Council concluded its periodic review of the human rights scenario in Bangladesh.
The statement outlined various alarming developments, including a sharp rise in political violence, arrests of senior opposition figures, mass arbitrary detentions of political activists, the use of excessive force by authorities, internet shutdowns to disrupt protests, and allegations of harassment, intimidation, and unlawful detention of family members as a retaliatory measure.
The experts drew attention to a severe crackdown against workers advocating for fair wages, political activists calling for free and fair elections, judicial harassment of journalists, human rights defenders, and civil society leaders. Additionally, the failure to reform laws suppressing freedom of expression in Bangladesh raised serious concerns.
Of particular note was the alarming threat to media freedom, as the experts pointed out that attacks, surveillance, intimidation, and judicial harassment of the press in recent years had resulted in widespread self-censorship within the media.
The statement highlighted the weaponization of the judicial system to target journalists, human rights defenders, and civil society leaders, expressing the experts' worry about the diminishing independence of the judiciary and the erosion of fundamental human rights.
In a call to action, the experts urged the Human Rights Council and the international community to impress upon Bangladesh the urgent need for a safe, open, and conducive environment for free and fair elections. The experts emphasized the importance of addressing the identified issues to ensure the protection of human rights and the integrity of democratic processes.
According to the UN statement, the special rapporteurs are in contact with the Bangladesh government regarding these pressing issues, emphasizing the need for immediate attention and action.