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Democracy in Danger: Bangladesh Election 2018

The Ruling Awami League Government in Bangladesh Exercises Pressure on Courts to Bar Opposition Members in Upcoming Election

We call on the international community to exercise urgent and necessary pressure on the Government of Bangladesh to cease undermining fundamental principles of democracy and circumventing the Rule of Law. The upcoming elections must be monitored by members of the international community and independent civil society organisations.  This election will be a test of the country's commitment to democracy.

The ruling Awami League, in a desperate attempt to alienate any threat to their one-party rule, is seeking to further undermine Bangladesh’s already fragile democracy by attempting to bar 25 candidates of the Jamaat-e-Islami nominated by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party from running in the elections due to take place on the 30 December 2018.

The Bangladesh Nationalist Party is a registered political party, and the has the right, like any party in a democracy, to put forward candidates even if they belong to another group. This is a perfectly legitimate exercise and the Government's attempts to undermine the democratic process clearly defines its lack of commitment to democracy.

After baseless defamatory accusation made publicly by the Prime Minister earlier this month, calling the nominees “was criminals”, thus trying to inflame tensions, government ministers are now attempting to put pressure on the courts and the central electoral commission, threatening their independence and further harming the separation of powers and the rule of law.

The Government of Bangladesh needs to recognise and accept that such behaviour is a breach of the internationally recognised fundamental freedoms and cannot be tolerated. Their actions contribute to internal instability, and should have consequences.

The United Nations is also alarmed, and issued a statement dated 20 December 2018 with regards to the elections. Eight of the UN Special Rapporteurs and Independent Experts, including the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association and the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, signed the statement. The fact that all these experts who address a wide range of human rights and fundamental freedoms have come together in signing the statement, is a clear reflection of the situation in Bangladesh ahead of the upcoming elections.

Amongst a wide range of troubling concerns, of relevance, the experts shed light on the politically motivated prosecution of key opposition members. They also stated that “taken together, recent developments raise serious concerns about whether the elections can be conducted in a free and fair manner”.

The ruling party, the Awami League, has been in power for 10 years. According to Freedom House, the ruling party has “consolidated political power through sustained harassment of the opposition and those perceived to be allied with it”. Specifically on the BNP the and Jamaat-e-Islami, Freedom House notes that these two parties “have been weakened by regular harassment and arrests of key members”, and that many of the members are “are in prison, under house arrest, living in hiding or exile, or facing serious legal charges that could bar them from office”.

Members of the opposition Jamaat-e-Islami were arbitrarily arrested”, is amongst the very first sentences in which Bangladesh is described by Amnesty International.

If the undemocratic practices of the ruling party remain unchallenged, Bangladesh will be heading even quicker into the abyss, threatening the stability of the region.

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