The Bangladesh government should immediately end its use of excessive force, stop arbitrary arrests of members of opposition parties, and lift restrictions on the media, said the Washington-based Human Rights Watch.
“The government’s indiscriminate use of force, arbitrary arrests, and censorship will only inflame an already tense situation,” said Brad Adams, Asia director in a statement dated January 8 which is available on its official website.
“Authorities have an obligation to protect the public, but need to do it in a way that doesn’t throw human rights and the rule of law out the window.”
The HRW report claimed that hundreds of opposition activists, including from the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and the Jamaat-e-Islami Party, have been rounded up and arrested across the country in recent days.
The government crackdown has come in response to opposition protests on the anniversary of controversial national polls in January 2014, which the BNP boycotted and from which Jamaat was excluded.
BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia has been effectively detained in her office premises in Dhaka since January 3, 2015, the report said.
Although the government claims she is not under arrest, a heavy security presence is in place, the gates are locked, and she has been denied exit.
Information Minister Hasanul Huq announced that the government was preparing murder charges against Zia for an arson attack.
A corruption trial against Zia began this week which she has been unable to attend due to the security cordon around her.
On January 6, Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamghir, the acting secretary general of the BNP, was arrested as he left the press club in Dhaka, for allegedly organizing a protest the previous day that led to the deaths of four people and dozens of injuries.
Two activists were shot dead in clashes between activists from the ruling party and security forces. Another two died the same day at the hands of security forces. Several other BNP leaders have been arrested as well.
The authorities have also targeted media perceived to be sympathetic to the opposition. Abdus Salam, chairman of Ekushey TV (ETV), was arrested and detained on January 7, allegedly for charges of broadcasting pornography.
“The space for speech critical of the government was already under threat before this recent clampdown,” Adams said. “The arrest of the owner and closure of a TV station is not acceptable from a government that claims to be democratic.”
The government has alleged that opposition leaders and supporters have planned violence and arson attacks.
Opposition leaders should call on party workers to refrain from violence during the protests.