If it wins this month’s national polls, Bangladesh’s opposition will stop enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings as well as lift press restrictions and impose term limits, its leaders said Monday in unveiling their platform.
Leaders of the National Unity Front (NUF) alliance also urged police not to carry out what they claimed were government orders to arrest opposition candidates, as they made campaign pledges while presenting their manifesto for the Dec. 30 general election.
“Extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances will end completely,” Mahmudur Rahman Manna, one of NUF’s ranking leaders, told a news conference in Dhaka.
“Arrests by plainclothesmen will not be allowed. The Digital Security Act will be scrapped,” he added, referring to a recently passed law, which has drawn widespread criticism from human rights and press advocates who have complained that it restricts free speech online.
Manna said the NUF would work to prevent a repeat of what opposition leaders described as despotic rule under Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, whose government has not been challenged in elections since 2008.
“We will strike a balance of power between the president and the prime minister,” Manna said, underscoring the need for a rule that would deter a prime minister from running for office for more than two consecutive terms.
Under a government led by NUF, Bangladeshis facing “fabricated cases” filed under Hasina’s government would be compensated, he said.
“Expeditious actions will be taken against police officials aiding in the filing of false cases,” he said.
Since the schedule for Bangladesh’s 11th general election was announced on Nov. 8, opposition leaders have accused the government of cracking down on its supporters to prevent them from campaigning.
Kamal Hossain, the NUF chief, alleged on Monday that the ruling Awami League was misusing the police against the opposition.
“The election is only 12 days away. But the police have been arresting the opposition candidates and the leaders. This magnitude of arrest is unprecedented,” Hossain told reporters, alleging that more than 1,900 opposition leaders and activists had been arrested during the past two to three days.
“The candidates are frequently attacked,” he said, without providing evidence.
“I urge the police: You must not carry out the illegal orders of the government,” Hossain said. “Executing an illegal order is an offence.”
NUF also pledged to increase the minimum wage of garment factory workers.
Exports of textiles and garments provide the principal source of foreign exchange earnings for Bangladesh, generating U.S. $28.1 billion from 2016 to 2017. The nation of 163 million people is the world’s second-largest apparel exporter of western fashion brands, after China.
‘They forget the issue once in power’
Rights activists and political analysts hailed the NUF’s commitment to stop extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances.
Bangladesh security forces routinely targeted opposition members through enforced disappearances in 2017, with reports suggesting that more than 80 people vanished in this way last year, global rights watchdog Amnesty International said in its annual report in February.
Human Rights Watch, in its “World Report 2018,” which gauged conditions for human rights last year in 90 countries, said it had documented more than 300 cases of forced disappearances involving security forces since 2009.
“Before every elections, the political parties pledge to maintain zero-tolerance for extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances. The Awami League also made such commitment before the 2008 elections. So, we cannot be so optimistic about the commitment made in the election manifesto,” Bangladeshi human rights activist Nur Khan told BenarNews on Monday.
“But I would say, commitments to stop extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances in the election manifesto is a progress,” he said.
“All political parties should make a formal announcement that they will not indulge in extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances, no matter who goes to power,” he said.
Rights groups and media organizations have criticized Hasina’s government for recently intensifying attempts to curb press freedom by strengthening the nation’s defamation laws with a new Digital Security Act and proposing another piece of legislation, the Broadcast Act 2018, aimed at regulating broadcast news portals.
But Hasina, who is seeking a third consecutive term as prime minister, has denied the accusations.
“On the Digital Security Act and freedom of expression issue, I think, the NUF can rescind [the act] or amend or enact a fresh law keeping popular sentiment in mind,” Nur Khan said.
Nizam Uddin Ahmed, a professor at Chittagong University, agreed with Khan’s views that Bangladeshi political parties would often make promises to protect human rights during electoral campaigning.
“But our experiences show that they forget the issue once in power,” he told BenarNews.