Friday, August 24, 2007

Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission

We welcome a statement by Asian Human Rights Commission on Bangladesh situation.
Source: Asian Human Rights Commission
BANGLADESH: The state of emergency must be withdrawn to avert further bloodshed
August 23, 2007

The situation in Bangladesh is worsening day by day, with the repressive actions being taken by the authorities only adding fuel to the growing conflagration. Protests that began at Dhaka University on August 20, 2007, have spread beyond the student population and the capital, to include participants from many walks of life. They are beginning to evolve into a popular movement across the country that presents a significant threat to the government.

Although there was widespread support for the interim government when it came to power in January 2007, the mood in the country is now rapidly turning. The major sources of discontent are the rising cost of living and the measures taken by the military-backed government of Bangladesh that have restricted freedoms in the country, including the Emergency Powers Ordinance and Emergency Powers Rules that have accompanied the declaration of a state of emergency in the country. In clamping down further on the protests rather than addressing their causes, the authorities are only compounding the discontent and fuelling a greater crisis. The government has issued indefinite curfews in six cities, closed academic institutions, threatened the press into censoring itself and has continued to violently repress demonstrations, leading to at least one death and hundreds of injuries and arrests.

According to the information received, members of the military beat a group of students on the grounds of Dhaka University in the afternoon of August 20, 2007. When teachers and students attempted to intervene, they were also verbally and physically attacked, which led to a rapid escalation of the violence throughout the campus. That evening clashes continued, with the authorities raiding dormitories and seriously injuring around 100 students. Many more students were arrested. The Emergency Medical Unit of Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH), where injured students were receiving treatment, was also reportedly attacked by the police using tear gas. Following this, protests have spread to other parts of the country, as a result of which at least one person is known to have been killed in the city of Rajshahi by the police, who are thought to be using rubber bullets, beatings with batons and tear gas to repress the demonstrations.

Bangladesh’s interim government imposed an indefinite curfew in six divisional cities, starting at 8 p.m. on August 22, 2007, in order to attempt to tackle the spreading protests. Government leader, Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed, also announced that all academic institutions in the divisional cities are closed until further notice, and their students were ordered to leave their dormitories before the curfew came into force. Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed reportedly blamed “evil forces” for attempting to destabilise the country. He also claims that the curfews are only a temporary measure.

Although reports indicate that the curfews have calmed the situation somewhat, altercations between the authorities and the country’s citizens in Dhaka and elsewhere are continuing. It could be that these curfews are only postponing and potentially even galvanising and widening support for the protests, as was the case in Nepal in April 2006, where indefinite curfews and violent repression of demonstrators only served to fuel a movement that led to the toppling of the ruling regime. Student-led protest movements have also brought about the downfall of governments in the past in Bangladesh.

In further steps that also mirror those taken by the desperate authorities in Nepal at the time of the beginning of people’s movement there, the authorities have also blocked the mobile phone networks for periods, ostensibly to obstruct the demonstrators’ coordination efforts, and have threatened the press into limiting their coverage of the ongoing crisis, including the de facto banning of all coverage of the protests on television. Law and Information Adviser, Barrister Mainul Hossein, warned the media in a press briefing in his office on August 22, 2007, stating that “we don’t want to impose censorship on the press although some emergency power rules have authorised the government to impose censorship on the media.” He continued by stating that he hoped “the media will keep it in mind and abide by the rules,” before reading out sections of the Emergency Powers Ordinance that restrict the media from publishing or airing news items on ‘sensitive issues’.

In multiplying the repressive measures against the people of Bangladesh, the interim government will only increase the amount of blood that is spilled. In order for a peaceful solution to be brought about, the restoration and realisation of citizens’ rights and freedoms is the only viable path. The authorities must abandon the state of emergency and repeal the Emergency Powers Ordinance and Emergency Powers Rules that are the source of abuse and resulting discontent in the country. The demonstrators’ demands, notably the bringing to justice of all persons that have committed human rights abuses during these events, must be heeded without fail if the present situation is to be diffused and further violations and loss of life are to be averted.

The international community is also urged to intervene with the Bangladeshi government in order to ensure that it begins to live up to its obligations as a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council and under the various international legal instruments to which the country is party. The gulf in reality between Bangladesh’s attempts to pass itself off as a State that has credibility in terms of human rights at the international level and its record of gross abuses against its own people in-country continues to be an embarrassment that tarnishes all those who do not act to ameliorate this deplorable situation.
About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

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