Bangladesh has seen an upsurge in violence by supporters of the main opposition parties, in apparent attempt to sabotage an election that they are unlikely to win. MEPs have been briefed by a leading think tank that advocates strong EU-Bangladesh relations and urged to condemn the violence that threatens the democratic process, writes Political Editor Nick Powell.
At a briefing in the European Parliament entitled ‘Democracy and Human Rights in Bangladesh’, MEPs and their aides were addressed by Syed Mozammel Ali, chair of the UK-based Bangladeshi think tank Study Circle London. He urged them to condemn the violence in the capital, Dhaka, unleashed by supporters of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and Jamaat-e-Islami activists.
The Dhaka Metropolitan Police had sanctioned a BNP rally on the same basis as one organised by the ruling Awami League. Such public demonstrations of support for different parties should be a normal part of democratic life in the run-up to a national election in January. However, the BNP rally turned into a riot.
Arson and vandalism followed. At least one police officer was murdered with many others injured. Subsequently there have been further incidents of violence in several cities, with more attacks on the police, vehicles set on fire and other acts of vandalism. Mr Ali described these developments as all to reminiscent of the state of terror that the BNP and its allies unleashed before the 2014 and 2018 elections.
He urged MEPs to condemn the violence and to support democracy in Bangladesh. The Awami League has been in power for 14 years through winning elections and it’s likely to do so again thanks to the unprecedented economic growth that has transformed the prosperity of the country. Bangladesh fought for its independence in 1971 precisely to restore democracy and human rights and in a nation with 112 million voters, there were many challenges.
The think tank chair said western decision makers should assist Bangladesh, rather than be harshly critical and risk pushing what has been a proudly secular state into the hands of the Islamic parties. He said that his country too often faced unfair criticism and negative publicity from those in Europe who based their information on unreliable sources.
The briefing was hosted by Tomáš Zdechovsky, a Czech MEP from the European People’s Party. He called for a constructive dialogue and cooperation with Bangladesh. He argued that would be far more productive than constant criticism.
He praised Bangladesh’s remarkable growth and the stability it had achieved after 50 years of independence. He concluded that “democracy will prevail”.
An eminent international lawyer, Dr Rayan Rashid, described his homeland as a democracy where the fundamental rights of all citizens are enshrined in the constitution. It was a country where the political battlelines dated back to the struggles before independence, although it had taken great strides forward. Like all other countries it had experienced setbacks as well but what he regarded as “cherry picking” its flaws was tantamount to spreading disinformation.
The leading constitutional expert Dr Mizanur Rahman observed that “false news spreads fast” and urged the MEPs “to never treat us as in colonial days”. Europe should be a source of help and friendship for Bangladesh but be aware of how outside pressure interacts with what happens inside the country. There should be no “new colonialism”
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