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US express concern about police harassment, arrests

08 December 2022

Diplomatic Correspondent :
When BNP has been allegedly facing police harassment, arrests and intimidation in their political programmes and rallies across the country, the US expressed concern about such issues and urged the government of Bangladesh to respect and protect the fundamental rights.
"We are concerned about reports of intimidation and political violence in Bangladesh. We call on the government to respect and to protect the fundamental freedoms of expression, association, and peaceful assembly," US Spokesman Ned Price during a press briefing in Washington DC on Tuesday.
"We're also concerned about reports of police harassment, arrests of opposition party members, and restrictions on the ability of the opposition parties to meet and to hold peaceful rallies," he added.
The spokesman also called on all parties in Bangladesh to respect the rule of law and to refrain from violence, from harassment, from intimidation as well.  
"We call on the Government of Bangladesh to ensure that no party or candidate threatens, incites, or conducts violence against another party or candidate," he continued.
Regarding election, he said, "Genuine elections require the ability of all candidates to engage voters free from violence, harassment, intimidation."
"We also encourage the government authorities to investigate these reports of violence thoroughly, transparently, and impartially, and to hold the perpetrators to account," he added. Following the comments of Ned Price, the US embassy in Dhaka on Wednesday issued an alert ahead of the BNP political rally on December 10, saying that the rallies intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and escalate into violence.
"The US citizens should avoid vigilance and remember that demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and escalate into violence. You should avoid demonstrations and exercise caution in the vicinity of any large gatherings."
"Review personal security plans; remain aware of your surroundings, including local events; and monitor local news stations for updates," it read.
The next general election in Bangladesh is anticipated to occur before or during January 2024, and political party rallies and other election-related activities have already commenced, the alert said.
"Political rallies and demonstrations may be held with increasing frequency or intensity as the general election draws nearer.  Two of Bangladesh's largest political parties have announced rallies in different areas of Dhaka for December 10, 2022,' it added.
Meanwhile, the US spokesman also expressed concern about the Digital Security Act (DSA) during the press briefing while replying to a query of the Act.  
"We're of course aware that you and some of your colleagues - Pinaki Bhattacharya, Mofizur Rahman - have been charged under the so-called DSA, the Digital Security Act."
"We have made our concerns about the DSA very clear. We've done so in our Human Rights Report. We have had frank and candid conversations with our Bangladeshi partners as well," he continued.
He further said that, "Freedom of expression should never be criminalized. It should never be a source or a subject of duress or intimidation."
Earlier, a similar alert from the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) was issued on December 6.
"An increased law enforcement presence in the days surrounding 10 December 2022 is likely. You are advised to avoid all large gatherings, including political rallies," it said in a statement.
The travel alerts came as 15 foreign missions in Bangladesh in an extraordinary joint statement reaffirmed the importance of free, fair, inclusive and peaceful electoral processes in Bangladesh.
The signatories to the joint statement were the missions of Australia, the UK, Canada, Denmark, the EU, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the USA.
They highlighted the fundamental right democracy plays in protecting human rights and promoting development in Bangladesh and the importance of free expression, peaceful assembly and elections, among others outlined in the UN Declaration of Human Rights.
The joint statement came ahead of Human Rights Day on December 10, a day when the opposition political party BNP is likely to hold a rally in Dhaka though the venue is yet to be decided.

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