Rights body raps Bangla despite easing ban on political activities

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New York, Sep 14 (UNI) The Bangladeshi caretaker government's decision to lift the ban partially on political activities is not enough to address widespread restrictions on basic freedoms and rampant rights abuses, Human Rights Watch has said.

The government imposed a total ban on political activities on March 8, two months after it imposed a state of emergency.

On September 10, head of the government, Fakhruddin Ahmed, said the authorities were lifting restrictions on "indoor" political activities in Dhaka to create an environment conducive to talks with political parties, according to news reports.

"The idea that politics is banned in a democracy is bizarre.

If the Bangladeshi authorities are serious about restoring democracy, they must lift the ban on political activities," Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, said yesterday.

"Politics is not a sport that can be played only in an indoor arena", she added.

The move was aimed at facilitating discussions between political parties and the Election Commission, which is revising the country's election rules. The commission, led by Shamsul Huda, has been assigned the responsibility to institute electoral reforms.

However, the commission said these reforms would not be possible without consultations with the political parties. The government announced the partial lifting of the ban before the commission begins discussions with political parties, the reports said.

Human Rights Watch expressed concern about emergency rules that undermine basic due process rights. While certain restrictions on some rights during properly declared states of national emergency are permitted under international law, the measures under the government's emergency law have not been limited to "the extent strictly required by the exigencies of the situation." Under Bangladesh's current state of emergency, the government has restricted political and trade union activities and prohibited the media from publishing anything that can be considered "provocative." Tens of thousands of people -- and perhaps as many as 200,000, according to some reports -- have been arrested under the state of emergency without proper judicial oversight.

A large number of offenses have been made "non-bailable." Bangladesh's emergency laws have created an atmosphere for torture and mistreatment, which has been widely alleged by victims and family members. The New York-based rights body has confirmed these allegations in some of the cases that it has investigated.

"The government should make the same commitment to ending human rights abuses that it has made to fighting corruption," Ms Richardson said adding that the army and other security forces need to be reined in, and censorship has to end.

She said, "Ripping out pages from an international magazine is the hallmark of a dictatorship, not a caretaker government committed to reform and the rule of law." UNI

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