Power corrupts and becomes an addiction: none has been addicted to power like Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajid. The longest-serving prime minister in Bangladesh belonging to Awami League took charge from 1996-2001 and then from 2009 till date she has been in power. She has been the sitting prime minister for the last 14 years. The next elections are to be held in January 2024 with PM Hasina in the race again to become prime minister for the fifth time. This time she is holding no bars and is making it a priority to become prime minister, wiping out the opposition and criticism against her in any possible ways.
The Bangladeshi people will not stand for a tyrannical fascist rule under her regime and are regularly protesting for fair elections while criticizing the government in whatever way they can digitally or physically.
However, the government is set not to let a single loom of criticism be addressed and instead is on the rampage path to destroy any remnants of protests and opposition to PM Hasina’s throne. It has become a tussle between the sitting government and the opposition party, both blaming each other and neither holding any accountability for the chaos happening.
International human rights watchdogs, Amnesty International, Voice of America, and Human Rights Watch have clearly expressed their concerns about the fascist rule of PM Hasina. It is considered that she has rigged previous elections by manipulating Election Commission, Judiciary, Anti-Corruption Commission, police, and the bureaucracy. She is set to do it again as reported by the office of ‘Asian Legal Resource Center’. PM Hasina has over her tenure improved the international standing of Bangladesh following an independent foreign policy for the securitization of her nation.
The opposition that has criticized her has been tormented and tortured, reportedly since August 2022 around 4000 plus party members and supporters have been arrested belonging to Jamat-e-Islami (JI) and Bangladesh National Party (BNP). The arrests that have been made are trumped-up as ‘fake’.
The crackdowns have adversely targeted protestors and political workers leading to clashes with the police.
Furthermore, the police have charged around over an additional 20,000 BNP supporters. Reportedly party workers of the Awami League and BNP both have sustained injuries in clashes among themselves and have repeatedly gotten into skirmishes. Since her power charge, JI has been under constant target, they have been tried for crimes dating to the 1971 war. Currently, the leader of JI Shafiqur Rehman has been arrested. As soon as he announced a protest opposing PM Hasina, asking her to step down, his home and offices were raided. Likewise, her main opposition leader Khaleda Zia has been a thorn in her side, she has been put in jail multiple times and is facing charges of corruption with up to five years in jail and is currently serving that time.
PM Hasina has radically used state institutions and laws to her benefit. Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), raised post 9/11 with the help of the US to counter terrorism, has now become the spearhead against the opposition. RAB has been framed and called out as personal gangsters of the government using their authority to violate the rights of citizens, hold them without charge, beat them, and torture them. RAB has been accused of human rights violations by various human rights organizations under the accusation of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, and framing incidents. Deutsche Welle has called them out as the ‘Death Squad’.
Bangladesh’s anti-cybercrime law known as Digital Security Act (DSA), was initially aimed to counter propaganda and extremist content online. It has now become the personal watchdog of the government to surveil journalists, teachers, writers, and anyone with an opinion who has criticized the government at any level. Under the DSA heavy fines and jail time is applicable for those who oppose and are considered a threat. Warrantless arrests are permitted on basic suspicion of a cybercrime. Under the DSA, as of May 2023, 339 cases have been filed against journalists since its formulation. Even in the first three months of 2023, 56 journalists have been targeted by the government under DSA.
It is clear that PM Hasina is fighting hard for the next election and is en route to becoming the prime minister for the 5th time. The state is using all the resources at its disposal to actively shut down criticism and opposition against itself.
Freedom of speech has come under threat through the DSA as anyone is the target of the act that has digitized their resistance against the government.
The BNP and JI are under constant siege by the RAB and have become crippled by the wide arrests and raids on them. Bangladesh is at a turning point where the election will decide its fate, and PM Hasina has decided to take the reins of fate itself.
The Author is a researcher at IPRI, pursuing his graduation from the National Defence University (NDU) in Peace and Conflict Studies. His area of interest includes conflict-sensitive journalism and non-traditional security domains. His writing focuses on the social and cultural aspects of the region and how they have constructed the norms of the society. He tweets @mstariq007