Swift Return to Elected Government Vital for Bangladesh's Stability
Protests in Bangladesh are symptomatic of rising popular dissatisfaction with the military-backed interim government and the public’s concerns should be addressed rather than stifled, Freedom House said today.
Violent demonstrations led largely by students have flared up in Bangladesh this week. The government, a caretaker group installed after a January coup, has responded by imposing a curfew and closing public universities. While the public initially supported the coup, many have become frustrated with ongoing emergency rule. There is no fixed date for a transition to an elected government, although the current leaders have said they may hold elections at the end of 2008.
“The protracted stay of this military-backed government has marked a precipitous retreat from democracy for Bangladesh,” said Jennifer Windsor, executive director of Freedom House. “It is past time for the current leaders to set a schedule for elections and determine a timetable for their departure so that the country can return to normalcy.”
Under the ongoing state of emergency, basic constitutional rights, including those of freedom of speech, assembly, and movement, have been suspended. Regulations passed by the interim government in January allow it to ban any meeting or demonstration. The government can also severely restrict news reporting, and can censor print and broadcast news about rallies and other political activities that it deems “provocative or harmful.”
“Unfortunately, the situation in Bangladesh follows the pattern of many coups: they may begin with general public support, but the interim government then fails to make good on its promises of bringing change, and refuses to leave,” said Dr. Karin Deutsch Karlekar, Freedom House’s South Asia analyst.
She continued, “One only has to look at nearby Pakistan, where General Musharraf’s takeover in 1999 has been followed by ongoing military rule and rigged elections, accompanied by a stifling of democratic forces. We hope Bangladesh’s current leaders will avoid the lengthy protests Pakistan has been experiencing this year by swiftly setting a schedule for elections and allowing the resumption of basic civil liberties.”
Bangladesh ranked as Partly Free in the 2007 edition of the organization’s annual survey, Freedom in the World, which covers the events of 2006; the country received a rating of 4 (on a scale of 1 to 7) for political rights and another 4 for civil liberties. Its scores for the upcoming edition are expected to decline substantially as a result of the January coup.
Dr. Karlekar is available for comment at (212) 514-8040 x 14.
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Freedom House, an independent nongovernmental organization that supports the expansion of freedom in the world, has been monitoring political rights and civil liberties in Bangladesh since 1972.
Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.