Freedom in the World

Freedom in the World 2017

Bangladesh

Profile

Freedom Status: 
Partly Free

Freedom in the World Scores

(1=Most Free, 7=Least Free)

Quick Facts

Population: 
162,900,000
Capital: 
Dhaka
GDP/capita: 
$1,212
Press Freedom Status: 
Not Free
Net Freedom Status: 
Partly Free
Overview: 

Bangladesh is an electoral democracy, though the opposition boycotted the 2014 elections, ensuring the dominance of the ruling Awami League. Official harassment of the political opposition, as well as of critical media and civil society voices, is on the rise. Security forces carry out a range of human right abuses, including extrajudicial executions, disappearances, and torture, with near impunity. Meanwhile, those with dissident views—including secularists, academics, religious minorities, and LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) activists—are subject to attacks by Islamist extremist groups. 

Key Developments in 2016: 
  • The ruling Awami League (AL) further consolidated power during the year, including through the arrest and harassment of leading figures in the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and those perceived to be allied with it.
  • In July, 20 hostages and two police officers were killed in an attack on a bakery in Dhaka that was popular with foreigners. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack.
  • The Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Regulation Act, which took effect in October, made it more difficult for nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to obtain foreign funds and gave officials broad authority to deregister NGOs that make “derogatory” comments about government bodies or the constitution.
  • Some 15,000 people were arrested in a government crackdown authorities said was intended to curb a spate of extremist violence. Rights groups said the initiative involved widespread human rights abuses by authorities, including arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, and custodial deaths. 
Executive Summary: 

Bangladesh continued to experience political and social unrest in 2016. The opposition BNP was hampered by arrests and harassment of key party officials and activists, while the Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) party faced similar restrictive moves by the authorities, in addition to ongoing proceedings against its leaders by the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT), which was formed to try war crimes and other atrocities committed during the 1971 war of independence. Several high-ranking JI members were executed during the year after their appeals of earlier ICT rulings were dismissed.

As in 2015, attacks on religious minorities, as well as secular and dissident voices and activists, by Islamist extremist groups occurred regularly. Of particular note was the murder of writer and LGBT activist Xulhaz Mannan in April 2016; his killing left a widespread climate of fear within the LGBT community. Although the government denied the presence of international terrorist groups such as the Islamic State throughout the first half of 2016, the dramatic July terrorist attack on the Holey Artisan Bakery, in the heart of Dhaka’s elite Gulshan district—in which 22 people, including foreigners, were murdered in a hostage standoff—led to a broad crackdown on extremist groups. While attacks decreased in its wake, the security forces executing it engaged in a range of human rights abuses.

The space for freedom of expression and association was further circumscribed by the use of existing laws to prosecute media and online expression, as well as by the provisions of a new law on NGOs that placed restrictions on funding from abroad and expanded authorities’ power to deregister them.

Aggregate Score: 
47
Freedom Rating: 
4.0
Political Rights: 
4
Civil Liberties: 
4

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