Why Israelis should care about human rights abuses in Bangladesh

''As Israelis, we have a moral duty to care about and to stand in solidarity with political dissidents who face persecution in tyrannical dictatorships.''

ROHINGYA REFUGEES walk through a camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, yesterday (photo credit: REUTERS)
ROHINGYA REFUGEES walk through a camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, yesterday
(photo credit: REUTERS)
According to the late Elie Wiesel, “Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion or political views; that place at that moment must become the center of the universe.” As Israelis, we have a moral duty to care about and to stand in solidarity with political dissidents who face persecution in tyrannical dictatorships.
This is especially the case in a country like Bangladesh.
The ruling Awami League government refuses to recognize Israel’s right to exist and allow its citizens to travel to Israel, even though the Jewish state was one of the first countries to recognize Bangladeshi independence. In addition, the present Bangladeshi government spreads conspiracy theories that their political opponents in the BNP are conspiring with the Mossad to overthrow the government via a military coup.
Given such a reality, Israelis have a vested interest in aligning themselves with political dissidents who, if they come to power, will seek not only better relations with us but will also strive to improve the human rights situation for all Bangladeshis.
The House of Commons Library recently issued a report documenting how the Bangladeshi government has become increasingly authoritarian while systematically persecuting opposition figures and pro-democracy activists opposed to its rule.
When the Awami League came to power, it removed a provision from the Bangladeshi Constitution that required a neutral caretaker government to oversee elections in the country, and doesn’t want to reverse this. As a result, the BNP boycotted the 2014 elections.
The report, which plays an important role in forming British policy, stressed that the 2014 elections were extremely, unacceptably flawed. Following those elections, the BNP held numerous strikes and blockades, which killed over 100 people.
While it remains to be seen if the BNP will boycott the next elections as well, critics of the Bangladeshi government continue to express concern about the independence of the Electoral Commission.
“If the BNP decides to boycott the elections like in 2014, then political unrest will be witnessed,” noted Shipan Kumar Basu, the head of the Hindu Struggle Committee.
Meanwhile, at a time when the BNP and Awami League are discussing the fate of the next elections and how they will be conducted, recently the Awami League has been increasingly cracking down on its political opponents. According to the report, Odhikar, a Dhaka-based human rights organization, has documented that Bangladeshi law enforcement agencies have caused the disappearance of over 320 people. Of these, 50 were later killed and dozens are still missing. The rest were either released or presented in court as recent arrests.
In addition, the International Crimes Tribunal, which was supposed to try those responsible for crimes against humanity in the 1971 Bangladeshi War of Independence, has hanged six prominent opposition figures. Political dissidents within the country claim that the Awami League is using the tribunal to get rid of opposition figures.
As Human Rights Watch proclaimed, “The Bangladesh government has intensified its crackdown on civil society, media and critics. Authorities have killed and disappeared members of the political opposition while failing to protect bloggers, gay rights activists and religious minorities from violent and often fatal attacks by militant groups. The government’s response to extremist violence has perpetuated the security forces’ long-standing use of arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings. Rights to freedom of speech and assembly are under sustained attack by the increasingly authoritarian government.”
Mendi Safadi, the head of the Safadi Center for International Diplomacy and Public Relations, recently stated: “A government that arrests political activists has no right to exist. The Bangladeshi government arrested Aslam Chowdhury over a year ago just because of his political activity against the government’s ethnic cleansing of minorities.”
Chowdhury was arrested after meeting Safadi during one of his trips to India and the Bangladeshi government accused him of planning a military coup in coordination with the Mossad.
Safadi added: “In the past few weeks, another political activist has been arrested, apparently due to his political activities as he intends to run in the upcoming elections.
In addition, Mithun Chowdhury was also arrested, the man who is seeking to bring a minority voice to the parliament and to establish a party composed of all the ethnic minorities in the country.
Since Bangladesh became independent, there has been no representation for these minorities in any of the governments.”
In addition, Bangladeshi Chief Justice S.K. Sinha faced corruption charges after he took a stand against the 16th Amendment that was passed by the Awami League Government due to its undemocratic nature. Many dissidents claim that the charges are politically motivated.
In conclusion, Safadi proclaimed, “The Sheikh Hasina government is trying to take revenge on all of the political and human rights activists in the country instead of changing its policies and ending the murder and rape of minorities alongside the torture of opposition figures.”
Noting that the Bangladeshi government has relations with Hefazat-e-Islam as well as the Muslim Olama League and that the International Anti-Terrorism Group documented increased terrorist attacks in the country, including ones perpetrated by Islamic State, Basu stressed that the present Bangladeshi government is encouraging radical Islam by constructing hundreds of new Saudi-funded mosques and temporarily removing the Lady Justice statue from the Supreme Court building due to demands by the Islamists. Given this, Safadi called upon the Israeli people to support the pro-democracy and human rights activists in Bangladesh, who are working for a more humane and just society.
The writer is a senior media research analyst at the Center for Near East Policy Research and a correspondent at the Israel Resource News Agency. She is the author of Women and Jihad: Debating Palestinian Female Suicide Bombings in the American, Israeli and Arab media.