A democracy is defined by many factors, principal amongst them are free and fair elections and the rule of law. The absence of these factors are the hallmarks of an autocracy or dictatorship. Bangladesh can no longer call itself a democracy following a third successive stolen election and the complete abandonment of an independent judiciary and the circumvention of the rule of law.
It is clear that a dictatorship is rarely born overnight, it is often a gradual process. A gradual censoring of public discourse, gradual removal of fundamental rights, gradual division of society and gradual circumvention of any independent judicial process.
A dictatorship does not always declare war on its opponents. It demonises them through the degradation of a free and independent media. It uses law enforcement to place them under arrest and the courts to convict them on fabricated and trumped up charges. It uses its branches of intelligence to seek out and then disappear its political opponents.
This process is a slow burn effect. The Awami League has carried it out to perfection. It re-entered government as the party of the people for the people. It promised economic development. It promised accountability for the 1971 War of Liberation. It promised to rid the nation of anti-liberation elements. It promised to bring about real change. It has failed on each and every count and has created a divided, fearful and unstable nation. It has created a political elite that maintains power based on political favours and corrupt practices. Whilst in truth it never was, it certainly can no longer be considered the party of the people, the people have been silenced.
This statement is issued on behalf of Jamaat-e-Islami, the largest Islamist political party in Bangladesh, in its fight for both its members and those that it represents.
Silence is being imposed over the Bangladeshi population by the ruling Awami League party, which, having come to power in 2009, continues to crack down on political dissent by enabling and inflicting egregious human rights violations on any deemed to oppose or deviate from its vision.
Meaningful constitutional and international protections designed to protect the fundamental rights of civilians now appear further away than ever, as the Awami League’s pervasive and pernicious influence has resulted in the corruption, monopolisation, and politicisation of state institutions; the curtailment of freedom of speech through draconian legislation; and the arbitrary detention and abuse of thousands of opposition leadership, activists, and supporters.
Since 2013, the Awami League has used its reach within the judiciary and other state institutions to disqualify Jamaat from electoral participation and crack down on the public or private meetings of its supporters - many times, by force. Since that time, Jamaat used all lawful means available to it to advance its political freedoms; but on 19 November 2023, these efforts reached their final judicial conclusion, as the Bangladeshi Supreme Court, under the Awami League’s influence, rejected Jamaat’s final judicial petition for fair and proper representation. Jamaat, for now, therefore remains unable to formally oppose the repression of the Awami League, and as the 2024 elections approach, it and its members stand without the right to contest the ruling party’s third coordinated confirmation of power.
Jamaat can and will continue to fight for those that continue to believe in a free and fair Bangladesh where all are truly able to be represented. But it can only do so much and now calls on the international community, both governmental and non-governmental, to remember the people of Bangladesh and do everything in their power to oppose the backsliding in basic rights and freedoms that now dominate the country. Multilaterally; bilaterally; unilaterally - anything must be better than standing by as Bangladesh spirals into autocracy.