Toby Cadman – Co-Head of Guernica 37 Chambers – appointed as legal counsel to Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami
This statement is issued on behalf of Jamaat-e-Islami, the largest Islamist political party in Bangladesh, which continues to fight for the lawful political representation of both its members and those that it represents in Bangladesh.
Regrettably, these efforts take place amidst a dire political landscape. Having come to power in 2009, the ruling Awami League party has cemented its position through the use of force and grave human rights violations. Driven by the need to repress anything seen as political dissent, it has curtailed freedom of speech through draconian legislation; arbitrarily detained opposition leadership, activists, and supporters; brutally cracked down on any deemed to threaten its position; and monopolised, politicised, and corrupted state institutions which should ordinarily protect the fundamental rights of civilians.
In 2013, the Awami League used its reach within the judiciary and other state institutions to secure a judgment disqualifying Jamaat-e-Islami from participating in elections. Notionally done on principle, those efforts were realistically designed only to destroy political pluralism and lay the foundations for what has become a further decade of increasingly radical rule.
Since its deregistration in 2013, Jamaat has used all lawful means available to it to advance its political freedoms. It continues to do so, including by appealing its unlawful electoral disqualification to the Supreme Court, in respect of which it remains guardedly hopeful for a judgment that will protect the political freedoms of all Bangladeshis.
In the meantime, Jamaat has also maintained efforts to lawfully exercise its civil and political freedoms and provide some semblance of free public discourse in the present election cycle. This has included through hosting meetings and public rallies designed to preserve its rights guaranteed by the constitution, which is so often weaponised in Awami League rhetoric.
Even these steps, however, continue to be obstructed by the ruling powers. When not prevented from doing so by force, public meetings are only possible on the increasingly rare occasions in which public authorities permit their occurrence. Even private meetings have been subject to harassment and intervention by police and other Awami League-affiliated parties. Hundreds of party members have been subjected to arbitrary arrest and detention, often dragged away in medieval shackles.
Harassment has also continued in the courtroom, with the Awami League this time seeking to obtain an injunction banning Jamaat from conducting any activities, public or private, under the false premise that its unlawful disqualification from electoral participation prohibits any association of members or supporters. Furthering this abuse, the Awami League has also filed claims for contempt of court, falsely alleging that Jamaat members are responsible for comments that undermine and attempt to subvert court processes. Such is the extent of the Awami League’s willingness to attack its opposition that those said to have engaged in these contempt charges include not only Jamaat members and supporters, but also police officials responsible for allowing public gatherings in its name.
As the 2024 elections approach, the third coordinated by the Awami League since its rise to power in 2009, its decade of political repression rolls on, and its attempt to choke any and all political opposition continues.
Even outside of its plainly unlawful forcible political repression, the ruling party’s attempts to quell any deemed to oppose its interests plainly infringe the fundamental rights of Bangladeshi citizens, including, amongst others, the rights to freedom of speech, association, thought, and religion. Such rights are a fundamental part of any just and democratic society, and for this reason are guaranteed both under the constitution and international instruments, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Bangladesh is party.
In the coming weeks and months, Jamaat will continue to advocate for fundamental rights and freedoms in Bangladesh, both for itself, and more importantly, for those that it represents. As part of those efforts, Jamaat will maintain its calls for the imposition of a caretaker government as part of the upcoming elections, without which the Awami League will simply continue its authoritarian rule. With the help of its legal representatives, Jamaat will also be approaching relevant treaty bodies and using all tools at its disposal, including UN special procedures, to shine a light on the dire situation in Bangladesh, in the hope that, going forward, fundamental freedoms in the country can be realised in practice, and not just words.