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Current Crackdown on Opposition Could Further Destabilize the Region

Edit Date:7/21/2010 12:00:00 AM

National Muslim organizations, interfaith leaders and human right activists in the United States are concerned that the recent arrest of key leaders of the Islamic Movement in Bangladesh (Jamaat-e-Islami) , student activists, journalists and members of the political opposition have created a huge crisis in the nation.  These actions by the Bangladesh ruling party coalition (Awami League) might well result in violent confrontations between political dissidents and the government.  There is  also concern that the current U.S. government support for AL may actually reinforce, and protect, ongoing human rights violations that contradict the stated objectives of American foreign policy in this volatile region.

Many human rights experts also contend that these arrests and human rights violations are often carried out under the pretext of a Bangladesh government response to “terrorism”.

These arrests come at a time when AL is being accused of acts of extrajudicial killings, arrests, rape, and even the torture of the members of the Islamic and other opposition party which holds some (which held 17 seats in national legislature in the last government) 17 seats in the national legislature, and commands a following of some 12 million people in Bangladesh, according to the Christian Science Monitor, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the US State Department’s Human Rights Report on Bangladesh.

The national Muslim umbrella organization, the American Muslim Task Force on Civil Rights and Elections (AMT) under the leadership of Dr. Agha Saeed, has expressed grave concern over the human rights conditions in Bangladesh.  American Muslim leaders have also expressed that the current government’s descent into authoritarianism, oppression of religious elements: dismantling freedoms, violating human rights and ending practices that promote  transparency could be exploited by extremist movements that, unlike Jamaat-e-Islami, BNP and other opposition groups, do not advocate peaceful means for social change in Bangladesh.

There is also concern that the current crackdown and arrest of Jamaat-e-Islami leaders, including the head of the Jamaat, Hajj Moitur Rahman Nizami, is meant to coincide with the start of a national tribunal investigating war crimes committed in 1971.  That was when Bangladesh, formerly known as East Pakistan, broke away from West Pakistan to establish an autonomous, predominantly Bengali republic. While the Awami League indicts the Islamic movement for complicity in the killings of civilians in this period of turmoil, other reliable sources contend that these acts of violence were carried out by other Bengalis who sided with the then-West Pakistan army.

Also, the current crackdown jeopardizes the rule of law, and the social and legal space that nonviolent opponents of the current Bangladeshi government.  While the Jamaat-e-Islami functions as a peaceful political opposition force in the country, some observers recognize the potential for mass violence in Bangladesh if the Awami League, and its political allies, continue their attack on Islamic opposition figures, trade unionists, intellectuals, and others dissidents.

An interfaith and human rights coalition is currently preparing to visit U.S. State Department officials and members of Congress to express its concerns about these events, and about current United States foreign policy in the region.  We believe that US support for the current regime and its policy will only impede efforts for nonviolent political change in Bangladesh, and potentially isolate America from progressive, nonviolent forces in that nation who now suffer from government repression.

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