Bangladesh is witnessing a surge of violence and repression as the ruling Awami League party and the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) clash over the upcoming parliamentary elections in 2024. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who is seeking a fourth consecutive term, has been accused of cracking down on campaign activities by the BNP and its allies, arresting hundreds of opposition leaders and activists, and unleashing security forces and party supporters to attack peaceful protests. The BNP, which boycotted the last elections in 2018, has demanded a fair and inclusive electoral process and an end to the government’s authoritarian abuse.
The political tension escalated in late August 2022, when the BNP staged a series of demonstrations over fuel and commodity price hikes. Since then, at least four people have been killed and hundreds injured in clashes between police, Awami League and BNP supporters. The BNP has also alleged that its members have been targeted by extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances. On September 17, BNP executive committee member Tabith Mohammad Awal was severely injured when Awami League supporters attacked a candlelight vigil in Dhaka. On December 7, one man was killed and over 50 others wounded during another confrontation between the rival parties. On December 8, the authorities detained two senior BNP leaders, Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir and Mirza Abbas, in a midnight raid and accused them of inciting attacks on police.
Human rights groups have expressed concern over the deteriorating situation and urged the government to respect the rule of law and protect the rights of political opposition supporters. The US embassy in Dhaka has also called on all parties to refrain from violence, harassment, and intimidation. The UN special rapporteur on freedom of association and peaceful assembly has said that the authorities should guarantee the right to peaceful assembly and not use excessive force against protesters.
The upcoming elections are seen as a crucial test for Bangladesh’s democracy, which has been marred by allegations of fraud, intimidation, and violence in previous polls. The Awami League has claimed that it has brought economic development and stability to the country, while the BNP has accused it of corruption and human rights violations. The BNP has also faced criticism for its alliance with Islamist parties and its alleged involvement in violent attacks during past political unrest. Both parties have a history of bitter rivalry that dates back to the country’s independence in 1971.