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Ramifications for Bangladesh’s Political Opposition Amid Sheikh Hasina's Unopposed Fifth Term Victory in Election

Written by
Shaheen Mamun, Black Antelope Law
Date of Publication:
09 January 2024

The recent election in Bangladesh, where incumbent Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina secured her fifth term amid a near absence of opposition, has triggered concerns regarding the state of democracy in the country. The election results, marked by a walkover victory for Hasina's ruling Awami League due to the opposition's boycott, reflect a deeper trend of political instability and authoritarianism.

Sources suggest that this election may signal the erosion of democratic values in Bangladesh. The boycott led to a low turnout, with only 40% participation, highlighting the public's disillusionment with the electoral process. The main opposition, led by the Bangladesh National Party (BNP), called for Hasina's resignation before the polls, citing concerns over fairness and freedom in the electoral environment.

Despite Hasina's victory being seen as beneficial for continuity in economic projects and foreign investments, it raises serious questions about the country's democratic health. Her prolonged tenure has witnessed economic growth but has also been marred by accusations of authoritarianism, political violence, and suppression of rivals.

This election's implications for political stability have regional ramifications, with neighbouring countries like India and China possibly favouring Hasina's continued leadership for ensuring their own stability. However, this overlooks the potential for heightened political unrest within Bangladesh.

Hasina's post-election comments labelling the BNP as a 'terrorist party' hint at an extended crackdown, following the arrest and exile of opposition leaders prior to the polls. This political climate underscores the challenges faced by dissenting voices and raises concerns about the future landscape of Bangladesh's politics.

Human rights organisations have consistently highlighted instances of political harassment, arrests, and curtailment of freedoms in Bangladesh. Reports document systematic crackdowns on opposition parties, limitations on freedom of speech and assembly, and instances of arbitrary arrests and detention of activists and leaders critical of the government.

In the realm of asylum claims in the UK based on political opposition to the Bangladeshi government, there exists a standard requiring an asylum seeker to establish a reasonable likelihood of the events claimed. This threshold, set below the civil standard of proof, demands the demonstration of a genuine risk of the anticipated harm, as articulated in AS and AA (Effect of previous linked determination) Somalia [2006] UKAIT 52 at [69]. It's essential for decision-makers handling asylum cases to meticulously consider all evidence provided, ensuring a comprehensive evaluation.

The Immigration Rules, specified in Paragraph 339K, underline the significance attributed to past experiences of persecution, serious harm, or direct threats thereof. Such occurrences serve as substantial indicators of an individual's well-founded fear of persecution or real risk of enduring severe harm, unless compelling reasons exist to believe a non-repetition of such persecution or harm.

In the legal case Karanakaran v SSHD [2000] EWCA Civ 11, it was firmly established that caseworkers should not disregard uncertain or doubtful facts. Each aspect of the case, irrespective of its perceived significance, must be afforded due consideration and appropriate weight in determining the overall outcome.

Notably, the published policy guidance of the Secretary of State for the Home Department (SSHD) acknowledges instances of politically motivated harassment, arrests, and detentions prevalent in Bangladesh, as detailed in the Country Policy and Information Note, Bangladesh: Political parties and affiliation, Version 3.0 dated September 2020.

Numerous reports from reputable sources such as Bertelsmann Stiftung's BTI 2020 Report and the Freedom House report, 'Freedom on the Net 2019,' highlight a climate of intolerance towards dissenting views, particularly those opposed to the ruling Awami League (AL). There's a documented pattern of sustained harassment by the AL against opposition entities, resulting in restrictions on their activities and interference in electoral processes, as noted in various reports by Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), Human Rights Watch (HRW), and the FCO's human rights report for 2019.

The allegations and findings encompass a range of concerning practices, including the illegal detention of activists, secretive custody without judicial oversight, instances of torture, extrajudicial killings, and enforced disappearances, which appear to be politically motivated. Furthermore, there have been reports of police fabricating cases against opposition members and supporters, creating an atmosphere of fear and intimidation among political dissenters.

Such actions have significantly impacted opposition entities, with numerous cases of arbitrary arrests and a substantial number of falsified accusations, as documented by Human Rights Watch, the Dhaka Tribune, and Freedom House. These events have severely hampered the opposition's ability to function effectively within the democratic process, culminating in weakened opposition figures and impediments to their participation in elections.

In the assessment of asylum claims of a similar background, it's crucial for decision-makers to weigh all aspects of this, even if certain facts are uncertain. The government's policies and actions, as well as reports from international bodies, consistently highlight the challenges faced by dissenting voices in Bangladesh.

Internal state protection and the feasibility of relocation within the country are important considerations in asylum claims. The capacity of the government to protect individuals from harm and the practicality of relocation are critical factors in determining the validity of asylum claims.

Overall, the evolving political landscape in Bangladesh, marked by authoritarian tendencies and suppression of opposition, poses significant challenges for asylum seekers seeking refuge from political persecution. The documentation of systematic harassment and curtailment of freedoms underlines the need for a thorough and compassionate approach in evaluating asylum claims from Bangladesh. The body of evidence reflects a sustained campaign of intimidation, harassment, and suppression targeting political dissent in Bangladesh, substantiating the claims of asylum seekers citing such persecution as the basis for their fears.