Democracy and rights
The democratic shortcomings are great, despite regular and general elections being held and that multi-party systems with free party formation prevail. Independent media cannot operate freely and the judiciary is corrupt.
The government and the ruling party Awami Federation are limiting the opposition and regime-critical media’s ability to conduct their operations, primarily through harassment and by exploiting the justice system. In recent years, especially the leader of the Awami League, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, has gained more and more influence and today the country can be described as top-ruled.
Threats and violence against political opponents are common, especially in connection with elections. The police are criticized for using excessive force in connection with political demonstrations.
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Citizens’ right to organize trade unions and get involved in interest organizations is restricted. Most government employees, military and teachers are not allowed to organize. In the tax-free zones, where foreign companies have favorable conditions (see Financial overview), trade union activity is only partially allowed.
For the situation of women and LGBT people see Social conditions.
Abbreviated as BGD by Abbreviationfinder, Bangladesh is one of the countries in the world where corruption permeates virtually every part of society. In particular, this applies to the judiciary and the state administration. Many officials support a political party in the hope of promotion or benefits, and a new government spends a great deal of time appointing posts in the state administration. In 2019, Transparency International placed Bangladesh in 146th in its index of corruption in 180 of the world’s countries (see the full list here). It was three investments better than the year before.
Freedom of expression and media
Freedom of the press and expression is guaranteed in the Constitution, but in reality it is strongly circumscribed. The intellectual climate has become increasingly intolerant since the 1990s and political violence is also hitting the media. This leads to a high degree of self-censorship.
Journalists and editors who examine power holders or Islamist groups are often silenced by being accused of a lack of morals or slander of Islam. Behind the threats and violence perpetrated are politicians, police, criminal gangs and Muslim fundamentalists – often in unholy alliance with one another.
According to press freedom organizations, the situation has seriously deteriorated since 2013 when the political climate hardened and a war criminal tribunal began to condemn especially members of an Islamist party to death and later execute several of them (see below). Journalists and bloggers have been subject to censorship, arrests and violence by authorities and other actors. In Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index for 2020, Bangladesh was ranked 151 out of 180 countries in the world (see full list here). It was a slight deterioration compared to the past six years.
Not least, several writers and bloggers who advocated secular Bangladesh have been abused or murdered by Islamic fundamentalists. One notable case is Avijit Roy, American writer and blogger with Bangladeshi roots, who was murdered in Dhaka in February 2015. Roy was the spokesman for free speech and for secularism. He expressed his views on his own site Mukto-Mona and was especially known for his criticism of religious fundamentalism.
In 2018, a law was adopted that limits journalists’ opportunities to use electronic equipment in certain situations. Among other things, a journalist can be sentenced to 14 years in prison for espionage if they enter a public building and gather information with hidden electronic equipment, for example during an interview with a civil servant.
Judicial system and legal security
The judicial system is old-fashioned, sluggish and characterized by corruption. The system is so overloaded that it can take up to ten years to get a target tested. But sometimes it can go away instead:
After a revolt in the military in 2009 (see Current politics), within a few years close to 6,000 people were sentenced to mutiny, to prison for up to seven years. The judges were handed down by military tribunals who only released more than 100 prosecutors. In 2013, a civil court sentenced a majority of over 800 soldiers accused of, among other things, murder in connection with the mutiny: 152 of them were sentenced to death and nearly 400 to prison, many of them life.
The judiciary is strongly influenced by politicians. Under the Awami Federation’s 2009 government hold, corruption charges in 15 indictments against party leader Sheikh Hasina have been dropped, while opposition leader Khaleda Zia and her immediate family have been indicted on a large number of charges for corruption and money laundering, among others.
The country’s under-staffed and poorly educated police force is notorious for engaging in corruption and blackmail, as a result of police wages being very low. Impunity is widespread.
Assault is also common, there are reports of torture in prisons and extrajudicial executions. According to a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) 2017, hundreds of people, including many opposites, have been held in secret detention since 2013. Many of them have later been killed. The conditions in the country’s prisons are poor. The death penalty is relatively often punished and sometimes enforced.
A war crimes tribunal (ICT) that investigates suspicions of crimes committed during the civil war of 1971 has been criticized for not keeping international standards. In principle, all defendants were members of opposition parties Jamaat and GDP. The Tribunal began its work in 2010 and has since issued a number of life imprisonment and death sentences. It is uncertain how many sentenced people have been executed, when the information goes apart. It may be about a dozen.
The election leads to a shift in power
The Awami League and its allies win big in the parliamentary elections, taking a total of 263 out of 300 seats. Khaleda Zia first protests against election fraud but then accepts an invitation to cooperate.
Elections in December
The postponed parliamentary elections will be held on December 18. Opposition leader Sheikh Hasina returns home from abroad, where she has been staying for care, to lead the Awami League during the election movement (see June 2008).
Khaleda Zia is released from custody
BNP leader Khaleda Zia is released from detention (see September 2007).
Opposition forward in local elections
Local elections are held, which is seen as an important step on the road back to democracy. The Awami League is making strong progress.
Sheikh Hasina is released
The Awami League’s party leader Sheikh Hasina is released from detention to seek care abroad (see July 2007).