By Salman Al-Azami*
In the wake of continuous human rights abuse by an oppressive regime in Bangladesh, it is surprising that the international community, including the media, is turning a blind eye by failing to voice their concerns.
Ever since the current government led by Sheikh Hasina came to power in 2009, the country has gradually moved towards autocratic rule, and in the absence of a credible opposition, the government is getting away with all types of human rights violations including judicial murders, police brutality against anti-government demonstrations, extra-judicial killings, imprisonment of dissenting voices, closure of newspapers and TV stations, locking up of senior journalists, abductions and enforced disappearances of hundreds of people including children of opposition leaders.
Reports by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW) clearly show the level of the human rights abuses in the country yet the international community is completely silent about the situation in Bangladesh.
One major violation of human rights in Bangladesh is the judicial killings of opposition leaders through the so called International Crimes Tribunal (ICT). In the name of justice, to punish those who committed crimes against humanity during Bangladesh’s secession war against Pakistan in 1971, the current government set up a tribunal that has been sentencing opposition leaders to death.
Through a deeply politicized judicial process without any credible evidence against the accused, as many as six opposition leaders have been executed and four have been given lifelong imprisonment, among who three died in custody.
Human Rights Watch in its 2015 report  on Bangladesh, concluded that the trials had “…substantive defects that led to unfair trials”. Amnesty International, in its report on Bangladesh in 2015-16  says:
“The proceedings of the Tribunal were marked with severe irregularities and violations of the right to a fair trial. Challenges to the jurisdiction of the court continued to be barred due to a constitutional provision. Statements from prosecution witnesses shown by the defense to have been false were still used as evidence in court. Affidavits by defense witnesses that the accused was too far from the site of the offence to be involved were not admitted. The government prevented defense witnesses abroad from attending trials by denying visas. Appeals processes were marked by similar flaws.”
Abductions and enforced disappearances
David Bergman, a British journalist based in Bangladesh, has been writing against enforced disappearances by the security forces for the last three years. An Amnesty International report  in 2014 also highlighted the worrying increase of abductions and enforced disappearances in Bangladesh. These included opposition leaders, defense witnesses of the ICT, journalists and human rights activists.
However, enforced disappearances took a new turn in the last one-and-a-half months when sons of three opposition leaders falsely convicted by the ICT were forcefully abducted by the police, and their whereabouts are still unknown to the families.
David Bergman’s recent article  on this matter outlines how these people were picked up by plainclothes police only for being children of prominent opposition leaders.
Cracking down on oppositions
Human Rights Watch’s report also criticized the “authoritarian direction” of the government whose heavy-handed response to any opposition including, “detaining thousands of opposition members”, “restricting” the main opposition leader Khaleda Zia to her office ahead of planned opposition protests, arresting key opposition leaders accusing them of “trumped up” charges, “killings”, “disappearances” and “arbitrary arrests” by security forces.
Dissenting voices are completely silenced in Bangladesh and even people are arrested for protesting against Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s views. Three years ago, there was a massive armed operation on unarmed protests by hundreds of thousands of madrassah students in which an unknown number of people were killed.
Despite calls for independent inquiry , the actual death toll in that incident remains a mystery. More than a hundred people were killed by the police during the last parliamentary elections on Jan. 5, 2014, which was boycotted by all the major opposition parties. Again, strong recommendations by Amnesty International  to investigate these deaths fell on deaf ears. Many people have died in police custody and that too remains unreported and un-investigated. Not only that, thousands of leaders and workers of Bangladesh Jamaat e Islami have been locked up and their offices around the country are shut down. Almost all national Jamaat leaders are absconding despite it being a legal political party in Bangladesh.
Attacks on freedom of expression
There is no free press in Bangladesh. According to a report by Freedom House , a U.S.-based independent think tank, the status of Bangladesh press is “not free” due to “a spate of politically motivated legal cases against journalists” as well as “growing concerns over state censorship—including of internet-based content”.
Over the last few years, the government closed down TV stations, banned newspapers opposed to the government, locked up senior journalists and editors and harassed political commentators critical of the government. Freedom House also reported enforcement on several major companies to discontinue advertising in two largest opposition newspapers of the country due to pressure from military intelligence officials. The report also says:
“The police and military intelligence agents have been known to threaten and physically attack journalists. Police brutality toward reporters and photographers attempting to document political protests or other sensitive events remains a concern. Some journalists receive threatening telephone calls from intelligence agencies seeking to prevent negative coverage.”
Indifferent international community
Despite evidences of widespread human rights violations and damning reports by all major international human rights and legal bodies, including the United Nations, no international leader, with the exception of Turkey, has raised their voice against the oppressions and injustices being unleashed in Bangladesh.
The Western media, who claim to be champions of freedom and democracy, are also in complete oblivion. Hence, the government of Bangladesh are carrying out their authoritarian rule with absolute impunity.
When a member of the British parliament who happens to be the niece of Sheikh Hasina says in her acceptance speech after her election that she gets all her political inspirations from her aunt, no media is there to question her judgment and ask how a brutal dictator can be an inspiration of a Westminster MP. It demonstrates that the Western governments and the media pick and choose where to raise concerns and where to remain silent.
The geo-political position of Bangladesh is such that its oppressive regime has been able to remain under the radar for a long time. No Western power has the appetite to challenge a country that is completely under the control of a big world player like India. The oppressed population in Bangladesh simply do not qualify to make the Western governments and the media interested.
* Dr. Salman Al-Azami holds a PhD in Linguistics and is a Senior Lecturer in English Language at Liverpool Hope University. His research interests include bilingualism, language in education, language, religion & the media and language of advertising. His book Religion in the Media: A Linguistic Analysis (Palgrave) has recently been published in the U.K. He tweets @linguistbd
Opinions expressed in this piece are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Anadolu Agency's editorial policy.