Saturday, September 30, 2006

Report on the seminar in today's Daily Star

Vol. 5 Num 834 Sat. September 30, 2006

Front Page

Prospects for free, fair polls in Bangladesh bleak
Avebury tells seminar in London
Staff Correspondent

UK Parliamentary Human Rights Group said the prospect for free and fair general elections in Bangladesh is looking bleak with only a month to go before the caretaker government takes office.

Lord Avebury, vice-chair of the group, made the comment while chairing a seminar on 'Bangladesh: Logjam on the Road to Free and Fair Elections' in the House of Lords on September 27.

"The US National Democratic Institute (NDI) has already referred to the incompetence and bias of the Election Commission (EC), all four of whose members were previously activists of parties belonging to the coalition government," a House of Lords press release from London said.

Referring to the manipulation in preparing the recent voters list, Lord Avebury said, "This is mass-produced fraud which must be exposed and corrected. The NDI commented on the 'rampant and escalating violence' of recent times, including the assassination of former finance minister Shah AMS Kibria, the attempt on the life of British High Commissioner Anwar Choudhury; the multiple grenade attack on the Leader of the Opposition Sheikh Hasina, the suicide bombing of two judges, and the simultaneous explosion of 500 bombs all over the country in August 2005.

In addition, he also mentioned about 800 people killed by the Rapid Action Battalion forces during encounters and shootouts, but not a single person has been captured or injured in those incidents.

Avebury also criticised last month's escalation of violence by the police against political demonstrators that left Saber Hossain Chowdhury, political adviser to Sheikh Hasina, and two other lawmakers -- Asaduzzaman Noor, and Mohammed Nasim -- injured.

"We are preparing to submit formal complaints on their behalf to the Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians of the Inter-Parliamentary Union," he said.

Referring to the attacks on two women leaders -- Motia Chowdhury and Advocate Shaira Khatun injured in police attack on September 12 -- the Lord said, "It may be that we can also get the material for a complaint to the UN Rapporteur on Violence against Women."

Eminent jurist Dr Kamal Hossain, who also addressed the seminar in the House of Lords, said, "The current regime of BNP-Jamaat is blatantly involved in engineering every election mechanism to ensure victory at the next election."

Referring to the curtailment in police training period, Dr Kamal said, "Recently appointed police officers, most of whom were activists of the youth wing of the ruling BNP and of their coalition partner Jamaat-e-Islami, were responsible for carrying out assaults on opposition leaders."

Kamal also questioned the rise of the number of voters in the voter list prepared by the regime from 70 million to 93 million within the last five years.

He said, "Free and fair election is not a matter of choice. The government has to uphold the rule of law in order to ensure free and fair elections."

The seminar was also attended by representatives of Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Survival International, International Crisis Group, International Bangladesh Foundation, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Commonwealth Secretariat, Bangladesh High Commission to UK, Hudson Institute USA and The Times Newspaper.

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