The Human Rights Watch (HRW) in its World Report 2022 has said the Bangladesh government "has dismissed concerns raised by the United Nations, donors, and nongovernmental organisations during 2021 over evidence of extrajudicial killings, torture, and enforced disappearances by security forces."
The rights body also said the authorities had cracked down on activists, journalists, and even children who criticised the government or its response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
"Bangladesh authorities used the Covid-19 pandemic to send a chilling message that criticism of the ruling Awami League will be punished," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "Yet journalists, medical workers, and activists were highlighting the barriers to health care that many people across Bangladesh who died from the coronavirus had faced."
In the 752-pages World Report 2022, its 32nd edition, Executive Director Kenneth Roth called on democratic leaders to do a better job of meeting national and global challenges and of making sure that democracy delivers on its promised dividends.
Highlighting some cases of violation of rights in Bangladesh, the report pointed to Mushtaq Ahmed, a writer, who died in prison after being held in pretrial detention for nine months -- during which he was allegedly tortured -- for posting criticism on Facebook of the government's response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
In May, the authorities arrested Rozina Islam, a journalist, following her reporting on malpractices in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the report said, adding that the authorities had also arbitrarily arrested and prosecuted political critics under the Digital Security Act, and even targeted family members of diaspora journalists who criticised the government.
On the issue of the Rohingyas, the report said that in October the government signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, to begin operations for Rohingya refugees on Bhasan Char island, a remote island "made of silt that is subject to dangerous weather conditions and lacks adequate services".
The report said that the Bangladesh authorities had already relocated almost 20,000 refugees to the island in violation of its commitments to wait for an assessment of the island's habitability, safety, sustainability, and protection needs.
The report also mentioned the September murder of Mohib Ullah, a Rohingya rights activist, in Kutupalong camp in Cox's Bazar and the October incident when seven refugees were murdered in an attack on an Islamic seminary in the camp, saying those were down to the Bangladesh government's failure to provide adequate security.
Rohingya activists remain at risk from militant groups, while security forces have arbitrarily detained refugees in a crackdown against those allegedly responsible for the violence, the report said.
It further cited an incident from October when four people died after police reportedly opened fire to contain a mob, and at least three more people died amid a spate of violence targeting Bangladesh's Hindu minority, which left more than 100 reported injured.
The HRW report also focused on the November protests which erupted following the gang-rape of two women in Dhaka in 2017, saying that "the judge appeared to blame the victims for taking a month to report the crime, denigrated their character, and, extraordinarily, recommended that the police should refuse to file any rape case that comes in over 72 hours after the incident." In this regard, the HRW pointed out that the authorities have yet to pass a sexual harassment bill, provide witness protection, or revise discriminatory legislation.