The Bangladeshi people are now asking, “Where is my vote?”   

In 2009 in the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Iranian people protested against the regime, crying, “Where is my vote?”  During that period of time, former Iranian President Ahmad Ahmadinejad had stolen the election from the Iranian people, who were seeking a more moderate candidate.  And now, today in 2019, after the fraudulent Bangladeshi elections occurred on December 30, which resulted in the re-election of the Sheikh Hasina Sheikh Hasina , the Bangladeshi people are now asking the same question, “Where is my vote?”

The Bangladeshi people are suffering under the ruling Sheikh Hasina government.  On a daily basis, Hindus, Christians, Buddhists and other minorities are being murdered, raped, abducted and forcefully converted to Islam. Their lands are being seized from them, their holy places are being desecrated and their homes are being destroyed. Forces loyal to the Sheikh Hasina government are doing everything in their power in order to make Bangladesh to be a minority-free country.   According to a report in India Today, between January and December 1, 2018, there were 1,792 incidents of persecution against minorities within Bangladesh.   Of these 1,792 occurrences, 50 took place at religious institutions and temples while 2,734.81 acres of land were grabbed from the minorities by local Muslims.  Dr. Nasreen Ahmed, pro vice-chancellor of Dhaka University, said, “We are living in a time where religion is being used as political weapon. No religion teaches us to discriminate against others.”

However, even though the minorities of Bangladesh have faced systematic oppression, Bangladesh’s minorities are not the only ones who are suffering.  Journalists, dissidents, human rights activists, opposition activists and many other Muslims are suffering under Sheikh Hasina’s rule as well.  Although Sheikh Hasina claims to be a secular leader, in reality, in recent times, she has been pandering towards the Islamists in an effort to increase her support base.  The result of this policy is that 18 minorities were forced to be sworn into office on a Quran.  They were not permitted to accept the oath of public office on their own holy books, as is the custom in the United States and other democratic countries.

In an exclusive interview with The Wire, Former Bangladeshi Chief Justice Surendra Kumar Sinha claimed that 40% of Pakistan is under the control of terrorist groups and that under the Sheikh Hasina government, Bangladesh is heading in that direction: “This present government is patronizing Hefazat. Terrorism and fanaticism is spreading across the country through mosques and madrasas controlled by Hefazat.” While Sinha noted that the Sheikh Hasina government is opposed to Jaamat e-Islami, he claimed that Hefazat is even more fanatical than them.

In fact, Shipan Kumer Basu, the President of the World Hindu Struggle Committee, noted that while the opposition BNP Party is tied to Jamaat e-Islami, who has terribly persecuted the Hindu minority, the Awami League is tied to not only Hefazat but also the Olama League, who pose a threat not only to the local Hindu population in Bangladesh but also to India and the entire free world. In addition, under the Sheikh Hasina government, ISIS has established a base in Bangladesh, the country went from being a secular state to an Islamic state and Sheikh Hasina now seeks for it to become a criminal offense to criticize the Prophet Muhammad and the Muslim faith. Even before this announcement was made, there are already hundreds of cases filed against Hindus for hurting religious sentiment. There are also reports that the school textbooks in the country are increasingly encouraging fundamentalist Islamic thought and inciting against the minorities.

Due to these developments, during the past elections, a coalition of opposition forces had joined forces in order to ensure that those opposed to the Sheikh Hasina government had a fighting chance of winning.  Although the BNP was still the largest party, they were united with other parties, who were more leftist and centrist in their positions.  However, due to the violence leading up to the elections and the massive voter fraud that occurred within the country, it is evident that the Bangladeshi Opposition was not even given the opportunity to have a shot at winning.

Violence leading up to December 30 Bangladeshi National Election

  • About one month before the elections, the brother of Aslam Chowdhury, a prominent Muslim minority and human rights activist who also serves as the BNP Central Joint Secretary General in Bangladesh, and 17 other members of his political team, were arrested. This incident came after the Bangladeshi Election Committee cleared Mr. Chowdhury to run for Chattogram 4 in the upcoming elections.
  • In Thakurgaon district, the home of Krishna Ghoas, a Hindu, was set on fire. The assailants were successfully able to flee the scene of the attack.   One family member was partially burnt in the fire.  The entire home was reduced to ashes.   6 animals were also killed in the incident.   Local minorities reported that the incident occurred in order to create chaos leading up to the voting.
  • A number of Hindu gods and goddesses at the Rishipara Kali Temple in Shariatpur were vandalized in late December. “Just before our national election, this kind of incident makes us anxious,” Mukul Chandra Roy, president of Shariatpur unit of Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Oikya Parishid, told The Daily Star following the incident.
  • Ashis Kumar Baral, the chairman of the Jabari Union and leader of the minority community in Sarapkathi Upazila of Pirojpor District, who also serves as the head of the Hindu-Buddhist-Christian Unity Council, was almost murdered. The main suspect in the case is Awami League leader Muhid Brother Touhid.
  • Members of the Awami League attacked Gayeshwar Chandra Roy, a candidate for Paddy Sheaf of Dhaka 3 constituency, who is also a member of the BNP Standing Committee. He suffered severe injuries in the attack.  Hospital doctors gave him 8 stitches in the head.
  • About 10 to 12 journalists were injured in an attack upon the Shamim Guest House in Nawabganj. 16 media cars and also hotel furniture was vandalized in the incident.   The police only arrived on site after the attackers had left.   Following this incident, a representative of Jugantara Dhamrai went missing.   The culprits are believed to be armed Jubo-League/BCL activists.
  • Independent Candidate Abdul Latif Siddique dropped out of the race after he fell ill following his declaration of a hunger strike. He had declared a hunger strike in protest over the fact that his motorcade was attacked, which resulted in the injury of 20 people.
  • Four university students, who were active in the BNP, an opposition political party, went missing the day before the election. A couple of days after the election, it was released for publication that the four students were arrested and are presently in prison.
  • Since December 10 till the aftermath of the election, 54 news and other websites were blocked and there were reports that internet access was limited within the country, the Times of India reported.
  • Between December 10 and 26, at least 30 opposition motorcades were attacked, 207 incidents of violence occurred in 159 constituencies, at least 43 candidates from the Jatiya Oikya Front were attacked and 13 candidates were seriously injured, 17 candidates were arrested while BNP candidates were disqualifies from running in 23 constituencies. Furthermore, 5 were killed and 2,682 were injured in election related violence during this period of time.   There have also been reports of opposition members being beaten, their party houses being razed to the ground, female candidates being attacked and opposition campaign rallies being accosted.    In addition, 21,000 members of the opposition were arrested.

Election Day Irregularities and Violence in Bangladesh

  • On Election Day, the Daily Star reported that there were no Jatiya Oikko Front polling agents in sight and barely any presence for any of the left-wing parties as well. Under Bangladeshi law, polling agents of all the candidates must be present in a polling booth, which is viewed to be essential in order to assure that voting happens in a non-partisan manner.
  • According to the Daily Star, the gates of different polling centers in Dhaka-7 were being guarded by individuals loyal to the ruling party. According to the report, they were the ones who decided who to let inside, whether they be agents, journalists and even voters.   A man named Jisan claimed that he was asked to leave the voting area by the ruling party: “They simply came up to me and ordered me to leave.  I did not have a choice but to comply.  This is my neighborhood and I need to survive here.  I did not even get the chance to cast my own vote at the center.”  Up until Jisan walked in, the Bawani School had numerous agents representing the ruling party in all eight of its rooms, only four agents representing Islami Andolon and that is it.  No other party was present.
  • A woman in Dhaka who supports the BNP was slapped and kicked at the polling station for merely insisting upon the right to vote. According to her, “At one point, they started dragging me towards a dilapidated building.  ‘You are too hyper for a woman and you need to be tamed,’ they told me.  One of the boys was 16 years old at best.  I escaped because my son, who was their friend, pleaded on my behalf.”
  • A left-wing polling agent named Auroni Semonti Khan, who sought to vote at Lalmatia Mohila College, stated that she was constantly being threatened by ruling party men. When she complained to the presiding officer, an Awami League party man came up to her and said, “This is Bangladesh, not America or Canada. Judging by what you have started, you will not be able to live a life here.”
  • Award-winning photographer Taslima Akter, who also represented a left-wing party, reported: “We had around a hundred agents but they were mostly all made to leave the polling centers. The very first hurdle happened in the morning when men supposedly belonging to the ruling party were not letting my agents in in the first place.”
  • Locals reported that ballot boxes were stuffed the night before elections.  They also noted that voting stations were closed for prolonged breaks.  In addition, there were reports that the votes were counted in an unrealistically fast manner, raising suspicions whether the votes were actually counted.
  • According to the Guardian, at least 17 BNP activists and other victims were killed at the polls on Election Day.  For example, in Rangamati, a local Juba League leader was killed and ten others injured in a clash between BNP and the Awami League activists at Kawkhali upazila in Rangamati.  In another instance, BNP activist Mojibur Rahman, 35, was killed after being shot during a clash between the Awami League and the BNP at the Belashwar Government Primary School Center.  As a result, the voting was temporarily shut down in the school.   There were countless other incidents like this on Election Day across Bangladesh.

Post-Election Violence in Bangladesh

  • Hundreds of Hindu homes were attacked, looted and vandalized in Vanga Upazilla in Faridpor district.
  • There was an attempted murder of a Hindu youth in Khulna.
  • The home of Pashi Dasi, a minority woman, was burned to the ground.
  • In Dinajpor, there was an attempted rape of a Hindu girl.
  • A minority man was seriously assaulted in Khagrashari.
  • A Hindu couple from Brahmanbaria disappeared.
  • A Muslim woman was gang raped in Noakhali for voting the wrong way. While undergoing treatment at the Noakhali General Hospital, the victim, a mother of four, stated that 10 to 12 accomplices of Ruhul Amin raped her for voting for “Sheaf of Paddy”, the electoral symbol of the BNP, in the national elections.
  • Bangladeshi MP Nixon Chowdhury, who was an Awami League member that ran in the election as an independent, was attacked as hundreds of local Hindus were in his home in Upazila of Faridpur district. His home fell victim to an arson attack and was vandalized. The valuables inside of the home were also looted.
  • Locals reported that over 50 homes belonging to BNP supporters were plundered and vandalized as well in the Bangla Bazar Union of Doabarbaza Upazila.
  • A group of 30-35 people, including Former Chairman Fazlul Haque Bepari, looted, vandalized and ransacked the house of Rameezuddin at Dadpur village of Laxmipur Union in Kalkini upazila of Madaripur district. Ramijuddin’s wife Fazilah Khatun, his sons’ wife Toma who is pregnant and his sister’s daughter Hasina were seriously injured.

International Reaction to Bangladesh Elections

Following the most recent Bangladeshi Election and its violent aftermath, the international community is in shock. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) declared, “There are credible reports of fatalities and numerous injuries on polling day alone. There are worrying indications that reprisals have continued to take place, notably against the political opposition, including physical attacks and ill-treatment, arbitrary arrests, harassment, disappearances and filing of criminal cases.” Former German Minister Norbert Rotgen concurred, adding, “The country has effectively turned into a single party system.  European governments should stand firm in condemning the election procedure, thereby showing support for Bangladesh’s remaining democratic forces.”

British Minister of State for Asia and the Pacific Mark Field proclaimed, “I am aware of credible accounts of obstacles including arrests that constrained or prevented campaigning by opposition parties, and of irregularities in the conduct of elections on polling day that prevented some people from voting. I urge a full, credible and transparent resolution of all complaints related to the conduct of the elections.”

“I deplore the acts of intimidation and unlawful violence that have taken place during the campaign period, and am deeply concerned by the incidents that led to so many deaths on polling day,” he noted.  “My thoughts are with the families and friends of those who have lost loved ones. Free, fair, peaceful, and participatory elections are essential to any functioning democracy. It is vital for the government and all political parties to now work together to address differences and find a way forward in line with the interests of the people of Bangladesh.”

Mendi Safadi, who heads the Safadi Center for International Diplomacy, Research, Public Relations and Human Rights, proclaimed: “The elections in Bangladesh were considered a violent political grab during which tens of thousands of opposition activists were arrested and minorities were killed.  International law defines these elections as false and illegal.  Sheikh Hasina did not win the last elections.  She lost her right to be a Bangladeshi loyal to the people and the homeland.  Anyone who conducts such a criminal act is a traitor to the people and the state.”

“I call upon the international community to not recognize the rigged elections in Bangladesh,” Basu declared.   “Sheikh Hasina robbed the people of their democratic rights.  She is holding the people of Bangladesh hostage. Today, the people of Bangladesh cannot move around freely and cannot speak openly.   Journalists and human rights activists are living in fear.  So far, two journalists were arrested for reporting on the rigged elections.  Therefore, I urge all of you in the wake of the highly celebrated American elections to help restore democracy to my country by holding free and fair elections under a care-taker government.  Hopefully, under a new regime, the minorities of Bangladesh will one day enjoy what America’s minorities do.  America continues to serve as our inspiration and role model for what we would like our country to be like post-Sheikh Hasina.”

Prior to the election, US State Department Deputy Spokesperson Robert Palladino said that the US was disappointed by the “Bangladeshi governments’ inability to grant credentials and issue visas within the timeframe necessary to conduct a credible international monitoring mission to the majority of international election monitors from ANFREL.  As a result, ANFREL was forced to cancel its observation mission for the December 30 national election.”

What comes next?

Should the Sheikh Hasina government be permitted to stay in power, Basu warned that there will be no Hindus and other minorities left in Bangladesh; they will be ethnically cleansed from the country.   In addition, the equivalent of Pakistan’s Blasphemy Law will likely be enacted within the Asian country, thus making it a criminal offense to criticize Islam and the Prophet Muhammed.  Bangladesh will continue to be effectively an Islamic state and groups like ISIS, under the patronage of the Sheikh Hasina government, will be able to strengthen their presence within the country.   Furthermore, the last vestiges of Bangladeshi democracy will be eliminated.  The country will be transformed into a one-party rule Islamic dictatorship.

However, if the international community applies enough pressure and rejects these sham election results, it is possible that power can be transferred to a caretaker government.   Should that occur, free and fair elections can be held at a future date, thus allowing the people of Bangladesh to have the option of voting for leaders who will offer them a better and brighter future than what the Sheikh Hasina government has to offer them.   For this reason, Safadi is now turning to the UN Human Rights Council and the International Criminal Court at The Hague, hoping that they can save the country from plunging into a reign of terror and tyranny, which will encourage the growth of radical Islam in Asia.

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Rachel Avraham is the President of the Dona Gracia Mendes Nasi Center for Human Rights in Middle East (under formation) and is a political analyst at the Safadi Center for International Diplomacy, Research, Public Relations and Human Rights, which is run by Mendi Safadi, Israeli Communication Minister Ayoob Kara's former chief of staff. In addition, she is a counter-terror analyst at the Islamic Theology on Counter-Terrorism, a think tank run by British Pakistani dissident Noor Dahri. For over 6 years, she is a Middle East based journalist, covering radical Islam, terrorism, human rights abuses in the Muslim world, minority rights abuses in the Muslim world, women's rights issues in the Muslim world, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Syria, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Jewish Diaspora, anti-Semitism, international affairs and other issues of importance. Avraham is the author of “Women and Jihad: Debating Palestinian Female Suicide Bombings in the American, Israeli and Arab Media," a ground breaking book that was endorsed by former Israel Consul General Dr. Yitzchak Ben Gad and Israeli Communications Minister Ayoob Kara.