Politicians, rights groups unhappy

November 5, 2008

CONDITIONAL EASING OF EMERGENCY
Politicians, rights groups unhappy
Shahidul Islam Chowhdury.
While political parties are seemingly unhappy about the government’s decision on conditional relaxation of restrictions on campaign for the forthcoming general elections, rights groups and labour organisations believe the relaxation will not help any section of society to enjoy democratic liberties and basic rights.
They demanded a complete withdrawal of the state of emergency for unhindered electoral campaigns which, according to them, are requisite for creating an atmosphere conducive to popular elections.
They expressed their unhappiness on Tuesday after the military-controlled interim government on Monday repealed two rules of the Emergency Powers Rules 2007.
According to the relaxed provision, rallies and meetings can be held and procession can be brought out for the election campaign in constituencies for the parliamentary elections and upazila polls, subject to the provisions stipulated in the Representation of the People Order 1972 and the Local Government (Upazila Parishad) Ordinance 2008.
In another gazette notification, the government repealed Rule 5 and 6 of the emergency rules which curbed the media, and anti-government activities and criticism.
‘Complete withdrawal of the state of emergency is a must as it is required to create an atmosphere conducive to holding participatory elections,’ the acting Awami League president, Zillur Rahman, told reporters in his house in Dhaka.
Abdullah Al Noman, a joint secretary general of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, also stressed the need for a complete withdrawal of the emergency.
‘We are “confused” about the government announcement of partial relaxation of the restrictions on political activities,’ he told New Age over telephone from Chittagong on Tuesday. ‘It is not clear to us what the government means by relaxing two rules allowing conditional electoral campaigns.’
‘We are planning to hold a rally in Laldighi Maidan in Chittagong on November 7 and the party chairperson, Khaleda Zia, is expected to attend and address the rally. But we are confused if the holding of a rally in Laldighi Maidan will constitute violation of the Representation of People Order [2008],’ he said.
He said he personally communicated with the home secretary over telephone. ‘But he [the secretary] did not give a concrete answer.’
He said as the Election Commission had announced the schedule for the elections, all activities of political parties would necessarily relate to elections.
The Awami League’s left-leaning allies also said relaxing restrictions on election campaigns were not enough to create an atmosphere conducive to free and fair polls.
They said this at a meeting of the 11-Party Alliance in the central Workers Party office which was presided over by the Workers Party president, Rashed Khan Menon.
The meeting also called on the government to immediately withdraw the state of emergency.
The Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami amir, Matiur Rahman Nizami, called on the government to withdraw the state of emergency immediately to create a congenial atmosphere for acceptable elections. He said this as he addressed a central majlis-e-shura meeting of the party in its office on Tuesday.
Abbas Faiz, South Asia researcher of the Amnesty International, said the conditions attached to the withdrawal of restrictions on election campaign appear to exclude the possibility of holding rallies and other campaigning activity by civil society pressure groups and human rights defenders. ‘As it stands, it does not fully restore the right to freedom of assembly,’ he said in an e-mail interview to New Age.
Civil society pressure groups and human rights defenders try to obtain commitment and support for their human rights related objectives from political parties contesting elections, he said. ‘I think it is important for the authorities to relax any restrictions that prevent the enjoyment of human rights.’
Rights organisation Odhikar’s secretary Adilur Rahman Khan told New Age, ‘In reality, nothing is relaxed as the state of emergency is still fully in force. This relaxation will not create scope for improvement in human rights situation.’
He said, ‘There remains space for authorities to harass political activists for the so-called violation of law as long as Article 16 of the state of emergency remains in force.’
‘There is hardly any scope for probable candidates to campaign freely and to protest against manipulation [if there is any] in elections,’ he said.
Sramik Karmachari Oikya Parishad leader Shahidullah Chowdhury said, ‘It is unfortunate the government had failed to understand the need for withdrawal of the restrictions on trade unionism although the labourers are struggling to survive.’
‘We are considering demonstrations to demand a complete withdrawal of the restrictions on trade unionism as half-hearted relaxation will not benefit anybody,’ said Shahidullah, also president of the Trade Union Centre.
Amirul Haq Amin, general secretary of the National Garment Workers’ Federation, echoed Shahidullah. ‘Labourers are the worst victims of emergency as they cannot protest against the violation of their rights to proper wages.’

Courtesy: NewAge (newagebd.com)

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