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Thousands of political activists in Bangladesh are facing charges of incitement with the opposition and human rights groups saying these are part of a widespread government crackdown against its critics, Al Jazeera reported Tuesday.
Bangladeshi opposition parties have been holding a series of protests across the country this year over power cuts. They are also demanding that next year’s general elections be held under a neutral, caretaker government.
But some of the demonstrations have resulted in violence: Five people have died and more than 2,000 have been injured.
Representatives of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) said police have charged more than 4,000 party supporters and leaders with “fake” charges related to the violence.
They also accused the police of failing to be a “neutral force,” saying that the authorities did not intervene when BNP rallies came under attack from members of the governing Awami League party.
Police have denied the allegations and countered that the violence was triggered by the opposition.
Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report Monday over “mass arrests and police raids of opposition party members’ homes.”
The human rights organization also noted that groups affiliated with the ruling party of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina “appear to have impunity for violent attacks.”
HRW’s South Asia director Meenakshi Ganguly warned that this could set “an ominous tone for the upcoming parliamentary elections.”
Hasina’s government – which has been accused in the past of rights abuses – rejected the accusations and called HRW’s report “100 percent political propaganda.”
In December, the US sanctioned seven top Bangladeshi security personnel and the special anti-terrorism squad, the Rapid Action Battalion, for their role in hundreds of enforced disappearances and thousands of extrajudicial killings.
The government denies those charges and has defied the US sanctions: Last month, it promoted one of the sanctioned officers to the national police chief.