A Rule of Law Meltdown Is Behind the Murder of Bloggers in Bangladesh
A series of gruesome attacks on bloggers in Bangladesh has shocked the country and the world. But they are only one element in a years-long cycle of mounting violence. Large-scale political repression has created a climate of injustice that extremist groups have easily exploited in their war against secularists and liberal thinkers.
Unfortunately, political violence is nothing new in Bangladesh. Much of it is the result of the unrelenting, intense rivalry between the country’s two major parties, the governing Awami League of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) of former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia and its Islamist ally Jamaat-e-Islami. But the violence has worsened as repression peaks. The government, in its attempt to silence political dissent, has politicized and dangerously overstretched the country’s law enforcement institutions. Bangladesh’s prisons are overflowing with political opponents and activists, while extremists, thriving in an atmosphere of impunity, intimidate ordinary citizens.
Successive governments have used state machinery to suppress the opposition, which in turn mobilized violent party workers to undermine the government. This political conflict between the Awami League and the BNP has been aggravated by brutal government actions against political opponents and critics, including enforced disappearances, torture and extra-judicial killings.
Zia and her son Tarique Rahman, the BNP’s vice chair, currently face corruption and other criminal charges
that could send them to prison for life. Their trial comes at a time when the BNP has apparently decided to shun violence and instead re-enter the political mainstream, offering an opportunity for long-overdue dialogue between the rival parties. But Hasina’s government has so far failed to seize it. Given the fragility of the political system, a single spark, such as Zia’s conviction, could reignite the violence that has brought the country to a virtual standstill twice since 2013.
All this has fueled resentment and provides a perfect breeding ground for Bangladesh’s hard-line and extremist Islamist groups—including Hefazat-e-Islam, Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh, Jamaat-ul Mujahideen Bangladesh and a new jihadi organization, the Ansarullah Bangla Team—and their anti-state agenda. They depict the Awami League-led government as anti-Islam and a threat to Bangladesh’s Muslim identity, while attacking the country’s liberal thinkers and secular voices. In 2013, extremists reportedly issued a hit list of 84 bloggers they deemed “atheists.”