Asia in Review Archive (2019-2020)


Date of AiR edition

News summary

29 December 2020

Bangladesh, Turkey to deepen bilateral cooperation

(lm) During his two-day visit to Bangladesh, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu assured Dhaka of Ankara’s continuous support to resolve the Rohingya crisis. He also said that Turkey was ready to enhance bilateral defense cooperation with Bangladesh, as Ankara is seeking to expand its diplomatic footprint in South Asia. Cavusoglu also inaugurated Turkey’s new embassy compound in Dhaka. [Anadolu Agency] [bdnews24]

As the center of gravity in global politics is shifting eastwards, under the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey in 2019 announced a new foreign policy initiative called the Asia Anew. To advance its strategic interests, Ankara has since been stepping up efforts towards a larger role in the Islamic world by deepening bilateral relations with predominately populated Muslim countries such as Pakistan [see AiR No. 43, October/2020, 4], Bangladesh, and Malaysia [see AiR No. 52, December/2019, 4]. [Daily Sabah]


29 December 2020

Bangladesh: Authorities move more Rohingya refugees to remote island, despite rights concerns

(lm) Bangladesh has begun moving another 1,000 Rohingya refugees to a remote island in the Bay of Bengal this month, in defiance of safety and security concerns from international rights advocates. Authorities earlier this month already relocated more than 1,600 Rohingya from crammed camps near the Myanmar border to a settlement on what the UN and rights groups worry is a dangerous low-lying island prone to cyclones and floods [see AiR No. 49, December/2020, 2]. [The Straits Times] [The Guardian]


22 December 2020

Bangladesh: PM Hasina asks leaders to face situations with patience

(lm) Speaking on the occasion of Bangladesh’s Victory Day, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on December 16 instructed members of her ruling Bangladesh Awami League (AL) party to tackle all situations with patience, adding that the government would not ‘allow anyone to create any division and anarchy in the name of religion’. [bdnews24] [The Hindu]

Hasina’s speech comes against the larger backdrop of growing tensions between the AL-government and Hefazat-e-Islam Bangladesh, a hardline Islamist group based in Chittagong. Earlier this month, the group started an agitation against the construction of a sculpture of Bangladesh’s founding father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in the capital Dhaka [see AiR No. 48, December/2020, 1]. Islamist groups deem such statues to be anti-Islamic, often associating them with idol worship – a strictly forbidden practice in Islam. [TRT World] [The Diplomat]

22 December 2020

Bangladesh Air Force to be provided with additional fighter planes, says prime minister

(lm) Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on December 20 reaffirmed her government’s commitment to the ‘Forces Goal 2030’, a military modernization program of the Bangladesh Armed Forces. Addressing the President’s Parade of the Bangladesh Air Force through video channel, Hasina remarked that plans were already in place to purchase additional modern equipment and technologies, including fighter planes, adding that the coronavirus pandemic had spurred budget constraints. [The Daily Star] [United News of Bangladesh]

22 December 2020

India, Bangladesh sign seven MoU on cooperation

(lm) Bangladesh and India on December 17 signed seven Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) on cooperation in a range of areas including trade, energy and agriculture. The agreements were signed in Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka on the sidelines of a virtual summit between Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Indian counterpart Narendra Modi. [Anadolu Agency]

As India is competing with China to deliver coronavirus vaccination to Bangladesh in a diplomatic offensive carefully choreographed to expand their influence [see AiR No. 35, September/2020, 1], New Delhi reassured Dhaka it would priorities the supply of COVID-19 shots to its South Asian neighbor. Moreover, the two leaders also restored a cross-border rail link snapped in the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965. [The Straits Times] [Hindustan Times]

The virtual summit marked the first high-level meeting of the leaders since bilateral relations had nosedived after India passed its controversial religion-based citizenship law late last year [see AiR No. 2, January/2020, 2]. New Delhi has since been making overtures to smoothen relations with Dhaka, with the Indian foreign secretary visiting Bangladesh twice this year [see AiR No. 35, September/2020, 1AiR No. 33, August/2020, 3].

15 December 2020

United States interested in development plans for Chittagong Port

(lm) During a meeting with the Chittagong Port Authority Chairman, the United States Chargé d’Affaires in Dhaka conveyed Washington’s interest in the development plans for the port, offering to provide feasibility studies, technical assistance, and pilot projects. The main seaport of Bangladesh, the port of Chittagong handles ninety percent of the country’s export-import trade, and is the core port of countries dependent on the Bay of Bengal. [Dhaka Tribune]

The meeting assumes added significance because it follows on a recent visit to Dhaka by US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun. The trip was widely interpreted as a clear sign that the United States was stepping up its efforts to entice Bangladesh into closer embrace as a key Indo-Pacific partner in South Asia at a time when China has increased engagement with countries in the region through its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) [see AiR No. 37, September/2020, 3]. [AiR No. 42, October/2020, 3]

15 December 2020

Bangladesh: UN urges safety assessment of Bangladeshi island where Rohingya were shipped

(lm) A United Nations (UN) human rights investigator urged Bangladesh on December 10 to allow a safety assessment of the remote island where the government shipped 1,600 Rohingya refugees last week [see AiR No. 49, December/2020, 2], and a verification process to ensure that refugees are not forced to go. [The Straits Times]

The United Nations says it has not been allowed to carry out a technical and safety assessment of Bhasan Char, a dangerous low-lying island in the Bay of Bengal prone to cyclones and floods and was not involved in the transfer of refugees there. Further, accusing Bangladeshi authorities of pressuring the Rohingya community, rights groups say refugees have been listed without their consent.

Bangladesh’s foreign minister reiterated that the government was transferring only people who are willing to go, adding that the move would ease chronic overcrowding in camps in the southern district of Cox’s Bazar [see AiR No. 23, June/2020, 2]. He also said the UN should first assess and verify how conducive the environment in Myanmar’s Rakhine state was for repatriating the refugees, before carrying out an assessment of Bhasan Char.

8 December 2020

Indian PM Modi invites British PM Johnson as chief guest for Republic Day celebrations

(lm) Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has formally invited British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to be the chief guest at India’s 70th Republic Day celebrations next month, making him the first British PM since John Major in 1993 to attend the parade. The invitation was extended by Modi to Johnson during their phone conversation on November 27. [The Hindu]

The timing of the invitation is noteworthy, as the transition period for Brexit ends on December 31 and it’s almost certain that the United Kingdom will go for a ‘hard Brexit’ – a clean break from Europe which will entail the UK giving up membership of the EU’s single market, allowing it to trade freely with EU members without restrictions. To reduce the adverse effects of the economic disruption, the UK has been looking for trading opportunities elsewhere. In mid-November Prime Minister Johnson announced a major addition to the UK government’s ability to attract foreign investment, in the form of a newly established Office for Investment. Shortly thereafter, India and the UK held ministerial talks to review their progress towards a bilateral post-Brexit Enhanced Trade Partnership, which could lead to a free trade agreement in the future. [Hindustan Times]

To entice India’s neighbor Bangladesh into closer embrace, the UK has also proposed establishment of a UK-Bangladesh Trade and Investment Dialogue aimed at deepening the trading relationship between the two countries. A government to government (G2G) trade meeting between the two countries will be held in January. This comes after the British government last month announced that goods from Bangladesh will continue to relish duty-free access to the UK after the termination of the Brexit transition period. [The Daily Star] [Dhaka Tribune]


8 December 2020

Bangladesh sends Rohingya to controversial island

(lm) Bangladesh has begun transferring several hundred Rohingya refugees from camps near the Myanmar border to a settlement on what the UN and rights groups worry is a dangerous low-lying island prone to cyclones and floods. [The Straits Times]

Formed from a buildup of silt in the Bay of Bengal only 20 years ago, Bhasan Char island now hosts shelters for at least 100,000 Rohingya refugees as well as a three-meter embankment to prevent flooding. Since April, around 300 Rohingya have been living on the island, sent there after being picked up at sea. Earlier this month, Bangladesh said it planned to move another 2,500 families to the silt island in a first phase. [The Guardian]

However, the islands exposure to extreme weather and distance from the mainland in emergencies have caused concern. The United Nations office in Bangladesh issued a terse statement on December 3 saying it had not been ‘not involved’ in the relocation exercise and had not been allowed to independently assess the ‘safety, feasibility and sustainability’ of the island as a place to live. [United Nations Bangladesh]

Further, accusing Bangladeshi authorities of pressuring the Rohingya community, currently confined to crammed camps in the southern district of Cox’s Bazar [see AiR No. 23, June/2020, 2], rights groups say refugees have been listed without their consent. [Amnesty International]

The Bangladesh government, meanwhile, is insisting that the Rohingya refugees are willing to shift to the island. Claiming that the remote island offers the Rohingya community a shot at a better life, Bangladesh’s foreign minister last week said that relocation process was being delayed only because of pressure from international agencies and NGOs. [Anadolu Agency] [Dhaka Tribune]

1 December 2020

China to build a major dam on Brahamputra river, raising red flags in India and Bangladesh

(lm) China is moving ahead with plans to build a hydropower project on the lower reaches of the Yarlung Tsangbo (Brahmaputra River) in Tibet, raising concerns that in neighboring India and Bangladesh. A proposal has been made in the country’s 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25), which was endorsed by the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in November [see AiR No. 44, November/2020, 1], and is earmarked to be implemented from next year. [Global Times] [The Times of India]

Originating in the northern side of the Himalayas, the Tsangpo-Brahmaputra is a trans-boundary river which flows through Tibet, India and Bangladesh, making it a major river for irrigation and transportation in the region. Against the larger backdrop of the ongoing border stand-off with India [see article in this edition], the project has come under intense scrutiny, because it is likely to have an impact on the two lower riparian states, India and Bangladesh. Hence, for both India and China, the Tsangpo-Brahmaputra presents a geopolitical opportunity as damming the perennial river would result in water security in an era of unprecedented shifting climate patterns. [The Indian Express]

To ensure water security, China has claimed express ownership over Tibet’s waters, making it an upstream controller of seven of South Asia’s mightiest rivers – the Indus, Ganges, Brahmaputra, Irrawaddy, Salween, Yangtze, and Mekong. China’s dam constructions have come under criticism for contributing to recent droughts that have severely damaged agriculture and depleted fish stocks in Southeast Asian countries like Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. [Hindustan Times]

In August, talks between Bangladesh and China on a loan deal to implement a proposed irrigation project on the Teesta River had entered an advanced stage, leaving flat India which had hitherto initiated a series of measures to regain long-standing good relations with its eastern neighbor [see AiR No. 34, August/2020, 4]. Later this year, Beijing then signed an agreement with the Mekong River Commission (MRC) – an intergovernmental organization of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, pledging to share year-round and current data on water flows of the Mekong [see AiR No. 43, October/2020, 4].

1 December 2020

South Korea to provide Bangladesh $50 million in budget support

(lm) South Korea has agreed to provide Bangladesh with $50 million loan under its Economic Development Cooperation Fund (EDCF) to help Dhaka address the economic knock-on effects of the coronavirus pandemic. In June, Bangladesh had urged the South Korean government for financial aid amid the crisis. [The Daily Star]

Bangladesh has so far received more than $2 billion as financial support from various multilateral and bilateral organizations to recover from the economic downturn, including the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

1 December 2020

Bangladesh: Massive increase of gender-based violence amid Covid-19 pandemic

(hg) Gender-based violence has increased almost 25% according to a study released by the Bangladesh Rehabilitation Assistance Committee (BRAC). According to BRAC, more than 25,000 complaints were registered by its Legal Aid Services in the first 10 months of 2020 of which 15,047 were resolved through alternative dispute resolution while legal counsel was provided to 3,239 victims and 1,724 complaints led to civil and criminal cases being filed.

Moreover, greater pressure has been put on teenage girls for child marriage having grown in the period by 68%, compared to the same period in 2019, with a 72% rise in the number of child marriages prevented by BRAC’s women’s groups during the same period. In the third quarter of 2020, with COVID numbers spiking, the number of child marriages prevented was 219% higher than in the same period in 2019. The number of child marriages prevented rose even by 571% from the first quarter of 2020 to the third quarter of 2020 highlighting the correlation between the pandemic and the increase of gender-based violence. [Dhaka Tribune]

1 December 2020

Bangladesh: Another push for Islamic radicalism 

(hg) Two events have shed light on sparking radical Islamist rhetoric in the world’s third-largest Muslim majority country in recent months, anger over France’s stance towards Islam and the construction of a sculpture of the Father of the Nation Sheikh Rahman with his’ centenary year approaching in 2021, which hardcore Islamists perceive as idolatry.

In this context, Hefazat-e-Islam, an influential Islamist group based in the port city of Chittagong which claims to be close to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and the ruling establishment, displays increasingly aggressive and venomous rhetoric and has recently demanded the government to ban religious activities of minorities like Hindus and Ahmediya and expel French diplomats and close the French embassy.

The increasing belligerence of Hefazat-i-Islam in context of the celebration of Sheikh Rahman’s centenary is indicative for the government’s difficulties in containing the very Islamist forces sometimes seen to serve its ends given that Rahman is the father of Prime Minister Hasina. Moreover, Hefazat-i-Islam is reportedly joining hands with other radical groups, among them Jamaat-e-Islami and Khilafat Majlish, which is especially problematic in the case of the anti-Hindu, anti-Indian Jamaat which is backed by Pakistan and accused of having collaborated with Pakistani occupation forces in 1970-71 which still is the foundational trauma of the nation. [Dhaka Tribune] [Wion]

17 November 2020

Bangladesh: Cabinet approves Chinese bid for waste-to-electricity plant in Dhaka

(lm) The Cabinet Committee on Public Purchase has approved eight procurement proposals, including a 25-year deal with a Chinese company to build the country’s first large-scale waste-to-energy plant in Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka. [energy bangla]

The power project will be implemented under a tripartite agreement between the Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC), the state-owned Bangladesh Power Development Board (BPDB), and China Machinery Engineering Corporation (CMEC), which will set up an incineration-based plant at its own cost on build-own-operates basis. Accordingly, the DNCC will ensure adequate supply of garbage for generating electricity for the project, while the BPDB will purchase electricity for a 25-year period at a fixed tariff. [The Financial Express]

10 November 2020

Bangladesh: High Court questions ban on marital rape prosecutions

(lm) Bangladesh’s High Court has sought explanation from the government on why penal code and domestic abuse laws do not recognize marital rape as a crime. Before, women’s right groups filed a petition with the court, arguing the current legislation was discriminatory to stop alleged rapists from being charged if they are married to their victims. [Reuters] [Dhaka Tribune] [The Daily Star]

The court’s decision comes amid growing concern about sexual violence in Bangladesh. The government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina last month amended the law to elevate the maximum punishment for sexual assault from life imprisonment to capital punishment after tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets to demand justice and to call on the government to introduce the death penalty for offenders. Women’s rights advocates, however, called the elevation of the punishment for rape a ‘regressive step’ that would not reduce violence against women. Instead, rights groups suggest far-reaching reform of the legal system and more education to bring about real change [see AiR No. 41, October/2020, 2].

Sex crimes have surged in Bangladesh since the beginning of this year, with gang rapes accounting for more than one-fifth of the nearly 1,000 attacks reported between January and September, according to Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK), a local human rights organization. Between April and August, as the world reeled under the coronavirus pandemic, four women were raped every day in Bangladesh, the ASK data showed.

10 November 2020

Bangladesh, United States: Navies conduct annual CARAT exercise

(lm) The navies of the United States and Bangladesh have conducted their annual ‘Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) Bangladesh 2020’ exercise. To mitigate COVID-19 risks, many of the engagements took place virtually, for the US and Bangladesh to share best practices and carry on discussions in a live forum. Still, an at-sea phase took place in the Bay of Bengal with ships and from both partner militaries that included events designed to enhance interoperability between the two navies.

CARAT is a series of annual bilateral military exercises conducted by the United States Pacific Fleet with a hosting Indo-Pacific country. Bangladesh marks the second CARAT exercise in 2020, following CARAT Brunei in the South China Sea last month. While COVID-19 has deferred most of the CARAT exercises in other countries scheduled for this year (Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Thailand, Timor-Leste), a CARAT exercise is scheduled to take place with Singapore in December. [CPF] [EurAsian Times]

10 November 2020

Bangladesh aims to establish rail and road links to China

(lm) Bangladesh has approached the Chinese embassy in Dhaka for establishing rail and road links between the two countries via Myanmar, Bangladesh’s Minister for Foreign Affairs said on October 29. While speaking at a webinar organized by a local think tank, he also fenced off claims that Bangladesh was falling into a Chinese ‘debt trap.” Further elaborating on the issue, the minister also said that Chinese loans only comprise a small fraction of Bangladesh’s total foreign debt. [The Policy Times] [The Daily Star]

In August, talks between Bangladesh and China on a loan deal to implement a proposed irrigation project on the Teesta River had entered an advanced stage, leaving flat India which had hitherto initiated a series of measures to regain long-standing good relations with its eastern neighbor [see AiR No. 34, August/2020, 4]

While the rejuvenation project marks the first time that Beijing constructs a mega river management project in Bangladesh, it is just the latest in a series of events making China the largest investor in Bangladesh. For a start, in June, China announced it would provide duty free market access for 97 percent of Bangladeshi goods [see AiR No. 25, June/2020, 4]. Outdoing India, China then won the tender to build an airport terminal at Sylhet last month, and was able to conclude several defense agreements — which include an ultra-modern submarine base, a new naval base in Patkhauli and the delivery of a Chinese Corvette. [AiR No. 25, June/2020, 4]

3 November 2020

Pakistan, Bangladesh: Anti-France protests continue, as President Emmanuel Macron seeks understanding

(lm) At least 50,000 people have participated in the third major anti-France demonstration in Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka over French President Emmanuel Macron’s support for cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad. The rally, which had been organized by Hefazat-e-Islam, the biggest Islamic group in the country, was stopped from getting close to the French embassy where security had been stepped up. Hefazat-e-Islam has called for the diplomatic outpost to be closed in 24 hours. [The Straits Times] [Nikkei Asia Review]

Macron has been the target of protests in several Muslim-majority nations after he eulogized a French teacher who was decapitated by an Islamist radical who for using cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad in a class on freedom of expression [see AiR No. 43, October/2020, 4]. The renewed protests came after the French president’s interview late Saturday with Qatar-based broadcaster Al-Jazeera. During the interview, Macron said that he understood the shock Muslims felt at caricatures depicting the Prophet Muhammad but also defended the ‘right to blaspheme’ under freedom of expression rights and France’s secular values. [Al Jazeera]

In Pakistan, police fired tear gas at hundreds of supporters of the main Islamist party, Jamaat-e-Islami, who had broken through security blockades in Karachi in a failed attempt to demonstrate at the French Consulate in the city. Protests and gatherings marking the occasion were also held in the cities of Multan, Lahore and Peshawar. [Associated Press]

At least 34 civil society organizations in the Maldives have called on the government to cease all economic and political cooperation with France pending an apology to Muslims all over the world. [SunOnline]

27 October 2020

Pakistan, Bangladesh up in arms over comments by French President Emmanuel Macron on Islam

(lm) More than 40,000 people participated in march through Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka on October 27 calling for a boycott of French products and burning an effigy of President Emmanuel Macron. The rally was organized by Islami Andolon Bangladesh (IAB), one of the country’s largest Islamist parties, and started at Bangladesh’s biggest mosque. [The Straits Times 1]

The French leader has been the target of protests in several countries after he dedicated a high-level ceremony to a teacher beheaded by an Islamist radical who wanted to avenge the use of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammad in a class on freedom of expression. Defending the publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet, Macron said the teacher ‘was killed because Islamists want our future’. That comment compounded earlier controversy after, he also earlier this month described Islam as a religion ‘in crisis,’ and announced plans for tougher laws to tackle what he called ‘Islamist separatism’ in France. [The Straits Times 2] [Anadolu Agency]

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan added his voice to the growing criticism of Emmanuel Macron, accusing the European leader on October 25 of ‘attacking Islam’. The following day, Pakistan then summoned France’s ambassador in Islamabad to lodge a diplomatic protest against a ‘systematic Islamophobic campaign’ in the European nation. [The Straits Times 3] [France 24]

Prime Minister Khan has also appealed to Facebook to ban Islamophobic content on the site, warning that growing Islamophobia was ‘encouraging hate, extremism and violence across the world, and especially through the use of social media platforms, including Facebook.’ [Reuters] [Deutsche Welle]

Khan’s comments come amid increasing religious tensions in Pakistan. Earlier this month, a Pakistan appeals court acquitted a Christian man who spent about seven years in jail on the accusation of blasphemy, a charge that led to communal rioting that saw two churches and about 150 homes in Lahore’s Christian neighborhood of Joseph Colony burned down by an enraged mob in 2013 [AiR No. 41, October/2020, 2]. In July, a US citizen on trial for blasphemy was shot dead in a crowded courtroom in the northwestern city of Peshawar [see AiR No. 31, August/2020, 1]

20 October 2020

Bangladesh: Five people sentenced to death for gang-raping girl in 2012

(lm) A Bangladesh court has issued the death penalty to five convicts in a 2012 rape case, amid growing public anger over rampant sexual violence [see AiR No. 41, October/2020, 2]. It was the first conviction since the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina amended the law to elevate the maximum punishment for sexual assault from life imprisonment to capital punishment. [Al Jazeera] [Anadolu Agency]

Meanwhile, Amnesty International called the elevation of the punishment for rape a ‘regressive step’, saying it will not reduce violence against women but only ‘deflects attention from the lack of real action to address the appalling brutality faced by so many Bangladeshi women’. [Amnesty International]

20 October 2020

United States Deputy Secretary of State visits Bangladesh, as US tries to engage with smaller countries

(lm) Speaking after a meeting with Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister, US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun said Dhaka will be a ‘centerpiece’ of the United States’ work in the region as it sees the country as a key partner in the Indo-Pacific region. During a meeting the previous day, he invited Dhaka to explore opportunities in signing a Free Trade Agreement with the US. [] [The Daily Star]

Biegun’s three-day visit in Dhaka followed US Defense Secretary Mark Esper’s phone conversation with Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in September. Significantly, Bangladesh had not hosted a senior United States’ diplomat of Biegun’s stature since August 2016 – a clear sign that the United States is stepping up efforts to raise its visibility in South Asia at a time when China has increased engagement with countries in the region through its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) [see AiR No. 37, September/2020, 3].

Before he arrived in Dhaka on Wednesday, Biegun was in New Delhi earlier in the week where he delivered the opening speech of the India-US Forum and held talks with Indian officials on areas of mutual interest. In doing so, Biegun laid the groundwork for the U.S.-India 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue involving the foreign and defense ministers of the two sides scheduled for October 26-27 [see AiR No. 41, October/2020, 2]. [South China Morning Post 1]

While in New Delhi, Biegun also had an informal meeting with the Bhutanese Ambassador to India, since Bhutan does not maintain diplomatic relations with any of the UN Security Council’s permanent members, preferring to keep them at arm’s length. [U.S. Department of State] [South China Morning Post 2

13 October 2020

Nepal, Bangladesh to sign preferential trade arrangement

(lm) During a virtual secretary-level meeting on trade and economic cooperation, Nepal and Bangladesh agreed to sign a preferential trade agreement (PTA) before year end. In March, both sides had initially agreed upon finalizing a bilateral PTA by June but plans had to be postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Nepal would be the second South Asian nation next to Bhutan to sign a bilateral PTA with Bangladesh. [The Kathmandu Post]

October 8’s meeting also touched on ways to increase bilateral trade, including railway and air connectivity, and to improve cooperation to benefit the tourism sector in both countries, among other things. [The Daily Star]

13 October 2020

US Deputy Secretary of State to visit India, Bangladesh this week

(lm) In the run-up to the US-India 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue later this month, United States Deputy Secretary of State, Stephen Biegun, is scheduled to visit New Delhi from October 12 to 14 to meet with senior government officials and to deliver keynote remarks at the India-US Forum, a platform convened by the Ananta Centre and the External Affairs Ministry. [The Print] [The Hindu 1] [The Tribune]

Following up on Secretary Mike Pompeo’s October 6 conversation with Indian Minister of External Affairs S. Jaishankar in Tokyo [see below], talks will focus on how to advance the United States-India Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership, according to the US Department of State. While diplomatic and military ties between New Delhi and Washington have been on an upswing over the past two decades, against the backdrop of the border dispute between India and China, relations have recently accelerated quite significantly. [New York Times]

After his Delhi visit, Biegun will fly to Dhaka for meetings with senior officials to “reaffirm” the US-Bangladesh partnership, according to the United States State Department. It is significant that the US is focusing on Bangladesh, a close neighbor of India after concluding a Defense Cooperation Agreement with the Maldives in September, bringing the archipelago firmly into the ‘Indo-Pacific’ side of the emerging geopolitical maritime fault line pitting the US and its allies against China [see AiR No. 37, September/2020, 3]

Significantly, Bangladesh has not hosted a senior United States’ diplomat of Biegun’s stature since August 2016 – a clear sign that the United States is stepping up efforts to entice Bangladesh into closer embrace as a key Indo-Pacific partner. In a rare outreach, United States Secretary of Defense Mark Esper phoned Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheihk Hasina in September to explore ways to help modernizing the Dhaka’s military by 2030. The conversation was soon followed by a virtual talk between Bangladeshi decision-makers and Laura Stone, a Deputy Assistant with the US Department of State. [The Hindu 2] –Nikkei Asia Review]

Speculation about Washington’s interest to explore a new framework for Indo-Pacific cooperation, beyond the existing Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad), had first received a boost in September, when Stephen Biegun had noted that the United States were aiming to “formalize” the groupings’ military, economic and development cooperation. Though cautioning visions of an Indo-Pacific NATO at that time, Biegun still had emphasized that the format shall remain open for other countries to join but “align in a more structured manner” [see AiR No. 35, September/2020, 1]. However, in the run-up to the second ministerial meeting of the Quad, a senior US state department official earlier this month dismissed talk of formalizing the grouping, saying the United States wanted to strengthen existing regional architectures, not create new ones [see AiR No. 40, October/2020, 1].

13 October 2020

Bangladesh: Capital punishment for sexual assault introduced over surge in violent sex crime

(lm) As protests flare across Bangladesh over a recent spate of rapes and sexual harassment, the Cabinet approved a legal amendment to elevate the maximum punishment for sexual assault from life imprisonment to capital punishment. Prior, tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets to demand justice and to call on the government to introduce the death penalty for offenders after a video of a group of men attacking, stripping, and sexually assaulting a woman went viral. [Dhaka Tribune 1] [South China Morning Post] [Anadolu Agency]

Sex crimes have surged in Bangladesh since the beginning of this year, with gang rapes accounting for more than one-fifth of the nearly 1,000 attacks reported between January and September, according to Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK), a local human rights organization. Between April and August, as the world reeled under the coronavirus pandemic, four women were raped every day in Bangladesh, the ASK data showed. Campaigners, however, say the report only captures a small fracture of the true number of cases of sexual violence against women, as many victims are reluctant to report sexual assaults to the police. [Dhaka Tribune 2] [Human Rights Watch] [The Straits Times]

Following a large day-long protest earlier in response to a case in Dhaka this year, the country’s High Court ordered the Law Ministry in January to form a commission within 30 days to investigate the troubling rise in sexual violence, with the aim of submitting its report by June. However, more than nine months after the court order, it is unclear whether the commission is functioning, and it has not produced recommendations. [Al Jazeera]

6 October 2020

Bangladesh: Amnesty International calls on government to release arbitrarily detained migrant workers

(lm) Amnesty International has called on the Bangladesh authorities to immediately release migrant workers who have been arbitrarily detained between July and September following their return to the country. Between said period, Bangladeshi police have jailed at least 370 returning migrant workers under Section 54 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrCP), which allows for arrest based on having “reasonable suspicion” that a person may have been involved in a criminal offence outside the country. The human rights watchdog claims that the arbitrary detention of the workers violates the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Bangladesh is a state party. [Amnesty International] [The Daily Star]

In the latest of a series of mass arrests of migrant workers for alleged criminal activity abroad, 32 people were detained in Dhaka on 28 September for “tarnishing the image of Bangladesh”. The workers had returned to Bangladesh after they had been jailed in Syria while trying to reach Italy and other European countries. In this, as with three other cases [see e.g. Dhaka Tribune 1], no credible evidence of criminal wrongdoing has been shown nor have any charges been brought, according to Amnesty International. [Dhaka Tribune 2]


6 October 2020

United States, Bangladesh to broaden economic ties

(lm) Bangladesh and the United States held a senior-level economic dialogue on Wednesday to look for a “bigger picture” of enhanced trade cooperation in light of Bangladesh’s big push for attracting Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). According to the US embassy in Dhaka, an increasing number of US companies has shown interest over Bangladesh’s large market and sustained economic growth.

Bangladesh and the US have already been engaged in trade talks under the existing economic forum called ‘Trade and Investment Cooperation Forum Agreement (TICFA), since signing of the deal in 2013, to keep stability in the US-Bangladesh trade relationship. [United News of Bangladesh]

29 September 2020

Bangladesh: First deep-sea port functional by 2025?

(lm) Bangladesh on September 23 signed contracts with two Japanese consultancy firms  providing support for building the country’s first deep-sea port near the city of Cox’s Bazar where China is building a submarine base, corresponding with the military support base in Djibouti, the Hambantota port in Sri Lanka, and the Gwadar port in Pakistan.

In March, the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council had approved the construction, which is largely funded by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) [see AiR No. 12, March/2020, 4]. Construction is expected to be completed by 2025. [The Financial Express] [Dhaka Tribune]

An important “Fast Track Project”, the Matarbari Port Development Project is part of the “Bay of Bengal Industrial Growth Belt” (BIG-B) initiative, which aims to develop a reliable and low-cost logistic network for seaborne cargo or freight handling and transporting facilities to help Bangladesh evolve as a node & hub in the Indo-Pacific region. The BIG-B initiative had been jointly announced by Japan’s then-prime minister Shinzo Abe and Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in September 2014. [Japan International Cooperation Agency]


29 September 2020

Bangladesh fears escalation of conflict in Myanmar

(lf) The permanent mission of Bangladesh to the UN implores the UN security council because of increased military movement on the Burmese side of Bangladesh’s border. Bangladesh seeks immediate action from the security council in order to prevent further escalation of the situation in Rakhine state. Bangladesh hopes to prevent an increase of refugees into Bangladesh.

According to Myanmar security sources Bangladesh has deployed troops at its most Southeastern border with Myanmar. Bangladesh wants to prevent an influx of refugees as happened in 2017.

In recent weeks, Myanmar’s army has increased troop activities in Rakhine state, claiming rising activities of the Arakan Army and the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army. [Irrawaddy], [The Daily] [Dhaka Tribune]

22 September 2020

Bangladesh: Government extends BNP chairperson and former PM Khaleda Zia’s prison-term suspension

(lm) On September 15, the government extended Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) chairperson Khaleda Zia’s conditional release from jail in two corruption cases by another six months, on condition that she cannot go abroad. Soon thereafter, a BNP senior leader criticized the decision and demanded relaxation of Zia’s travel restrictions to allow the former prime minister to seek medical treatment abroad. [Dhaka Tribune] [] [The Daily Star 1]

The initial suspension had been issued in March, when the government had granted the former prime minister conditional release for six months to seek medical treatment in hospital under the supervision of the prison authorities. By that time, Khaleda had served 25 months out of 17 years of prison sentences on two graft cases. [AiR No. 13, March/2020, 5]

The Supreme Court’s (SC) Appellate Division on September 20 upheld the suspension of trial proceedings in four more cases against Zia. The cases, carrying charges of vandalism, arson and defamation, were filed in 2015. [The Daily Star 2]

22 September 2020

Bangladesh increasingly worried over troops at its border with Myanmar

(lf) As Burmese troops gather along the border to Bangladesh, in its most eastern state Rakhine, Bangladesh has become increasingly concerned about the situation. The Burmese army increased their troops in the regions, due to an alleged increase action from both the Arakan Army (AA) (which consist of ethnic Rakhine) and the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA). Bangladesh has voiced its concerns and called for a de-escalation of the situation towards Myanmar’s ambassador. The AA and the Burmese Army (Tatmadaw) are in an ongoing military conflict. 

Both AA and ARSA have been declared terrorist organisations by the government. A deadly attack of ARSA against Burmese security outpost in 2017, fuelled in the clearance operation led by the Tatmadaw, which forced 730,000 Rohingya Refugees into Bangladesh, which currently host more than 1 million Rohingya refugees. [Dhaka Tribune] [Irrawaddy]

8 September 2020

India, Bangladesh foreign ministers to virtually meet this month

(lm) India and Bangladesh will hold the sixth meeting of the Joint Consultative Commission (JCC) later this month, albert virtual, as India and China are India and China are competing to deliver coronavirus vaccination to Bangladesh in a diplomatic offensive carefully choreographed to expand their influence in the South Asian nation [see AiR No. 35, September/2020, 1]. Co-chaired by Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and his counterpart in Bangladesh A.K. Abdul Momen, the JCC is the highest bilateral mechanism between India and Bangladesh and was last held in February 2019. [Hindustan Times]

Meanwhile, a new commercial inland waterway between Bangladesh and India was inaugurated on Saturday, after both sides had agreed to open a new element of regional connectivity by increasing the number of inland water routes (see IBP) earlier this month [see AiR No. 35, September/2020, 1]. [Anadolu Ajansı]

Since the beginning of August, Premier Minister Narendra Modi has reached out to Nepal and Sri Lanka and offered support to both Bangladesh and the Maldives, as New Delhi seeks a riposte to Chinese influence in the region [see e.g. AiR No. 35, September/2020, 1AiR No. 34, August/2020, 4].

In mid-August, India pledged $500 million towards funding the largest civilian infrastructure in the Maldives to help the island nation connect its capital Malé with the neighboring islands of Villingili, Gulhifahu and Thilafushi. It also includes the building of a port at Gulhifahu and an industrial zone in Thilafushi [see AiR No. 33, August/2020, 3].

1 September 2020

India’s and China’s vaccine diplomacy toward Bangladesh

(ls) India’s Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla promised neighboring Bangladesh priority access to a Covid-19 vaccine produced by India on the occasion of a visit to Dhaka two weeks ago. The “vaccine diplomacy” comes after China made a similar offer to Bangladesh, and Dhaka allowed Chinese Sinovac to conduct vaccine trials in the country. The case illustrates another dimension of the two great Asian powers’ competition for economic and political influence in South Asia. [Straits Times] [see also AiR No. 34, August/2020, 4]

In a separate development, India and Bangladesh have agreed to open a new element of regional connectivity by expanding the scope of inland water transport mechanisms. The operationalization of new routes is expected to facilitate bilateral trade, with improved reliability and cost effectiveness. [Economic Times]

25 August 2020

India is working on balancing against Chinese influence in Myanmar

(dql) For Delhi, China’s rise forms a constant challenge to India’s dominance of its backyard currently tested in Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. After India’s foreign minister visited Bangladesh last week to work on bilateral ties, Myanmar is the next country on India’s wooing list, a country where India and China compete for dominance.

Timing seems well for the Indian chief diplomat though. First, from a Myanmar perspective, India has handled its role in mediating between Bangladesh and Myanmar in the Rohingya issue rather well. Second, China is currently regarded as playing a dangerous role in relation to two of Myanmar’s insurgent groups. On July 2, the Myanmar commander-in-chief referring to the Arakan Army (AA) and the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) alleged that terrorist groups in the country were being backed by ‘strong forces’ implying China. A military spokesperson then clarified the army chief was referring to the fact that AA and ARSA fighters had used Chinese made weapons when attacking the armed forces in a 2019 attack.

Another pain point Delhi could press has been revealed by Myanmar’s auditor general who had raised alarm over loans from China: “The truth is the loans from China come at higher interest rates compared to loans from financial institutions like the World Bank or the IMF” he was quoted, adding: “So, I would like to remind the government ministries to be more restrained in using Chinese loans.” Other criticism came up with regard to Chinese investment projects like the Muse-Mandalay Electric Railway built by a Chinese company or plans to erect a new Yangon city in cooperation with China.

These disturbances notwithstanding, China is present in the country as well and has also been working on deepening its ties with Myanmar with President Xi Jinping having visited the country at the beginning of the year.

To make things even more complicated, geostrategy and domestic politics are increasingly intertwined with Myanmar’s generals inclined to quest the Chinese card which becomes more attractive for Aung San Suu Kyi after having been put under pressure by the West over the Rohingya issue. [The Week]

25 August 2020

Bangladesh-China-India: Dhaka to receive $1billion loan from Beijing for irrigation project on Teesta river

(lm) Talks between Bangladesh and China on a loan deal to implement a proposed irrigation project on the Teesta River have reportedly entered an advanced stage, leaving flat India which had initiated a series of measures to regain long-standing good relations with its eastern neighbor [see e.g. AiR No. 27, July/2020, 1AiR No. 30, July/2020, 4AiR No. 33, August/2020, 3]. In July, Bangladesh`s Ministry of Water Resources had disclosed that it was trying to secure a $983.27 million loan from China to implement a “Teesta River Comprehensive Management and Restoration Project”. Dhaka is reportedly seeking to conclude the loan agreement before year`s end. [NewAge Bangladesh] [The Indian Express]

In September 2016, the Bangladesh Water Development Board entered into a MoU with the Power Construction Corporation of China to carry out a feasibility study to better manage the Teesta for the benefit of northern Bangladesh’s greater Rangpur region. While the region suffers flash floods during the monsoon for lack of necessary protective measures, it battles an annual two-month-long water crisis in winter, as India is holding most of the winter supplies of the river’s water. [The Daily Star 1]

Dhaka has long been pressing New Delhi for signing off a deal on the sharing of Teesta River water. Negotiations were expedited in 2009 and, since 2011, have aimed at ensuring that the river would get the necessary water during the lean season to ensure a minimum level to help the agriculture sector of north Bangladesh. However, as India uses dams upstream to generate electricity and needs water to irrigate farms in West Bengal state, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has so far refused to sign off a respective agreement. [The Hindu]

Earlier this month, India’s Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla paid a two-day visit to Dhaka on and discussed a two-year road map for bilateral relations. However, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs said on Thursday that the issues of Teesta river water-sharing had not been raised during Mr. Shringla’s meeting with Bangladesh`s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. [India Today] [The Daily Star 2]

While the rejuvenation project will mark the first time that China will construct a mega river management project in Bangladesh, it is just the latest in a series of events making Beijing Dhaka`s largest investor. For a start, in June, China announced it would provide duty free market access for 97% of Bangladeshi goods. Outdoing India, China then won the tender to build an airport terminal at Sylhet last month, and was able to conclude several defense agreements — which include an ultra-modern submarine base, a new naval base in Patkhauli and the delivery of a Chinese Corvette. [IANS] [AiR No. 25, June/2020, 4]

18 August 2020

Bangladesh: Extrajudicial killings hit retired army officer

(dql) Human Rights Watch reports another case of extrajudicial killings after more than 150 people have reportedly been killed already by enforcement officers this year, this time ending the life of an army officer. The retired major was shot dead by police at a checkpoint in Cox’s Bazar when returning from filming a documentary. After the police initially claimed to have fired in self-defense after they had recovered drugs from the major’s vehicle growing public outrage both among the public and within the military over the killing of a soldier who was once part of the prime minister’s protection detail, authorities saw themselves eventually forced to take some action leading to them suspension of twenty-one and arrest of nine police officers. [Human Rights Watch]

18 August 2020

Bangladesh: Officials in detention center tortured, beaten to death children 

(dql) In a case shedding light on more systemic abuses eighteen boys had their mouths stuffed with towels and beaten with steel pipes, sticks and cricket stumps after attacking and breaking the hand of a guard in a Bangladeshi juvenile detention center leading to the death of three boys whose age was not disclosed while two more remained in a critical state. Police arrested the director of the center, two teachers and a counsellor as well as eight other children who allegedly took part in the beatings. The Children Development Centre in the western city of Jessore is home to minors who were either convicted or awaiting prosecution for crimes from minor thefts to rapes and murders. In 2015, the government suspended the director of another center after 20 boys slashed their wrists in protest over alleged tortures by the staff. [New Straits Times]

18 August 2020

Indian Foreign Secretary visits Bangladesh

(dql) During the meeting between Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla and Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on this Tuesday, India and Bangladesh discussed ways to co-operate on containing the coronavirus pandemic, including on therapeutics and vaccine. The two countries also discussed the revival of the economy in a post-pandemic world. [Business World]

For a good overview of India’s decisive bid to regain long-standing good relations with Bangladesh over the past month after Dhaka got increasingly closer with China see the Asia Times. [Asia Times]

28 July 2020

India, Bangladesh tighten trade relations

(lf) India will hand over 10 railway locomotives to Bangladesh, as part of their neighbors first policy. This policy comes into place amidst the border standoff between China and India in Kashmir. Strengthen economic ties are supposed to work as a sort of bolster against China. The locomotives come after 50 containers containing fabric and food crossed to border to Bangladesh on Sunday. The railway initiative has a vital part in improving regional connectivity. [Hindustan Times]

21 July 2020

Big business in Bangladesh: Selling fake coronavirus certificates

(yo) A hospital owner in Bangladesh was arrested for selling thousands of false negative COVID-19 test results while attempting to cross borders disguised as a woman. He acquired about $350,000 by scamming patients and issuing thousands of fake results.

Many in the country have been charged with medical fraud and taking advantage of the pandemic. Bangladesh’s economy is heavily dependent on millions of Bangladeshis that work overseas and send billions of dollars back to their home country. Many of these migrant workers that have been trying to return to their jobs in Europe were tricked into buying unperformed test results. [New York Times]

The false documents have not only revealed the fragility of Bangladesh’s health and medical establishment but have also worsened the situation by undermining the dependability of clinics and discouraging people from getting tested. [CNN]

21 July 2020

India-Bangladesh: Will border incidents harm relations?

(ls) Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister said that India’s Border Security Force should be cautious and use non-lethal weapons while guarding the common border. The comment came in response to a reported lynching of three Bangladesh citizens in India’s Assam state on Sunday. Police said that the three had come to steal cattle. Moreover, there have been several shooting incidents at the India-Bangladesh border over the course of recent years. [The Hindu]

At the same time, however, Bangladesh and India have upgraded their trade relations and concluded several cooperation agreements for some years. In October 2019, for instance, Standard Operating Procedures for the use of ports for movement of goods to and from India were concluded. In 2015, the two countries had signed an agreement on coastal shipping. [Economic Times]

For insights into recent Pakistani diplomatic efforts to push for a reset of relations between Bangladesh and Pakistan in the wake of uncertain India-Pakistan relations see [Tribune].

14 July 2020

Bangladesh: Pakistan, Bangladesh hold talks in possible thaw

(yo) Bangladeshi and Pakistani diplomats met to discuss bilateral relations amid frigid relationships. After briefing one another on the coronavirus pandemic and the measures taken, they agreed to further conversation on “bilateral economic and commercial cooperation.” [Anadolu Agency]

7 July 2020

Bangladesh-India border trade resumes after impasse

(yo) Bangladesh and India have agreed to resume cross-border trade. After a 2-month break due to COVID-19, trade was scheduled to continue on June 7th, but while Indian trucks crossed Bangladeshi borders, Bangladeshi trucks were blocked. Bangladesh responded with a lockdown and an embargo on Indian freight the past few weeks as a protest against India’s unilateral move. Now a consensus in has been reached and the two nations have agreed to resume trade. [Anadolu Agency]





23 June 2020

Bangladesh: China offers tariff exemption of exports from Dhaka amid tensions with India

(yo) China has declared tariff exemption according to which 97% of Bangladesh’s products will receive tariff exemption, which is a significant trade boost for Bangladesh. The decision is expected to counter the economic impact that Bangladesh is facing due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the Asian African Conference, Xi Jinping announced China will provide duty free market access for 97% of exports within a year for the Least Developed Countries (LDC) that have ongoing diplomatic connections with Beijing. [Business Insider]

This development can be interpreted as a way to influence Bangladesh, which has been a strong regional ally of India. It needs to be noted that China reported this deal when there has been rising hostility between Indian and Chinese soldiers in Ladakh. [Times of India]

Bangladesh Foreign Minister A.K Abdul Momen said that the Indian media was unjustly undermining Bangladesh by writing that China was using charity to buy Bangladesh on its side as tensions rise in Ladakh. However, Bangladesh’s cooperation with China has intensified in other areas, such as in health. China has said that Bangladesh would be considered with priority when an anti-COVID-19 vaccine is developed. [The Hindu]





16 June 2020

Bangladesh: Bangladeshi lecturer and student arrested over Social Media post

(lm) On Saturday, Bangladeshi university lecturer Sirajum Munira has been arrested under the Digital Security Act for her alleged derogatory comment on Facebook about Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, the country’s State Minister for religious affairs, who had died of complications related to COVID-19 earlier on Saturday. [Dhaka Tribune]

Munira’s detention came after she reportedly posted a status on Facebook allegedly demeaning and humiliating Abdullah, despite she later decided to delete the post and to apologise. As the post had angered both teachers and students on the campus the university’s Registrar filed a complaint with a local police station on Saturday evening.

In a similar incident, authorities of Shahjalal University of Science and Technology on Monday reportedly sued one of its students under the same digital security laws for posting a derogatory comment on the death of Abdullah. [The Daily Star]

These incidents are the latest in a string of arrests over social media posts about the pandemic, and lend credence to concerns that the Digital Security Act is used as a pretence to crack-down on critics of the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. According to media reports, more than 40 people have been arrested and charged since March under the internet laws that Amnesty International in 2018 described as “an attack on freedom of expression and “even more repressive” than the defunct Information Technology Act. [Amnesty International] [The Straits Times]





9 June 2020

Bangladesh: With a 6% growth forecast, Bangladesh is set to be world’s fastest growing economy

(yo) Bangladesh expects to see at least 6% of economic growth this year, being set apart as an outlier in the midst of the pandemic where most countries are anticipating a severe recession. The country is the world’s second largest clothing exporter, with 80% of export profits coming from ready-made garment. The positive outlook does not signify Bangladesh’s economy is completely immune from the coronavirus. Orders worth $3.2 billion have been postponed or canceled since March and with the progression of Covid-19, expenditure will increase in various forms of infrastructure as health and agriculture. [The Print]





9 June 2020

Bangladesh: First Rohingya refugee dies of Covid-19

(ls) In the world’s largest refugee settlement in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, the first Rohingya refugee has died of Covid-19, triggering new fears that the novel coronavirus could spread more widely in the overcrowded camps with 60,000 to 90,000 people per square kilometer. At least 29 Rohingya have tested positive for the virus so far since the first case was detected in mid-May. Bangladesh as a whole has seen a spike in infections in recent weeks.





9 June 2020

Bangladesh MP held in Kuwait over ‘human trafficking links’

(yo) Bangladeshi member of parliament (MP) Mohammad Shahid Islam has been arrested in Kuwait due to suspected involvement in human trafficking and money laundering. The matter was brought to light after 26 Bangladeshis were killed, with 11 others injured by human traffickers in Libya. Shahid’s wife, also MP, has claimed the news on his arrest is not true. Bangladesh’s Anti-Corruption Commission has discovered that Shahid had accumulated Tk 1,400 crore through human trafficking and has siphoned off money to other countries. The Kuwaiti government is still investigating and has not officially stated what actions they will take. [The Daily Star]

Shahid and his partners sent more than 20,000 Bangladeshi workers to Kuwait making $163 million. Among other charges against Shahid, he allegedly bribed Kuwaiti government officials to gain contracts and privileges for his business. [The Gulf News]





2 June 2020

Bangladesh: Covid-19 lockdown ended

(dql) The Bangladesh government has decided not to extend the lockdown, imposed end of March over the coronavirus pandemic, with economic activities to resume on a limited scale and health directives staying in place.

Bangladesh so far has a recorded total of more than 38,000 Condi-19 cases and close to 550 deaths. []




2 June 2020

Bangladesh: Pakistan firm plans to import Covid-19 treatment drug from Bangladesh

(yo) Bangladesh will export a generic version of the antiviral medication Remdesivir, that has shown to expedite the recovery process of Covid-19 patients to Pakistan. The drug was developed by Beximco Pharmaceuticals and was granted emergency use by US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat patients with severe coronavirus symptoms. Remdesivir was originally developed by US company Gilead Sciences, which has exclusive rights to produce the antiviral. Global trade rules, however, allow least developed countries (LDCs) indicated by the UN to ignore the patent and make the drugs so that they would be more accessible in their countries. Bangladesh is exempted from the patent while Pakistan isn’t. Beximco Pharmaceuticals expressed it will not commercially profit from the import until pandemic is over and make donations. Currently, there is no certainty Remdesivir will reduce number of Covid-19 induced deaths, but cutting the recovery time by about 4 days will help hospitals and governments deal with the pandemic more efficiently. [Dawn] [Arab News]




26 May 2020

Bangladesh: Cyclone Amphan kills dozens, destroys homes in India, Bangladesh

(yo) Cyclone Amphan, a powerful cyclone that just struck India and Bangladesh, has killed dozens, destroyed thousands of homes and left millions without power. The UN office in Bangladesh estimates that about 10 million people were impacted, with 500,000 people left homeless. 5 million do not have power and authorities expect to lose at least $1bn due to alleviating the disaster. The coastal villages heavily relied on shrimp farms and other forms of aquaculture, but most croplands and fisheries were also torn apart. 

Bangladesh’s junior minister for disaster management says there are 2.4 million people and more than half a million livestocks being kept in shelters while different interest groups and authorities carry out relief efforts. The mass evacuations were organized beforehand, but Covid-19 toughened the evacuation process due to fears of the pandemic spreading through crowded shelters. Authorities supplied these spaces with masks and sanitizers, but maintaining physical distancing for families that have been packed into several buildings will remain a challenge for the time being. [Aljazeera]

UN Secretary General commended the Indian and Bangladesh governments for their effective preparation of the disaster and relief effort. At the time of writing, 25 have been reported to have died in Bangladesh and 70 in India. Some Rohingya refugee camps were impacted as well and a couple hundred refugees were also evacuated along with other victims. The Bangladesh government replaced 2 million people before the cyclone hit, to more than 12,000 cyclone shelters that had been provided with Covid-19 prevention equipment including masks, sanitizers, soap, and handwashing facilities. [UN News





26 May 2020

Bangladesh: Rising fears of coronavirus infections in Rohingya refugee camps

(ls) In Bangladesh’s refugee camps, about 15,000 Rohingya refugees have been put under coronavirus quarantine. Health experts have long warned that the virus could lead to mass infections in the cramped camps, housing almost one million Rohingya who fled from Myanmar. In early April, authorities already imposed a complete lockdown on Cox’s Bazar district, which has a population of about 3.4 million people, including the refugees. [Straits Times]





12 May 2020

Bangladesh courts go virtual amid Covid-19 lockdown

(ls) The Bangladeshi government has decided to introduce virtual courts in order to enable the resumption of regular court activities amid the Covid-19 lockdown. According to an ordinance published in the national gazette, all courts can serve orders, judgments, hold trial, inquiry, appellate hearings, arguments and evidence placements after ensuring virtual presence of the parties and eyewitnesses through audio, video or any electronic medium. [Dhaka Tribune]




12 May 2020

Bangladesh: Increased enforcement of Digital Security Act against critics 

(ls) 11 people including a famous cartoonist and a writer, have been charged in Bangladesh under the Digital Security Act for posting content on social media that was critical of the government’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak. At least 40 people have been arrested in recent weeks on similar charges. Some have also been accused of undermining the image of the late Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the father of current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and the nation’s founding leader. [Al Jazeera]

A journalist, who had disappeared for more than 50 days, appeared again in police custody. He also faces charges under the Digital Security Act. The arrest apparently followed posts he wrote criticizing an alleged sex-trafficking ring run by an official in the ruling Awami League. According to human rights monitors, there have been more than 1,000 cases under the Act since it was introduced in 2018. The Act has been used largely by politicians and businessmen. [The Guardian]

Human Rights Watch has called on the Bangladeshi government to drop all charges. [Human Rights Watch]




5 May 2020

Bangladesh: Rohingya refugees sent to controversial island facility and many are still at sea  

(jk) Following the rescue of hundreds of Rohingya refugees from a boat that had been turned away by Southeast Asian nations recently [Asia in Review, No. 16, April/2020, 3] and the country’s decision to not allow the entry of another 500 Rohingya people on board two fishing trawlers amid “running out of our generosity” [Asia in Review, No. 17, April/2020, 4], a number of refugees have been relocated to a controversial facility on an island in the Bay of Bengal constructed last year. Authorities said they were afraid the group may be suffering from Covid-19. [South China Morning Post]

The facilities for 100,000 people were constructed on the islet “Bashan Char” about 40 kilometers off Bangladesh’s coast in order to reduce the number of refugees in the border camps. Critics have claimed the islet is not safe and prone to natural catastrophes. Many Rohingya have spoken out against the relocation to the island for fear of not receiving any help in case of a natural disasters or severe storms. The UN has said an independent feasibility study needs to be carried out before any relocations could begin. [The Business Standard]

[Reuters] spoke to seven Rohingya survivors from a boat that spent months at sea and were refused to land at any country because of virus fears. They report on their horrific experiences and after overpowering the ship’s crew, which cost the lives of some on board, they eventually returned to Bangladesh. Hundreds more stuck at sea. 




28 April 2020

Bangladesh “running out of our generosity” on Rohingya boat refugees

(ls) After Bangladesh rescued hundreds of Rohingya refugees from a boat that had been turned away by Southeast Asian neighbors and on which about 60 people had died [Asia in Review, No. 16, April/2020, 3], the country’s foreign minister Abdul Momen said that the government will not allow the entry of another 500 Rohingya people on board two fishing trawlers in the Bay of Bengal. With reference to Bangladesh’s major efforts in hosting Rohingya refugees, he said that “Bangladesh has already taken more than a million of Rohingya. We are running out of our generosity now.” The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, wrote to Momen appealing to him “in the strongest terms to open your ports and allow the boats to land.” [Al Jazeera] [The Guardian]




21 April 2020

Bangladesh: Abdul Majed, murderer of first president and independence leader executed

(jk) In Bangladesh, the convicted killer of the country’s independence leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and nearly all his family members in 1975 has been executed. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was the father of current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina who was not killed during the attack by an elite military team on the family as she was abroad at the time.

The assassination team was first rewarded and politically very active in Bangladesh, including holding high government positions. Their fortune changed when Hasina’s Awami League came to power for the first time in 1996, and in 1998, a Dhaka Court sentenced the murderer and his accomplices to death. Majed managed to leave the country prior to the sentencing however and spend over 20 years in hiding. He was arrested after returning from India recently and executed after a clemency appeal had been rejected. [Economic Times India] [The Print]



21 April 2020

Bangladesh rescues Rohingya drifting at sea but dozens died and more are feared to be at sea 

(jk) Officials in Bangladesh said a ship with almost 400 Rohingya refugees that left for Malaysia eight weeks ago was found adrift in the Bay of Bengal. On board were refugees who had left the refugee camp near Cox’s Bazar and had hoped to reach Malaysia. After being turned away – according to witnesses due to stricter measures during the Covid-19 pandemic- the boat remained at sea in hope of being granted access to the Malaysian shore before it attempted a return to Bangladesh.

When the Bangladesh Coast Guard eventually took the ship in after it was notified of its presence in the Bay of Bengal, it found that at least 30 of the Rohingya refugees had died at sea. [The Guardian 1]

Just days later, Malaysia said it had denied entry to a second boat carrying about 200 Rohingya refugees which is now also believed to be adrift at sea. Amnesty International is calling for Malaysia and Thailand to “immediately dispatch search and rescue boats with food, water and medicine to meet the urgent needs of possibly hundreds still at sea”. [The Guardian 2]



14 April 2020

Bangladesh: Shanghai Electric’s power plant begins operations 

(hg) Shanghai Electric has successfully converted and enhanced an existing power plant in the city of Sylhet. The facility is supposed to fulfill the electricity demands in Bangladesh’s eastern region without interruption and represents the fifth project of the Chinese company in Bangladesh since 2002.  [Power Technology]


14 April 2020

Bangladesh extends lockdown, too

(ls) In Bangladesh, the government extended the nationwide lockdown by 11 more days. The army has previously already been deployed across the country to enforce social distancing measures. Meanwhile, some observers fear devastating effects on the country’s economy. [Channel News Asia]

The large Rohingya refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar has been put under a complete lockdown as well. Movement restrictions on aid workers has also been imposed, which cuts the manpower by 80 percent. Only emergency food supply and medical services can continue to be delivered in the camp. [RFI]


7 April 2020

Bangladesh: Heavy losses in garment industry 

(jk) Due to the current corona crisis, the garment industry is likely to face US$ 6 billion of revenue loss. Officials of an influential industrial body said that more than $3 billion have already been lost due to the crisis because most orders until July have been either cancelled or suspended. Bangladesh, the second-largest garment producer after China. [India Today]

31 March 2020

Bangladesh: Overview of the laws applicable in the current coronavirus crisis

(ls) The Dhaka Tribune has published an overview of the laws and regulations which are the legal basis for the fight against the spread of Covid-19 in Bangladesh. The article also looks at policy brutality in the enforcement of the regulations in place. [Dhaka Tribune] The government also deployed the army to enforce the measures. [The Diplomat]

31 March 2020

Bangladesh: Opposition leader Khaleda Zia released from imprisonment

(ls) Bangladesh’s government released imprisoned opposition leader and former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia for six months. She is thus permitted to seek medical treatment, and the release came on the condition that she stays at home and does not attempt to leave the country. Zia has spent more than two years being imprisoned. She was sentenced to 17 years in prison in two corruption cases. Her Bangladesh Nationalist Party says the cases were politically motivated. [Voice of America]

24 March 2020

Bangladesh: First deep-water port project largely financed by Japan approved by government

(jk) The government in Dhaka approved last week the construction of the country’s first deep sea port in Matarbari which is near Cox’s Bazar. The port will likely cost more than US$2 billion and is largely funded by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). The port is likely to be completed by December 2026.[BDNews]

As transpired in January, the government has seemingly dropped the idea of developing a deep sea port with Chinese money in location close by and seems now to focus on the project negotiated with JICA. [Dhaka Tribune] The Chinese side, as reported in January,  responded with a number of MoUs signed with Myanmar, including the Kyaukphyu special economic zone (SEZ) and deep-sea port in Rakhine State providing alternative access to the Bay of Bengal. [Asia in Review, No. 3, January/2020, 3]

17 March 2020

Pakistan/Bangladesh: Arrests and disappearances of journalists

(ls) Pakistan’s National Accountability Bureau (NAB) arrested the editor-in-chief of a major media group that includes some of Pakistan’s biggest newspapers and the Geo television network. He is accused of obtaining illegal concessions in a purchase of land plots back in 1986. Spokespersons said that the media group has been threatened over the last one and a half years over critical reports. In recent years, mainstream media houses have criticized pressure from authorities that has resulted in widespread self-censorship. [Al Jazeera]

In Bangladesh, a journalist went missing last week. Human Rights Watch has called for his immediate location. The journalist was among those accused in a criminal case against a prominent news editor, Matiur Rahman Chowdhury, and 30 others under the Digital Security Act. [Human Rights Watch]

25 February 2020

Bangladesh: Progress in improving children’s health

(tk) According to the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey 2019, conducted by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics and UNICEF, Bangladesh has made great progress in several areas related to health, nutrition, water, sanitation and hygiene, education and child protection. Especially the sharp decline in chronic malnutrition, which fell from 42 per cent in 2013 to 28 per cent in 2019, was a positive development and child mortality has been decreasing over the last 30 years. However, quality of education and drinking water, child marriage and violence against children remain big issues. [New Age]

18 February 2020

Bangladesh builds barbed-wire fences around Rohingya refugee camps

(tk) Bangladesh started erecting barbed-wire fences around Rohingya refugee camps, watchtowers and CCTV. The government said, it had taken these measures to strengthen the surveillance on the Rohingya people and the refugee camps in order to rein in illegal trafficking of refugees. In recent months incidents of trafficking of Rohingya to Malaysia have significantly increased. Several had died on their way. 

However, Rohingya refugees and rights groups urged the government not to take these measures. They are concerned, that wire fences may cause psychological and mental disorders. [AA]

4 February 2020

Bangladesh: Situation of Rohingya children in refugee camps

(tk) After human rights organizations have been campaigning for the nearly half a million Rohingya children in Bangladesh’s refugee camps, the Bangladesh government now has announced it will offer schooling and skills training opportunities to Rohingya refugee children, who have already missed two academic years. The pilot program starting in April is supported by UNICEF and will initially enroll 10,000 Rohingya children up to the age of 14, where they will be taught in Burmese under Myanmar’s curriculum. Children older than 14 will get skills training. [Amnesty International] [Al Jazeera]

Meanwhile, a delegation from the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) is currently visiting Bangladesh to assess the Rohingya crisis. ICC judges authorized the request to investigate alleged crimes against humanity committed against the Rohingya people in Myanmar. However, the current visit of the Prosecutor’s delegation is not part of the investigation, but to engage with relevant stakeholders and explain the judicial process and the status of the investigation to the public. [Prothom Alo]

28 January 2020

Bangladesh’s authoritarian shift

(ls/tk) An article in the East Asia Forum describes the rising level of authoritarianism in Bangladesh. It argues that the absence of a forceful opposition, a lack of oversight of the parliament and no accountability mechanisms have accentuated abuses of power by the executive. In addition, the author writes that a culture of impunity permeates the rank and file of the ruling party; its activists are engaged in extortion, torture and illicit activities. More signs of authoritarian politics are given in the text. [East Asia Forum]

On Thursday, a Bangladesh court issued an arrest warrant for country’s most respected independent newspaper editor after a student was fatally electrocuted in November at an event organized by a magazine published by a sister publication. He and nine others – amongst them an associate editor of the Bengali-language newspaper – have been charged with causing death by negligence. Rights groups have accused the government of cracking down on dissent through newly enacted internet laws that experts say would make investigative journalism almost impossible. [Asia Times]

In addition, news broke last week that some Members of Parliament, both from the ruling Awami League as well as from an opposition party, demanded in parliament that rape suspects be eliminated through extrajudicial killings. The remarks came in the wake of a rise of incidents of sexual violence against women. [BDNews24]

According to research by a non-government organization, the ratio of guilty verdicts given against offenders in rape cases remains low. Data compiled from official government records show that more than 4,000 rape incidents took place in six districts of the country between 2011 and 2018. Out of those, a total of 1,283 cases have been disposed of and only five offenders received punishment. [Asia Times]

21 January 2020

Bangladesh’s authoritarian shift

(ls/tk) An article in the East Asia Forum describes the rising level of authoritarianism in Bangladesh. It argues that the absence of a forceful opposition, a lack of oversight of the parliament and no accountability mechanisms have accentuated abuses of power by the executive. In addition, the author writes that a culture of impunity permeates the rank and file of the ruling party; its activists are engaged in extortion, torture and illicit activities. More signs of authoritarian politics are given in the text. [East Asia Forum]

On Thursday, a Bangladesh court issued an arrest warrant for country’s most respected independent newspaper editor after a student was fatally electrocuted in November at an event organized by a magazine published by a sister publication. He and nine others – amongst them an associate editor of the Bengali-language newspaper – have been charged with causing death by negligence. Rights groups have accused the government of cracking down on dissent through newly enacted internet laws that experts say would make investigative journalism almost impossible. [Asia Times]

In addition, news broke last week that some Members of Parliament, both from the ruling Awami League as well as from an opposition party, demanded in parliament that rape suspects be eliminated through extrajudicial killings. The remarks came in the wake of a rise of incidents of sexual violence against women. [BDNews24]

According to research by a non-government organization, the ratio of guilty verdicts given against offenders in rape cases remains low. Data compiled from official government records show that more than 4,000 rape incidents took place in six districts of the country between 2011 and 2018. Out of those, a total of 1,283 cases have been disposed of and only five offenders received punishment. [Asia Times]

21 January 2020

Bangladesh: Death toll rising on the India-Bangladesh border

(tk) Even though Dhaka and New Delhi agreed on a “zero deaths” policy along the India-Bangladesh border, in 2019 at least 43 Bangladeshi citizens were killed by Indians, which is a threefold increase from the previous year. A Bangladeshi human rights activist explained that no internationally accepted border protocols allow the shoot-to-kill policy that India has been pursuing. A report from the US-based Human Rights Watch said: “Some Indian officials endorse shooting people who attempt to cross the border illegally, even if they are unarmed.” 

Many international media and rights organizations have termed this border as the deadliest. This issue is becoming even more relevant since India passed its new religion-based citizenship law that excludes Muslims as immigrants from a new fast-track procedure. Thus, a high number of Muslims emigrating from India to Bangladesh can be expected. [Asia Times]

14 January 2020

Bangladesh: Singer arrested under Digital Security Act 

(lf) A Sufi singer has been arrested under the Digital Security Act for allegedly hurting religious sentiments of Muslims. Sufism is a mystical branch of Islam and music is an essential part of it. [Economic Times India Times], but singers feel their artistic liberty is under threat with this new law. While Sufism has been part of Bangladesh history, in recent years several followers and leaders of the branch have been killed by Islamic fundamentalist groups, which consider them heretics of Islam. [Al Jazeera]

The controversial internet law has been in place since 2018 and has faced high criticism for being a threat to freedom of expression and this new case is part of a pattern regarding freedom of expression and speech in Bangladesh. The government, for example, blocked a Swedish news site early January, which accused a minister of corruption [Al Jazeera 1] and in May of last year arrested writers and activist under the same law [Al Jazeera 2].

14 January 2020

Bangladesh: Deputy foreign minister cancels visit to India

(lf/jk) While the Foreign Ministry has announced the cancellation has nothing to do with the Citizen Amendment Act (CAA) or the issue of National Register of Citizens (NRC), the Deputy Foreign Minister is the fourth senior official to cancel a visit to India since the protests started. 

The CAA addresses minority religion refugees – who are not Muslim- that have experienced religious discrimination in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. While the Indian government has clarified that persecution in Bangladesh occurred prior to the rule of current Prime Minister Sheikh Hassani, Bangladesh has made clear that it is not happy with the characterisation of a country that discriminates against religious minorities. 

It has also voiced concern over India deporting those deemed “illegal” to Bangladesh and with that putting further strain on bilateral relations. Bangladesh is worried both the NRC and CAA could lead to dramatic increases in refugee flows to the country. [The Hindu] [The Print]


7 January 2020

Bangladesh: Arrest Warrant for former Chief of Justice 

(lf) In Bangladesh, courts have issued an arrest warrant for former Chief of Justice for corruption. He is accused of having embezzled 465,000 US dollar. Since its independence in 1971, this is the first former chief of justice to face prosecution. [Nation Pakistan]

24 December 2019

Bangladesh asking Russia to pressure Myanmar on Rohingya 

(lf) Bangladesh’s foreign minister has urged Russia to put more pressure on Myanmar regarding the Rohingyas, of which Bangladesh still hosts between 600.000 to one million after they were forced to flee Myanmar amid a violent military crackdown. The refugees have led to a humanitarian crisis as Bangladesh is not sufficiently equipped for the number of refugees.

Since the establishment of diplomatic relations between Russia and Myanmar in 1948 [Embassy of Russia in Myanmar], the two countries have been close and the FM recognises that Russia – which has blocked a previous UN statement in the Rohingya case- holds a lot of sway over Myanmar. [The Star]

10 December 2019

Bangladesh: China offers 2.13 billion USD in new loans

(jk) The decision by China to loan more money to Bangladesh came after a meeting of a Bangladesh-China Joint Working group in Dhaka this week. The group was established to look into the lacking progress of 27 projects involving around 20 billion USD that China promised to provide during President Xi’s visit to Bangladesh three years ago. 

One of the two new projects that both countries are supposed to sign in June includes critical infrastructure, i.e. “strengthening the Power Grid Company of Bangladesh’s power grid network.” [The Daily Star]

3 December 2019

Bangladesh: Death penalties for seven terrorists over 2016 attack that killed 22

(ls/nj) An anti-terrorism tribunal in Bangladesh has sentenced seven suspects to death for the killings of 22 people in a major terror attack in Dhaka suffered three and a half years ago. In the attack, the militants shot dead several foreigners, including nine Italians, seven Japanese, a US citizen and an Indian. Two police officers were killed in grenade blasts as they tried to take the assailants on inside the café. Two employees of the eatery also died in the attack. [BDNews24]

26 November 2019

Bangladesh: South Asian Country with highest bribery risk

(jk) According to the most recent Global Bribery Risk Index, published by a North American anti-bribery business association, Bangladesh featured as the “country with the highest risk” of bribery threats in South Asia. [The Daily Star]

The other countries of the region, which the exception of Bhutan which fares slightly better, rank as “medium” threats. For details on the report, including methodology and further results, see [TRACE].

19 November 2019

Bangladesh: 25 charged over murder of student

(ls) Bangladesh police have charged 25 people following the killing of 21-year-old student who was beaten to death by fellow students in October after posting criticism of government policy on social media. Many of the students charged were members of the youth wing of the Awami League, the ruling political party in Bangladesh. News of the death led to protests in the capital. The demonstrations then spread to other cities. [BBC]

12 November 2019

Bangladesh: Facebook post sparks protests against worker’s conditions in Saudi Arabia 

(nl) In Dhaka, a Facebook video by a female worker from Bangladesh exposing a series of brutal violent abuses by employers in Saudi Arabia has gone viral and alerted many in Bangladesh to the issue. The woman said she fears for her life after facing a series of humiliating events including sexual assaults, imprisonment and withholding of food.

In a reaction to the video, people took to the streets to protest against worker’s conditions. Within this year alone, according to one charity, 48 female bodies have been repatriated to Bangladesh. [Aljazeera]

5 November 2019

Bangladesh: Opposition politician sentenced for critical remarks

(nj) A member of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party was sentenced to three years for statements that criticized Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. The charges were public mischief and criminal conspiracy. The affair started at a rally in 2018 when the politician gave a speech saying that Hasina’s fate would be worse than that of her father, who was Bangladesh’s first president and assassinated in 1975. The opposition claims that the court decision is politically motivated and another example of the suppression of freedom of expression by the government. [Aljazeera]

29 October 2019

Bangladesh: doubt on Rohingya relocation

(jk) The relocation of thousands of Rohingya refugees that was apparently agreed upon [Asia in Review, No. 43, October/2019, 4has been heavily doubted by human rights NGO Fortify Rights who, based on on-the-ground research, claim that they were hard-pressed to identify a single refugee who had even been consulted – let alone agreed to – relocating to the island. [Straits Times]

29 October 2019

Bangladesh: Judge imposes death penalty on 16 people

(nj/jk) After 6 months of trial 16 people have been sentenced to death by a court near the capital  of Bangladesh, Dhaka, for burning a Bangladeshi student alive for accusing the principal of the school of sexual harassment. Prior to the killing the perpetrators urged the victim to withdraw her complaint, which she refused. [The Straits Times] [Aljazeera]

The student reported sexual harassment by the principal of her school in late March and on April 6, the young woman was lured on the rooftop of her school where classmates tied her hands and feet and set her on fire.

In a country where social stigma leads to a majority of sexual violence being unreported, the case provoked indignation, and funeral prayers in her honor were attended by thousands in her home town. Prime Minister Hasina reacted by promising that “none of the culprits will be spared legal action”. [Asia in Review, 4/4/2019]

For well-founded research on causes and consequences of violence against women in Bangladesh see: [UN Women]

22 October 2019

Maritime terrorism in Asia: An assessment 

(ls) A paper published by the Observer Research Foundation evaluates the possibility of an increase in maritime terrorist violence in Asia. Based on an analysis of recent incidents, it argues that the vulnerability of high seas shipping to criminal acts of violence and the weak and inconsistent nature of maritime governance raises the possibility of a terrorist strike in the Asian littorals. [ORF]

22 October 2019

Bangladesh: Some Rohingyas to be relocated to island as situation in refugee camps further deteriorates 

(ls/nj) About 6,000 to 7,000 Rohingya living in Bangladesh refugee camps have apparently agreed to being relocated to Bhashan Charan, an island in the Bay of Bengal. Bangladesh has been planning since last year to relocate Rohingya to the flood-prone site, which is an hour by boat from the mainland. In the past half a century, powerful cyclones have killed hundreds of thousands of people in the Meghna river estuary where the island is located. [Straits Times]

Latest attempts to persuade Rohingya refugees to return to their home country by Bangladesh authorities failed. Authorities, therefore, have imposed more restrictions on Rohingya, such as confiscating mobile phones and banning Rohingya children from local schools, to speed up the return process. [Al Jazeera]

Following the incident of the killing of a ruling-party politician for which Rohingya refugees are held responsible for, security status in the camps in Cox´s Bazar remains critical. On Monday a young Rohingya was murdered by another fellow. Investigations revealed that an earlier dispute between the victim and the offender could have led to the killing. [The Daily Star]

22 October 2019

United States and Bangladesh to conclude agreements for closer military cooperation

(ls) The United States is planning to conclude a General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) and an Acquisition Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA) with Bangladesh. The agreements are meant to expand opportunities for defense trade, information sharing and military-to-military cooperation between the two countries, which already have ongoing cooperation on the training of Bangladeshi peacekeepers, counter-terrorism exercises, disaster response and other trainings. The U.S. has GSOMIA agreements with 76 countries and ACSA agreements with more than a hundred. [Daily Star]

22 October 2019

Shots at India-Bangladesh border result in death of Indian border guard

(ls) In a rare clash between India and Bangladesh, officers of the Bangladesh Border Guard (BGB) killed an Indian border guard last week. After an Indian fisherman had been detained by the Bangladeshi officers, the situation got out of hand and resulted in what the Bangladeshi side described as shots in self-defence. The Indian Border Security Force (BSF) said the shots were unprovoked. India and Bangladesh, which generally have close ties, share a border stretching more than 4,000 km, where clashes sometimes occur over immigration into India from Bangladesh. [Reuters] [Economic Times]

15 October 2019

Two Bangladesh Navy ships in India for maiden bilateral exercise

(jk) Two ships of the Bangladesh Navy have reached India for a four-day bilateral navy exercise which will mark the first time the two navies exercise bilaterally.  [India Today]

15 October 2019

Bangladesh: Thousands of students protest after killing of a student over Facebook post 

(nj) Thousands of university students took to the streets in the capital Dhaka and Rajshahi city after a 21-year old student was allegedly beaten to death by some members of the Bangladesh Chhatra League – the student wing of the governing Awami League party – over his Facebook post critical of Bangladesh’s recent water-sharing agreement with India, an issue the two countries have been sparring over for decades. [Aljazeera] [India Today]

Prior to killing him, Chhatra League members “interrogated” him over his alleged involvement with Chhatra Shibir – the student wing of Jamaat-e-Islami, the country’s largest Islamist party – which has political ties with the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).

In his last Facebook post, he had stated three historical instances, in which Bangladesh failed to attain some achievements regarding interests like use of port, water sharing and export of energy resources from its neighbor. [Dhaka Tribune]

15 October 2019

Bangladesh forces kill more than a dozen Rohingya refugees over a few weeks

(jk) The recent murder of a ruling party politician in Bangladesh led to violent actions against some Rohingya refugees inside of the refugee camps who were alleged to have been involved in the murder. In addition to this particular incident, refugees are often accused of being involved in other illegal activities such as drug smuggling or robberies. Human Rights groups say that over the past few weeks more than a dozen Rohingya were killed by Bangladeshi security forces, with local law enforcement not intervening to protect the refugees. [Al Jazeera]

8 October 2019

An analysis of Bangladesh’s Digital Security Act

(ls) A thorough analysis of Bangladesh’s Digital Security Act (BDSA) of 2018 argues that the law was created to mitigate Section 57 of the previous Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act of 2006. However, the author argues that, contrary to expectations, the BDSA casts an even wider net over free speech and dissent than its predecessor. The Act not only broadened the scope of what constitutes online crime but also took away the few legal protections granted under the ICT Act. [ORF]

8 October 2019

India-Bangladesh relations: Strategic interests more important than disagreements

(ls) Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other senior Indian officials last week. They agreed on the need for greater effort to facilitate the safe return of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar. As regards India’s recent move to identify thousands of what it says are “illegal migrants” from Bangladesh, the two prime ministers were not reaching any agreement. Nonetheless, India is focused on making Bangladesh a central element of its Act East policy, to counter China’s growing influence in South Asia. [DW]

24 September 2019

Nepal: Energy politics with India and Bangladesh

(ls) As relations between India and Nepal are deteriorating under Kathmandu’s communist government, the Himalayan country’s electricity export outlook is also worsening. Over the last four years, two foreign companies have pulled out of two hydropower projects due to the less attractive prospect. Despite signing a Power Trade Agreement in 2014 aimed at easing flows of electricity across the frontier, the process has been stalled by the lack of a policy framework on both sides. However, Nepal also sees Bangladesh as a potential buyer of its energy. Hydropower is one of Nepal’s major export sectors. [Nikkei Asian Review]

17 September 2019

Bangladesh: Kashmir is India’s internal matter

(jk) The Foreign Minister of Bangladesh has told his colleague from Pakistan that India’s decision to upend Articles 370 and 35a of the Indian Constitution is India’s internal matter, therefore not lending his support to Pakistan, from which the country gained independence in 1971. [Economic Times]

10 September 2019

Mobile blackouts as a security tool: More case studies from Bangladesh and Pakistan

(ls) Across Asia and other parts of the world, a new security trend is gaining increasing traction: the blocking of mobile internet services. India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia (Papua) and Sudan are among the recent examples. Whereas state authorities cite possible threats to national security and public order as justification, it can reasonably be argued that such interventions may constitute deep restrictions of private life as well as business activities. Taking into account the importance of communication in the era of digitalization, widespread mobile blocking cuts people off from essential services and often disables access by independent observers to information on the ground. Last week, two more case studies from South Asia can be added to the trend.

Bangladesh’s telecommunications regulatory body has asked operators to shut down cellphone services in camps where hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar live. The authority referred to a security threat and illegal phone use, for example for drug trade, as reasons for the measure. Operators have already been asked to suspend data and internet service between 5 pm and 5 am every day in the camps in Cox’s Bazar district. Many Rohingya refugees use mobile services to stay in touch with their families. [Firstpost]

Human Rights Watch has criticized the most recent mobile blocking in Bangladesh as a clampdown. [Human Rights Watch]

In Bangladesh, only Bangladeshis with national identity cards are allowed to possess local SIM cards. The sale of cellphone services is banned in the camps. The Rohingya, most of whom fled over the border to Bangladesh in 2017 following a violent campaign led by the Myanmar military, are largely stateless. [New York Times]

Authorities in Pakistan suspended mobile services in Karachi and Nawabshah as part of security measures during Muharram processions on Sunday. Similar actions have been taken in other provinces too. In the Pakistani province of Punjab, 3,000 security personnel have been deployed in Rawalpindi to ensure the safety of the procession. [India Today]

03 September 2019

Bangladesh: High Court orders to remove “virgin” from Muslim marriage certificates

(ls) Bangladesh’s High Court has decided in a landmark decision that the word “virgin” must be removed from Muslim marriage certificates. The Court ordered the term to be replaced with “unmarried”. Before the ruling, brides had to select whether they were a Kumari (virgin), a widow or divorced. Rights groups had long criticized the term, used in marriage certificates since in 1961, saying it breaches the privacy of the woman getting married. [Al Jazeera]

Date of AiR edition

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16 July 2019

Another winner of the U.S.-China trade war: Bangladesh

(ls) Not only Southeast Asian countries are largely benefiting from the trend to divert production bases due to the U.S.-China trade war. [AiR 3/6/2019] Also Bangladesh, which is the world’s second-largest garment exporter, has seen the value of its overseas sales rise to a record $40.5 billion in the year ended June 30, coinciding with Trump boosting tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese goods to 25% from 10%. The tit-for-tat trade war has seen American and Chinese orders for more than half of the 1,981 tariffed products so far being re-routed to other countries. [Bloomberg]

9 July 2019

Sex trafficking in Bangladesh

(ls) In Bangladesh, the business of sexual exploitation has thrived in recent years. The Bangladesh government estimates that 100,000 women and girls are working in the country’s sex industry and one study reports that less than 10% of those had entered prostitution voluntarily. While prostitution is legal, trafficking and forced labor are not. But poor enforcement of legislation in a country where women are easy prey means traffickers act with impunity. The Guardian has published an in-depth report that illustrates the large scale of the problem. [The Guardian]

9 July 2019

Bangladesh: Government announces social media interventions

(ls) The government of Bangladesh announced to introduce a social media content control system as part of its “safe Internet” campaign from September, enabling authorities to intervene on content uploaded on social media platforms, such as Facebook or YouTube. Dhaka has in recent months been trying to gain more control over social media tools in what it says is a bid to stop fake news. However, critics have pointed to the deep impacts on freedom of speech. [Arab News]

9 July 2019

Bangladesh: Sweeping NGO law draws criticism

(ls) Expressing grave concern over the draft of the Volunteer Social Welfare Organizations (Registration and Control) Act 2019, local and international development organizations in Bangladesh called upon the government to change, edit and repeal some of the sections that are unclear and conflicting. According to the law, all NGOs have to register, and renew their registrations every five years. Failure to renew registration or rejection by the authority will result in the dissolution of the NGO. Moreover, NGOs can be dissolved if government authorities have reason to believe they are not in the best interest of the public or have broken the law. [Dhaka Tribune]

4 June 2019

Bangladesh-Japan: Japan signs $2.5bn deal to support Bangladesh’s development programs

(jyk) Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe has signed the 40th Official Development Assistance (ODA) Loan Package worth more than $2.5 billion in a bid to develop and invest in the main four projects including the development of port and high-speed public transport, and the promotion of foreign direct investment and energy efficiency. Japan has supported Bangladesh with ODA loans totaling $11.3 billion since 1972. [Dhaka Tribune]

4 June 2019

Bangladesh: PM urges the Islamic states to lodge the Rohingya case to the International Court of Justice (ICJ)

(jyk) In a bid to ensure the Rohingya refugees’ legal rights gets recognized in the ICJ, the prime minister of Bangladesh called on the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) member states to join her efforts in securing funding and professional help necessary for lodging the case to the ICJ. Despite its resource constraints, Bangladesh has sheltered more than 1.1 million Rohingya Muslims that fled the persecution and deadly crackdown of Myanmar’s armed forces, and whether these people could eventually be repatriated is still uncertain [Dhaka Tribune 1]. After attending the 14th OIC session in Saudi Arabia [Dhaka Tribune 2] and giving a keynote speech about the Rohingya crisis in Japan [Dhaka Tribune 3], the premier also avowed to use OIC institutions more actively to synchronize Muslim countries’ policies and induce more aligned collective measures against global issues such as Israeli-Palestinian conflict and rising tensions in the Gulf. In concurrent efforts to repatriate back the Rohingya refugees, Myanmar has recently met with ASEAN Secretary General to initiate high-impact projects that would restore order in the conflict-ridden Rahkine State [Myanmar Times].

4 June 2019

Chinese company to build submarine base for Bangladesh in Cox’s Bazar

(jk) A Chinese company is building a submarine base for Bangladesh in the country’s south-eastern part in the Bay of Bengal. The decision to go with a Chinese state-owned enterprise is potentially worrying for India, as it is unclear what kind of access or rights China will have to the base once it is finished. The decision is all but surprising since Bangladesh and China have significant naval links. China has built many of the Navy’s surface ships, as well both of its submarines which Bangladesh has received in 2017. [TribuneIndia]

11 March 2019

Human Rights Watch urges Bangladesh to investigate garment workers’ mass dismissal

(cc) Human Rights Watch has urged Bangladesh to immediately investigate the dismissal and false criminal cases of garment workers. Following the massive protests of December and January, union leaders said that at least 7,500 people lost their jobs. The international NGO describes the “use of criminal complaints against large number of “unknown” people” as being a widespread abusive practice in the South Asian State. The rights group calls brands that produce in Bangladesh to push for the end of the intimidation of workers by the garment industry. [HRW] [Dhaka Tribune]

11 March 2019

After India and Pakistan, Saudi Arabia is to continue South Asian investments in Bangladesh

(cc/ls) Bangladesh’s finance Minister said the country is expecting $35 billion of Saudi investment mostly in roads, rail, power and energy, tourism and hospitality, health, textiles, food processing and pharmaceuticals. However, no timeline has been given by the government and the current bilateral trade is worth only $1.4 Billion per year. Under Prime Minister Hasina, the ties between the two Muslim-majority countries have been reinforced. Saudia Arabia’s Crown Prince Abdullah Bin Salman recently also committed his country to major investments in India and Pakistan. [Reuters]

4 March 2019

Bangladesh Foreign Secretary tells Security Council it can’t take more Myanmar Refugees

(cc) On Thursday, Bangladesh’s Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque told the members of the Security Council that his country cannot welcome any new Myanmar refugees. The announcement comes amid new waves of refugees coming from Myanmar due to the resurgence of conflicts since the beginning of the year. In 2017, a crackdown against the Rohingya Muslim minority by the Tatmadaw forced over 700,000 people to flee to the neighboring Bangladesh. The “clearance operations” have been qualified as being conducted with “genocidal intent” in a report of an UN independent fact-finding mission released in late August 2018. Since then, negotiations between the two countries have been held to organize the repatriation of the refugees but 18 months later, no tangible progress has been made. The UN says the conditions in Myanmar are not yet met for the safe and dignified return of the displaced people. Bangladesh’s Foreign Secretary accused the Buddhist majority country of “hollow promises and various obstructionist approaches” in the remarks. [Reuters]