Foreign Minister Abdul Momen tells Al Jazeera that Bangladesh is capable of conducting free and fair polls in the wake of US visa curbs.

Dhaka, Bangladesh – Bangladesh’s foreign minister has said his country was not “bothered” by the US visa curbs on unnamed Dhaka officials for undermining the election process as part of Washington’s push for free and fair general elections slated to be held early next year.

“The US is a democracy, so are we,” AK Abdul Momen told Al Jazeera on Saturday.

“As a global power, they, of course, can exercise power over others but we are not bothered because we know how to hold an acceptable election,” he said, echoing Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s assertion that her government is capable of conducting free and fair elections.

The US Department of State on Thursday announced to impose visa restrictions on Bangladeshi individuals “responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic election process in Bangladesh”.

A statement issued by the State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller mentioned “these individuals include members of law enforcement, the ruling party, and the political

and “their immediate family may be found ineligible for entry into the United States.”

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina speaks to the media persons after casting her vote in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Sunday, Dec. 30, 2018. Voting began Sunday in Bangladesh''s contentious parliamentary e
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has asserted that her government is capable of conducting free and fair elections. [File: Anupam Nath]

The State Department did not release any names as the “[visa]records are confidential under US law,” Bryan Schiller, US Embassy spokesperson in Bangladesh told the local media.

The visa restrictions come nearly four months after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned of curbs, as Washington has expressed support for “free, fair and peaceful national elections” in the South Asian nation of 160 million people.

Back then, Bangladesh’s foreign ministry had assured free and fair elections. However, the Hasina government has continued to target political opposition and activists.

‘Targeted sanctions’

Tensions surrounding the upcoming national election, scheduled to be held in January next year, have already reached a boiling point, with the main opposition – the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) – and its allies, staging regular street protests.

They are demanding the installation of a neutral caretaker government to conduct the elections. However, the provision of caretaker government was nullified in 2011 by the Supreme Court. The opposition has said the court ruling was influenced by the governing Awami League, which has been in power since 2008. A caretaker administration oversaw the 2008 election.

Supporters of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) attack armed vehicles of police at Shonir Akhra area
The opposition led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party has organised several street protests in recent months demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Hasina and the formation of a caretaker government. 

Western powers, including the US and the European Union – the two main destinations of Bangladesh’s multibillion-dollar garment export – have repeatedly expressed concern about free and fair elections and rights violations under the current government.

Experts have argued that the latest visa sanction by the US is just a reflection of their concerns. Last year, Washington slapped sanctions on notorious Bangladesh paramilitary forces – Rapid Action Battalion – for extrajudicial killings. Dhaka has also been not invited to the two editions of the high-profile Summit for Democracy organised by President Joe Biden’s administration.

Former Bangladesh ambassador to the US, Humayun Kabir, said the visa curb is to ensure a free and fair election.

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