US says will impose visa restrictions on individuals ‘undermining’ Bangladesh elections

Dhaka, Sep 23 (PTI): The United States has said it is taking steps to impose visa restrictions on Bangladeshi nationals who are seen to be interfering in or “undermining” the upcoming democratic election process in the South Asian nation.

General elections are supposed to be held in Bangladesh in late December or January 2024.

Reacting to the US announcement made on Friday, Bangladesh said though the development is “not a pleasing experience”, Dhaka is “not worried” as it is doing nothing wrong.

“Today, the (US) Department of State is taking steps to impose visa restrictions on Bangladeshi individuals responsible for or complicit in undermining the democratic election process in Bangladesh,” US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said in a statement.

“These persons and members of their immediate family may be found ineligible for entry into the United States,” the statement said.

Individuals, including members of law enforcement agencies, the ruling party, and the political opposition would come under the purview of the restriction as the “United States is committed to supporting free and fair elections in Bangladesh that are carried out in a peaceful manner,” it said.

Miller said the US action reflects the continued commitment of America to support Bangladesh’s goal of peacefully holding free and fair national elections, and to support those seeking to advance democracy globally.

US Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights Uzra Zeya shared the announcement on her account on X, formerly Twitter, just hours after she met with Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who is currently in New York to join the UN General Assembly’s annual meeting.

Bryan Schiller, spokesperson of the US embassy in Dhaka, said the United States has by now enforced visa restrictions against some members of law enforcement agencies, ruling party officials and opposition activists.

The restrictions were imposed after the US cautiously reviewed the evidence against the individuals, he said.

Schiller, however, declined to disclose the names, calling the list “secret visa records”.

In a media briefing hours after the US announcement, Bangladesh’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Shahriar Alam said his country has nothing to lose.

“We have nothing to lose, we are not worried about it because we are not doing anything wrong,” he said.

The development is “not a pleasing experience” but “we have to go through it”, he said. He said he expected the US government to enforce the new visa restriction policy after reviewing facts and figures in a fair manner.

The junior foreign minister said Washington has given Dhaka an idea of the number of individuals who will face the visa restrictions. “What I can tell you is that the number is small,” he said.

Alam said the government believes the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), Bangladesh’s main opposition party, and its fundamentalist ally Jamaat-e-Islami appear more vulnerable to the US visa restrictions as they were involved in acts aimed at foiling the next election.

The BNP has been campaigning to restore a non-party caretaker government to oversee the elections, claiming that no polls under Hasina’s administration would be free.

It has staged a series of protests demanding Hasina’s resignation to allow a non-party caretaker government to oversee the polls.

The BNP and other opposition groups accuse the ruling Awami League of gross rights abuses like murders and forced disappearances, and corruption. The government has repeatedly denied the allegations.

The US had earlier questioned Bangladesh’s human rights situation and political inclusiveness. Last year, it slapped visa restrictions on several current and former officials of the elite anti-crime Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) on charges of alleged extra-judicial killings.

Prime Minister Hasina had sternly criticised the US action, saying she believed America did not want her government to remain in power.

She had also hinted that the US wanted military access to St Martin’s Island in the Bay of Bengal, an allegation denied by the State Department.

Friday’s development came a day after the European Union (EU) said it would not deploy a full election observer team to Bangladesh, citing a lack of “necessary conditions”.

EU ambassador Charles Whiteley on Thursday said the bloc would not deploy a “fully-fledged” observer mission. While the EU took into account budget constraints, it said the decision also “reflects the fact that at the present time, it is not sufficiently clear whether the necessary conditions will be met”.

The EU is Bangladesh’s largest trade partner. The 27-member bloc is the destination of more than half of the South Asian nation’s USD 55 billion export merchandise. PTI AR DIV DIV

(This story is published as part of the auto-generated syndicate wire feed. No editing has been done in the headline or the body by ABP Live.)